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Design for Change

While in Singapore to judge this year’s President’s Design Awards, Tham Khai Meng of Ogilvy & Mather talks about creativity and how design can bring about change.

Design for Change


August 10th, 2011

In 2009, multi-award-winning creative Tham Khai Meng added yet one more accolade to his belt when he was named ’Designer of the Year’ in Singapore’s President’s Design Award (PDA). The Singapore-born, New York-based worldwide creative director of Ogilvy & Mather was hailed by the jury as “an international giant, inspiring an entire generation of creatives around the world”.

His work for the Hopenhagen movement that same year came under the spotlight. Part of a 6-agency project, the campaign was meant to create awareness of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and help push for change.

Tham Kai Meng

Hopenhagen: Ogilvy & Mather in conjunction with International Advertising Association for the UN

“David Ogilvy, our founder, has always believed that creativity is not just there to sell products. We should be trying to help to make the world a better place,” Tham tells when in town recently – as a judge this time in PDA 2011.

Tham Kai Meng

Tham Kai Meng


“Now as it so happens, brands are also talking about this. So what’s driving this is really the whole green movement and the consumers are also demanding this.

“But then there are brands like Patagonia, which is an American brand, an outdoor wear clothing company, that has used, or still uses plastic bottles, recycling them to make outdoor clothes. I’ve a few!”

Patagonia was founded way back in the 1970s by Yvon Chouinard. He also wrote the book Let My People Go Surfing. “One of the chapters in the book talks about using the green movement to drive businesses. And he has, on his door outside his office [the words] “There’s no business to be done on a dead planet”. I love that quotation, because it says everything,” says Tham. “I would love to work with a company like that.”

Tham Kai Meng

Ogilvy Vietnam for The Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation

Apart from Hopenhagen, Ogilvy continues to produce many campaigns that drive home messages on social responsibility for clients such as Coca-Cola and Unilever. It is also involved in pro bono projects, like a campaign for helmets launched in Vietnam 7 years ago by the agency’s creative director based in Ho Chi Minh City. The campaign was aimed at encouraging motorcyclists and their pillion passengers to wear helmets while on the road.

“We actually did it out of our own volition. And it made the government sit up and listen. They took notice of it, and they made it into a law, subsequently. So it has changed culture, in that sense,” says Tham.

Tham Kai Meng

Tham feels that while there is more that communication design can do to impact society in a positive way, there is “no dearth of ideas”, nor a lack of enthusiasm. He also sees examples of more socially led projects taking place.

Tham Kai Meng

On creativity, Tham feels that it boils down to education. “I think we are educating the creative spark out of our children. Not just in the Singapore, but in the UK, in the US, in Europe.

“There has got to be a certain amount of tolerance of failure, freedom, exploring, a bit of unstableness because you don’t know where it’s going but yet you know where it’s going… but because you’re pushing it, it’s just going beyond the boundaries.

“David Ogilvy, our founder… he said we need a massive injection of talent – talent in the form of different thinkers, renegades, rebels, all sorts of talent. You’ve got to put them together and catch the fireworks.”

Ogilvy & Mather

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