Seoul-based Thomas Kim turns his creative agency into a playground

Thomas Hong-tack Kim is an endless stream of creativity, not to mention an award winning one. The Chief Creative Officer launched his innovative digital agency, The Playground, on the concept of a literal playground; forever allowing a sense of play in all the work produced. Previously Kim worked at Korea’s leading marketing company, Cheil for over 20 years spearheading global projects such as Invisible People and Ok Go’s Last Leaf video clip (if you like toast, you should watch it), based on the idea of fusing technology and creativity. We caught up with Kim to chat about all things marketing and strategy in this digital playground we live in.


You began your career in advertising over two decades ago. How did it all begin that led you to where you are today?

I first started as a copywriter and ended up as an Executive Creative Director within 20 years at Cheil Worldwide. My focus in advertising began to shift from traditional media to digital, to integrated platform. As a copywriter, I loved how I could creatively communicate with people through text. I joined the global advertising team five years after joining the company, where I learned the importance of horizontal cooperation. That’s when I stopped giving directions and started curating. Curation here means that experts in each field propose different ideas, respecting their specialty. This is a fundamental concept in today’s digital ecosystem. After building experience with global ads, I challenged myself to move onto the digital marketing field and created integrated platforms. Last year, I started brand new as a Chief Creative Officer of The Playground. I wanted to created a new flexible, organic ecosystem where experts from various fields gather for each project to create successful result. That is The Playground.

The word “playground” appears everywhere – from the book you published to your company name. What was your thinking behind this concept?

My philosophy is to provide a playground. Let the people meet the brand, play with the brand, and find a solution among each other in the playground. And let the people talk about the brand and share values. The logic goes like this: a kid has so much fun at the playground that he/she comes back home excited to tell the parents how it was on their own.

Your company aims to drive change in the communication solutions of today’s new digital ecosystem. How does The Playground seek to differentiate itself from other agencies?

Providing solutions. That solution could be a TVC, mobile app, online event, or an integrated platform. The key is not to simply deliver messages as we did in traditional media but to provide a substantive solution that resolves the problem. Therefore, we study what the actual problem is and offer a proactive proposal before the advertiser requests.

What has been the most meaningful project to you so far?

Hyundai Motor Group’s ‘Going Home’ and UNHCR’s refugee project ‘Invisible People’ to list a few.

What are some of the challenges as a content/idea maker?

Finding people’s real insight. It’s impossible to provide a practical solution without it. People’s minds are so complicated that it is not always easy to pick out their true inner state of mind.

Where do you think the future of digital marketing is heading?

The future of digital marketing depends on how you attract voluntary participation in the most entertaining and easiest way. Creativity must be applied to technology in order to achieve success. There will be a lot more Creative Technologists in the future. Technology cannot be a meaningful communication tool if it fails to bring out interaction.

You repeatedly stress the importance of CSV (Creating Shared Value). How does this apply to today’s marketing world?

A high-quality product is not enough for brands these days. The kind of social role the brand offers is the key. As you can see in ‘Going Home,’ where a vehicle becomes a medium to fulfill the hope of displaced person, the core of CSV is raising the brand value as well as creating social value.

Your recent book “The Essence of Gold Ring Is Not Gold But The Hole” is a collection of your Facebook posts that you share on with your followers. What are your thoughts on the power of social media?

I think of Facebook as my personal media. That’s why I share valuable information or thoughts through the platform. Since social media has a ripple effect on its own, it is a truly suitable vehicle to distribute values that we should cherish. It is a perfect medium to spread the ‘share & care’ culture.

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