Cheil Creative Director/Art Director Youna Chung, Art Director Youbin Bang, Art Director Yeonjoo Lee and Copywriter Misu Yi are why so many more Koreans are missing their trains these days. They're the team behind the Tesco Homeplus Subway Virtual Store, the 2011 idea that had even the most celebrated creatives saying "I wish I'd done that" and earned Korea its first ever Cannes Grand Prix.
The campaign was actually an evolution of a 2008 effort, in which Cheil plastered a subway station with images to make it resemble an actual store. "That itself was an outstanding idea, but a piece was missing," says Creative Director/Art Director Youna Chung. "I thought it would be better if it can actually lead to purchase for busy commuters while waiting for the subway. At that time, smartphone sales soared and Tesco Homeplus already had the online purchase and delivery service in place. So the idea could be executed if we developed an application and delivery system. Thankfully, the client bought it."
Not only did the idea win awards and inspire envy--it also represents the kind of creativity that changes and directly drives business. Homeplus launched the effort as an attempt to expand its reach without having to open more bricks and mortars stores. It now boasts 21 virtual stores in Seoul, with plans for more in other Korean cities. In January of this year, Homeplus announced that its mobile shopping sales leaped as much as 2,133% compared to August 2011. Moreover, other marketers have adopted the idea--Procter & Gamble launched a similar effort in Prague, Chinese retailer Yihodian also opened its own virtual outlets while in the U.S., Conde Nast's Glamour cited Homeplus as direct inspiration for a similar "Apothecary Wall" campaign in New York earlier this year.
That the team comprises women actually played a significant role in the idea's genesis. "Outside of myself, all the other team members were married women who understand weekend grocery shopping is such a tough task," says Art Director Bang. "Lots of commuters use subway day and night, so the screen doors [on which the virtual store appeared] is what they see every day. We combined two different concepts--subway for weekday commuting and grocery shopping for weekends. We wanted to let the store come to people."
The Homeplus idea marries cultural insight, and media both traditional and state-of-the-art--all of which wouldn't register with the consumer if not packaged in a palatable, and easy-to-digest way, the Cheil team believes. "The Tesco Homeplus Virtual Store campaign shows the importance of technology for actualizing an idea that could have been just an idea," says Chung. "However, technology should not be ahead of the idea. Technology should be strictly hidden from consumers so that they don't feel burdened."
"Today's advertising is not restricted to mass media," adds Bang. "There are so many changes that advertising does not seem to have a limit, which means we may have to get rid of the terminology 'advertising' itself. However, no matter how brilliant our ideas are, we cannot persuade consumers if these ideas are difficult or complicated. Creative and technology should be closely linked to each other, but they should be presented in a simple, interesting and unique manner."
Beyond Homeplus, their collective output includes other inventive ideas, including a campaign for Dunkin Donuts that turns consumers' voices into a coupon, a Facebook theme park for Samsung, and an Angry Birds-inspired campaign for Cass beer.
The four make up what they call a "freestyle task force. We occasionally get together whenever there's an interesting project or a good idea," explains Bang. "Cheil is also fully supportive, because this kind of team is more flexible when it comes to developing new ideas and good creative." The agency also "gives special considerations for female staff," says Chung. "It's pilot testing on working at home, and working hours are operated flexibly. There's a Cheil nursery that we can trust and send our kids to while at work, and it's open till midnight. There is a high percentage of female employees and many moms with kids, and this kind of system helps working moms manage their life at work and home."
Youna Chung, Youbin Bang, Yeonjoo Lee and Misu Yi--More to Know:
On biggest creative inspiration:
Youna: I feel greatly inspired by observing people. I am curious of how other people live, how they think and their needs. Ultimately, advertising is about people.
Youbin: I always try to come up with the "hottest" item of these days. First of all, I investigate why people like it, and then combine two or three reasons.
Yeonjoo: To be honest, what inspires me is nothing special. It's my daily routines, such as talking to my friends, my beloved husband and kid.
Misu: I see how other people live.
On fun, outside of advertising:
Youna: I feel happy when I drink.
Youbin: I just like meeting and talking to friends, as I can understand other people's lifestyles. When by myself, I jot down my ideas and write diaries.
Yeonjoo: Pottery! All the dishes in my home are made by me.
Misu: The most important thing is playing with my 18 month old son after work.
What they'd be doing, if not in advertising:
Youna: I am not sure. However, if I were to leave this industry, I think I would be doing something meaningful to the world like work at UNICEF.
Youbin: Probably an office worker during the daytime, and a writer (working on provocative scenarios or soap opera) during the nighttime.
Yeonjoo: I sometimes dream of going back to farming. Maybe when I retire, I would like to enjoy countryside life and drawing pictures. But at the moment, I cannot think of anything else than advertising.
Misu: I can't think of any other career than advertising.
On female creatives in Korea:
Youbin: It's a tough industry--I have lots of overtime and sometimes work all night. But there are lots of female talents with passion for ideas. It's not that the country is has subsidy for female advertising experts, but having lots of female colleagues is both a relief and a motivation for many other female talents.
Yeonjoo: My first boss (a CD) said I was the first female art director that he hired. Ten years ago, there were not many female workers, in particular, art directors, in the advertising industry. However over half of my colleagues in Cheil are female these days. Cheil Worldwide does support female talents in many ways, although I don't have the overall picture of the Korean advertising industry.
Check out the full list of Creativity's 2012 Creatives You Should Know.