George Nguyen

Go Canadians, Go: TBWA’s George Nguyen

"We need to be willing to interrogate what we’ve been taking as gospel"

As part of our “Go Canadians, Go” project, Marketing asked dozens of Canucks working abroad (or those who’ve returned with a few years of international experience) to give us their impressions of the differences between Canada’s industry and others. Does being Canadian give you a leg up?

It’s been nearly 12 months since we landed in Toronto. Prior to that, the extent of my Canadian understanding consisted of Whistler, one day of focus groups, a preference for Caesar over Mary, and the famous Molson “I am Canadian” spot.

Toronto is my fifth professional market having worked in Seattle, Boston, New York and, most recently, Saigon. And the only thing I can count on after all this time is that while every place has its own rhythm, people and places are more alike than they are different.

But there are certainly differences and there are things that I do miss about living and working in Asia – the energy, the crowds, the speed and pace. In a developing market, anything is possible. And there were days that Saigon made New York feel slow and after five years, I came to love the blaring of horns that started before sun up and stayed well after sun down.

The nice thing about developing markets is that everything is in a nascent stage and that means there is no roadmap for how to approach a problem. The very nature of the marketplace meant that many of the conventions that have developed over time and constrain our thinking were questioned and challenged as to whether or not they were appropriate for Vietnam.

We need some of that here in Canada. We need to be willing to interrogate what we’ve been taking as gospel. There should be no taboos. We need to question ourselves constantly about whether or not the way it’s always been done is the way it should continue to be done.

And this becomes more important than ever, especially with the exponential rate of change we’re seeing in the marketplace today from the ever-expanding media channels to the way that our clients are going to market.

And we need to be stubborn about it. If there is one other thing that I would bring to Canada from Vietnam it’s their unbridled enthusiasm and optimism. As I was constantly reminded, these were the folks who beat the US in the American War (because hey, when you win you can call it any damn thing you want). And if they could beat the US in a war, then anything was possible if you just kept after it long enough.

We could all use a little bit of that piss & vinegar. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Nguyen is managing director and chief strategy officer at TBWA\Toronto

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