Antti Toivonen, who leads Superson’s Singapore office, still feels affinity towards film. The movie he co-wrote and -produced, Tiong Bahru Social Club, made it to Busan International Film Festival’s programme. 

The mix of Tampere-dialect and tropical bird sounds create an outer-worldly soundscape to the Teams-call.

Leading the Superson office in Singapore, Antti Toivonen is excited because a film he co-wrote and -produced, Tiong Bahru Social Club, will premiere in South-Korea at Busan International Film Festival. It is a so-called A-list festival, which means that success at the festival helps at least when it comes to the Asian distribution. If all goes well, the right person sees the film and the rest is history.

Previously Toivonen has made two short films with Teemu Niukkanen, screened in Sundance Festival Festival: Saatanan kanit (Fucking Bunnies, 2017) and Onko sulla nälkä? (Are you hungry?, 2019). Just like its predecessors, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a comedy, but the genre and feel of the film is very different. 

“Retro future”, Toivonen describes the film’s style.

The storyline Toivonen describes is the following: the events start unfolding when a young joins a pilot project aiming to increase the happiness of a Singaporean neighbourhood, Tiong Bahru. The film is directed by Singaporean Bee Thiam Tan.

It’s slightly surprising that Toivonen has the time to lead the Superson office in Singapore and make feature films on the side. According to Toivonen, there is nothing out of the ordinary, as it has to do with passion. 

“I’ve always said that we should never quit doing the things that we have the fire for. When many young professionals work in an agency they end up making huge compromises with their own craft. If you work for five years, and don’t make a single cool thing that you yourself believe in, it starts to show in your salary. You will become irrelevant. Every creative has made ads, there is nothing special about that.”

Toivonen owes his own international career to a side project. In 2006 Toivonen worked for TBWA\Tequila as a copywriter. At a get-together he pulled on his friend Riku Pentti’s, who was known as DJ Infektio, secondhand t-shirt with a picture of Mika Häkkinen on it - and started to speak rally English. From a momentary impulse, Markku from Finland, who went on to become an early social media phenomenon, was born.

“I still have the Markku-gear under my bed, but I don’t use them that often.”

Markku from Finland was a walking, Finnish cliché churning oracle, resembling a stereotypical tourist with his bum bag and fish finger moustache. The character was based on embarrassment-by-proxy and the gullible Finland pride. Markku made his breakthrough after Lordi won the Eurovision. The idea was to make video postcards, familiar from the Eurovision, of Finland.

“We thought that now is the right time for Markku, as Finns would nervously think that what do the foreigners think of us.”

Now Markku is already a part of Finnish social media history, which even the youth should remember. The skits Toivonen made together with Teemu Niukkanen under the name Ruttoryhmä

“It’s interesting how much Markku from Finland helped me professionally. I would have never made it to TBWA\PHS to put together an international portfolio. They would have never looked at me, since at that point in time I was a mid-tier creative. It was a breakthrough case for me professionally. I still have the Markku-gear under my bed, but I don’t use them that often.”

When the first decade of 2000s came to its end Toivonen wanted to move overseas and applied for several jobs in different countries. He ended up in Singapore by coincidence, and when he started working at TBWA’s local office he had not even visited Asia before. Toivonen worked in Singapore Airlines global lead -team. The account would be similar as working for Fazer or Finnair in Finland.

Toivonen has lived in Singapore for 11 years, during which he has worked for R/GA and Ogilvy. The dream of starting his own agency was born, when Toivonen got fed up with the stiffness of the international network agencies. In the end and partly through coincidence Toivonen ended up opening Superson’s Singapore agency with Samppa Vilkuna.

“I thought that if I want to do something cool I might have to create the opportunity myself. The most creative thing I’ve done in my marketing career is building my own agency.”

Economy is reviving

Matching Finland by the size of its population and the size of Hollola (city in Finland), Singapore has had almost 58 000 COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths caused by it by the 23rd October. According to the World Health Organisation Southeast Asia has had a total of 8.67 million COVID cases. Europe has suffered 8.57 million cases.

According to Toivonen, the advertising market has started to pick up again after the drop over the spring and summer, thanks to a well organised system.

Toivonen shares that already in January 2020, when Finland was only hearing the news of a virus spreading in China, the Singaporean border was staffed with officials with thermometers and questionnaires. The country got in economic depression, and the GDP dropped by the second quarter a record breaking 13.2%. According to Toivonen the beginning of the pandemic was almost a full stop of the economy.

“The initial shock was short. At first the market went into crisis control mode, when everyone needed to figure out what to do now. Due to COVID-19 many companies had a purchase freeze.”

According to Toivonen, COVID did not affect the marketing content much, but rather the amount of work and the advertiser’s media choices. Many businesses wanted to move their marketing to the digital environment, where consumers spent their time now.

“When working with clients, COVID isn’t really present in discussions anymore, but it does affect our everyday lives.” Toivonen describes the current situation in Singapore.

Superson launched the Singapore office a year and a half ago. Now the company has clients in eight different countries. Superson works with clients in Singapore and also helps for example Nordic companies in the Southeast Asian market. One unique thing about the agency is its expertise in sustainability, which according to Superson isn’t that common in the Singaporean agency field.

“For many foreign companies it has been a surprise that the cultural differences between Southeast Asian countries are quite big. The market in Southeast Asia is very fragmented, but each country has a large population. Indonesia has a larger population than Brazil, although it looks small on the map. The volumes are totally different than in Europe.”

Antti Toivonen, 42
Job: Superson Singapore agency’s lead, creative director and partner
Education: Bachelor in Media, University of Westminster, Industrial Business and Management studies in Tampere Polytechnic University
Hometown: Singapore
Hobbies: Thai boxing, jogging, yoga and eating
Motto: Let’s build things that make people tick.

Author: Ville Perttula
Translation: Superson
Published in Markkinointi & Mainonta 10/2020.
Link to original article (in Finnish)