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MRM Chief Creative Ronald Ng: 'brand Transformation Doesn't Matter If It's Boring' – The Drum

August 2, 2022 | 8 min read
Listen to article 4 min
Ronald Ng, chief creative officer at MRM, defines the connection between creativity and business transformation in an evolving world.
Ronald Ng has spent his career working to master creativity. As the global chief creative officer at MRM — a digital agency within IPG-owned McCann Worldgroup — he works to bridge the gaps between creative strategy, technology, data and commerce for a client roster that includes names like General Motors, Unilever and KFC.
But Ng wasn’t always on the path to creativity. He came from Malaysia to the University of Lincoln in Nebraska to study business. In his words, the effort was “a complete failure” — he never made it past Economics 101. Ng decided he had two choices: drop out of college or pursue something different. He decided on the latter, latching onto a newfound interest in broadcasting, journalism and communications. Now, he’s a certified creative heavyweight who’s held leadership roles at a handful of the world’s top creative and digital agencies, including JWT, BBDO, Saatchi and Saatchi, Digitas and more.
Ronald Ng served as jury president for the Creative Business Transformation Lions at Cannes Lions this summer / Ronald Ng
Ng last month served as jury president of the Creative Business Transformation Lions at the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It’s a category he describes as unique from many other awards at Cannes in its breadth. “It’s not like the other categories, which recognize the outcome of the idea or the marketing part of the idea — this is transformation; it is everything that happens before [the outcome].”
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The Drum caught up with Ng about how business transformation, purpose and creativity can work together to their mutual benefit.
Creative business transformation, in Ng’s view, isn’t tied to marketing explicitly. It’s the multi-faceted behind-the-scenes effort to affect change toward a specific end. On the Creative Business Transformation Lions jury this year, Ng says, the goal was “to celebrate the transformative changes that organizations make to inspire and affect the way forward.”
This kind of transformation, he says, requires a full, cross-organizational effort. “If you’re transforming your business, it’s not just the marketing team — it’s transforming everyone from the young intern that comes into the company to the CEO; the operations team to technology and even finance, the DEI lead and the communications chief. When we transform inside, we affect how people outside perceive and experience the business.”
The most successful examples, he argues, have the power to change not only the organization, but also entire industries or even a culture itself. He points to Always’ iconic ‘Like a Girl’ campaign as a prime example.
Or, he suggests, one might consider an automaker’s shift towards electrification. “[It’s not just about] the beautiful car. Tell me how you changed. Don’t say, ‘We’ve transformed from gas power to electric,’ and then show us the car — show us what you did internally, the culture, your factory operations, your employees, your new expertise that you need to hire for. What are your new HR practices? Did you change training? What are the new suppliers that you need to work with? And then show us the car as a result… of the process.”
And to win from the marketing perspective? Combine this kind of wholehearted, inside-out transformation with creative ideas that challenge the status quo. “It needs to be creative,” Ng says. “Everyone can transform. But if you do it in a very boring way, it does not matter. People won’t care. For example, if the iPhone was ugly, and it wasn’t a sort of a creative expression of [Steve Jobs’] vision, the iPhone wouldn’t be what it is today. You know what I mean?”
At Cannes Lions this year, Dole took home the Grand Prix for Creative Business Transformation for its ‘Piñatex’ initiative, which Ng says expertly combined the concept of transformational, ethos-based change with powerful creative. Developed in partnership with social impact-focused startup Ananas Anam with creative by L&C New York, the project aimed to stem agricultural waste. As one of the globe’s leading growers of pineapples, the Philippines produces three tons of agricultural waste in the form of pineapple leaves for every ton of fruit harvested. On a mission to reduce its waste and carbon footprint, Dole has begun collecting discarded pineapple leaves, which Ananas Anam uses to produce a vegan leather alternative dubbed Piñatex. A number of fashion brands including heavyweights like Nike, Hugo Boss and Paul Smith have already begun incorporating the eco-friendly material into their products.
According to Ng, the program has generated some $200m in additional profits for Dole. “It’s basically the transformation of waste to profit,” says Ng. “That’s what I mean [when i talk about the] creativity of connecting dots. You see a problem. How do you find a solution to the problem, then turn the problem into an opportunity? You identify an external partner who has the technology to help [develop a solution], scale it, help make it more efficient, then connect with people who would buy that product — which in turn, helps the company profitably grow.”
For any organization to begin the process of creative business transformation, Ng says there are a few simple steps to take. First? “Look for the real role that your business plays in society. For Dole, [corporate] responsibility as they sell their products is very important.” Then, home in on an opportunity for improvement. “The problem of waste is something that Dole had to solve. Identify a truth about your business.” Next, seek ways to “turn a problem into an opportunity,” Ng says.
He urges businesses to combine their problem-solving and innovation efforts with creativity. “The modern way to approach creativity is by connecting dots. It’s not about one tagline or one TV commercial or one campaign — it’s really like, ‘Who can make this work better? Who can solve this problem together with us?’ It’s what I call the democratization of creativity. Look beyond the traditional sorts of creators of solutions; look at partners, technology, people and emerging platforms. The ‘we’ is much more powerful than the ‘me.’”
As far as his own path is concerned, Ng is constantly focused on transformation, too. “Everyone talks about transformation; the opportunity to transform your professional focus — which I got the opportunity to do [through my many roles in this industry] — is also important for us as individuals.”
It’s Ng’s passion for connecting creative ideas with people and technology that has propelled him this far. “Luckily, I found this thing: creativity. And I am still in this business after 25 years.”
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