Interview: Alan Cerutti – ‘Smart Brands Have Shifted to Acts Versus Ads’

Cerutti is Co-Founder, and CEO of creative agency Happiness Saigon, which launched in Ho Chi Minh City five years ago.

In case you haven’t heard, Vietnam has done a remarkable job containing the COVID-19 virus with the country of 90 million registering not a single death during the pandemic.

While much of the rest of the world continues to deal with the pandemic, businesses in Vietnam have been given the rare opportunity to set out on the road to recovery with brands already regaining confidence and loosening up ad spend for marketing campaigns to engage with consumers.

We recently caught up with Alan Cerutti, Co-Founder, and CEO of creative agency Happiness Saigon, which launched in Ho Chi Minh City five years ago. Over the course of our conversation, Cerutti shares his thoughts on trends in the Vietnam market, how brands are consumers are reacting to the COVID-19 recovery, and more.


What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Mainly Creativity. We’re working relentlessly towards building a remarkable creative agency and that for us means step by step building a legacy of ideas in Vietnam and South East Asia.

The silver lining of the crisis is that we have found a rebirth in vision and a new proposition to match the (future) needs of clients in our region. We believe clients today want one partner that delivers results. We believe creativity and ideas mean business, we are working hard to demonstrate this in our end-to-end marketing and communication solutions. Next to our existing capabilities in thinking and making we now have added media and performance to tie it all together with an entrepreneurial vision.

That has proven to be the right bet. My one-year-old baby girl has kept me busy too. I just love spending time with her. I have been fortunate to see her take her first steps when we were in lock-down. That for sure has been the silver lining for me, personally.

You launched Happiness Saigon five years ago in Ho Chi Minh. How’s the journey been?

It’s been a journey of great progress, I have witnessed how Vietnam has been growing and how our tiny Happiness team has been able to grow with it.

“I will wager that Vietnam will lead the way in Asia in five years’ time, particularly on how to demonstrate effectiveness through creativity and entrepreneurship.”

With great progress comes hardship and happiness, and there’s still some of that every day. I fell in love with the industry because it’s the only one I knew that, in a way,  combined art and commerce.

Vietnam is embracing creativity and ideas in commerce more, and I believe our time to shine is coming close, so I’d say the journey has only started!

Vietnam has done an impressive job in regard to safeguarding the public during the pandemic. How is the business situation shaping up as things return to “normal”?

We’re in the recovery stage I believe, consumers are spending money wisely and gradually regaining confidence. This has an impact on how businesses market their products and spend their advertising money. Normal 2.0 – as we call it – is looming, I see businesses in planning mode and still figuring where to invest, how much, etc (with understandable doubt and change of minds). Some businesses show the way and will inspire others that it’s more than okay to invest again.

Are there any particular trends that stand out?

The Normal 2.0 will lead to more short-termism from businesses, with reason. Businesses need to make up for losses, and every $ invested need return. I get that and believe this will be a trend for a while longer. We have been very vocal about our point of view, we consult our clients and guide them to tap into the power of the right creativity and ideas and recommended them to continue to invest where others stopped.

“I believe, consumers are spending money wisely and gradually regaining confidence. This has an impact on how businesses market their products and spend their advertising money.”

The crisis shows that if you don’t have strong brand consumers walk over to the next in line offering a discount. The trend regrettably is that businesses and brands will remain conservative. Smart brands have shifted to Acts versus Ads. I think the future will be about Acts and Ads.

Lastly, the “business” part is now more live than ever, our added value for businesses is to drive effectiveness. When promising results through creativity and ideas we need to be more responsible than ever that it will move that needle, exponentially. That’s why data and performance marketing solutions are so essential in our new vision.

You worked in several markets over the course of your career, what’s your take on the creative scene in Vietnam?

Creativity is there, sub-cultural collectives are awakening it and demonstrating its power. It is happening, art/creativity and consumers come together and it’s so enjoyable to witness and be a part of.

“Smart brands have shifted to Acts versus Ads. I think the future will be about Acts and Ads.”

You know, businesses never really needed creativity to gain market share in emerging market environments such as Vietnam. Being first, second, or third to market meant you go a solid share of the pie considering the pool of people you tap into. More market entries mean the need for a breakthrough – and this we know comes from innovation and ideas.

As the Vietnamese economy continues to grow you will see the much-needed rise of creativity and ideas in commerce and advertising. I will wager that Vietnam will lead the way in Asia in five years’ time, particularly on how to demonstrate effectiveness through creativity and entrepreneurship.

Is there any work Happiness Saigon has done that you are particularly proud of?

This winter we launched the NIVEA Tailored Care project. By turning recycled NIVEA Creme tins into an insulating fabric, we made sure over 1,500 children in the North of Vietnam had their traditional jackets upcycled. I love this idea as it’s an example of an Act that is on the brand purpose, Care.

Another one is our recent campaign for Tuborg designed to get people together. The more people are together, the more the V-Pop music video of Justatee & Phuong Ly is unlocked.

What advice do you have for brands looking to resonate with Vietnamese consumers?

Don’t waste your money or consumers’ time with average advertising. Instead show empathy, vision, and spread optimism about the future. That’s what consumers buy into now.

This was published in collaboration with our content partner, Branding in Asia Magazine

Bobby McGill
Bobby is the founder and CEO of Think Content Asia.

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