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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

W+K opens in Seoul to ride the K-wave

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Yosuke Suzuki, Wieden+Kennedy's president of Asia Pacific region, gives a presentation in front of his employees in Korea in April. [WIEDEN+KENNEDY]
Yosuke Suzuki, Wieden+Kennedy’s president of Asia Pacific region, gives a presentation in front of his employees in Korea in April. [WIEDEN+KENNEDY]

Wieden+Kennedy, an advertising agency best known for creating Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline, is just doing it in Korea, with the aim of tapping into the growing global influence of Korean culture.

Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, the agency was founded by Dan Wieden and David Kennedy in 1982 and branched out to open 10 other offices worldwide — including one soon to be established in Seoul. It will open in July in Jung District, central Seoul.

Wieden+Kennedy, also known as W+K, already has other offices in East Asia, such as locations in Shanghai and Tokyo, but decided to open an office in Seoul, seeing potential in promoting domestic brands and their products worldwide in the midst of Hallyu — the Korean wave of pop culture, which includes K-pop, K-content and Korean food.

“Korea and K-culture itself is literally taking over the world,” said Yosuke Suzuki, the agency’s Asia-Pacific president, as he sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily last month. “I need my staff to not only ‘understand’ culture but lie within the culture. Observing is one thing, but actually having our staff living in that culture is a big difference.”

Suzuki has led the W+K’s office in Tokyo since December 2020. Before joining W+K, he worked as an executive strategy director of global marketing company R/GA’s Tokyo branch.

Yosuke Suzuki speaks at an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily in Jung District, central Seoul, in April.[WIEDEN+KENNEDY]
Yosuke Suzuki speaks at an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily in Jung District, central Seoul, in April.[WIEDEN+KENNEDY]

Before the establishment of the Seoul office, the Tokyo branch juggled clients both from Korea and Japan. For domestic brands, Suzuki oversaw campaigns for Nike Korea, such as one featuring Olympic gold medalist Shim Suk-hee as she overcame systematic abuse in the domestic sports industry, and also worked with Netflix Korea as the company promoted the series “Move to Heaven” (2021), which revolves around trauma cleaners, or workers who clean up the sites of recently deceased.

“I think Korean content, the creativity that is pushing out, is really focusing on the commonalities of us being humans, that’s why everybody gets touched by the creativity that the Koreans have,” referring to the potential of Korea’s soft power. “It doesn’t focus on people’s differences. That’s why it’s very pure. It reaches, touches and engages everybody across multiple channels, countries. That’s why it’s so powerful.”

W+K is working with food conglomerate CJ to promote the Bibigo packaged food brand. The agency will begin promoting the brand with a new campaign this summer. Including the campaign for CJ, W+K has 5 ongoing projects in Korea.

“I believe Korea is at this market stage where its people have predominance in food and entertainment, but it shouldn’t stop there,” he said. “We want to work closely with local brands here. I think that whilst we may start out with a small network, we’re in the right places in the world and we can really help them export more value through other industries.”

The Korean office will start out small, according to Suzuki, with maximum of 10 to 15 people in the first year.

“Our desire is not about large numbers,” he said. The Shanghai office has some 80 employees, while the Tokyo office has about 70. While smaller than main headquarters’ offices in New York, Portland, London and Amsterdam, the Asia offices —  Shanghai, Tokyo, Korea and Singapore — will “operate together almost like one company,” he said.

Suzuki, center, speaks with his employees to prepare for the establishment of W+K's Korean office in April.[WIEDEN+KENNEDY]
Suzuki, center, speaks with his employees to prepare for the establishment of W+K’s Korean office in April.[WIEDEN+KENNEDY]

An important element of potential clients that may have the right fit with W+K is their activeness in promoting their brands and the brand voice.

“We want to work with ambitious marketers,” he said. “How we work with clients has to be based on a foundation of trust, which means that the clients need to challenge themselves and the agency on everything we do. But at the same time, we too encourage and challenge our clients. It’s having that healthy discussion or argument because that’s the only way to get to the real solution that actually works in the real world. If a marketer is not ambitious, it’s very hard to get the best work out of W+K.”

This person must also believe “their product or brand can really help people’s lives to be a little bit better, a bit more effective, a little bit more something, to know at least to the point it’s moving in the right direction.”

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]