Referencing an eclectic range of personal cultural touchstones—Sesame Street, Carl Sagan, The Cure, Bruce Lee, Buddha, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and many points in between—Cruz traced the origins of his creative vocabulary in a Spikes Asia presentation titled "Asia_NO.W.HERE: Asian Identity In The Global Broadcast".
Throughout this personal journey, Cruz also shared his observations on the growing global cultural influence of the region, particularly Japan, South Korea, and China. The cultural exports of these countries serve as a form of "reverse colonisation" that breaks down cultural barriers, he said, before showing a video in which the Gangham-style dance stylings of K-Pop sensation Psy met American presidential politics.
"Design and creativity are a far better ambassador than politics and foreign policy," he said.
Yet this brought Cruz to the crux of his talk, a challenge to Asia's creative community: If Asia's cultural influence is on the rise, "Why is so much of our work still reflective more of western values than Asian? Is your work reflective of who you really are and the culture you work in?"
Cruz went on to cite case studies meant to demonstrate the way forward. For example, he cited an mid-2000s campaign for Nike focusing on the game of basketball. In contrast to US approaches to marketing the game, which tend to focus on "one-on-one bravado" and imagery akin to warlords and tribalism, the campaign used bright colors and focused on the flow of the game as teammates work in unison.
As part of his personal tour of the region, Cruz offered some specific observations about specific countries.
Discussing Japan, he walked through the country's post-war industrialisation and the national identity of corporate efficiency it engendered. This eventually led to a hunger for more and gave rise to a vibrant, nuanced street culture. "The Japanese have mastered the art of being slightly different," he said. "And in Japan, little differences mean big differences." The rise of "hyper individuality" is making Japan into "the testing ground for brands", he said. The country has also become a strong exporter of creativity, he added, citing examples as diverse as Hello Kitty and Kill Bill.
South Korea followed in Japan's footsteps as far as industrialisation, but creatively has taken on a different role: that of TV and film powerhouse. Through these vehicles the country's creatives have even played a role in international relations. Referencing the TV serial Winter Sonata, he observed, "What I found interesting was that a TV drama can actually bridge social divides between Japan and Korea, fixing what politicians could not."
As for China, Cruz cited the 2008 Olympics as a seminal event that boosted the country's confidence. "But china still has a problem respecting intellectual property," he said. "China is on a quest to prove that it can innovate and inspire the rest of the world with its creativity."
This article first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific