Interview with Vanessa Soto Chan, Creative Director of Forest Lawn, United States

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Vanessa Soto Chan

As Creative Director of Forest Lawn, Vanessa’s experience allows her to explore creative problem solving by combining her love for both the visual and verbal.

Interview with the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards Winner - Vanessa Soto Chan

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.

• Proudly Manila-born and raised, previous New Yorker who calls Pasadena, Ca home these days.

• Formerly worked as an art director for two of the greatest agencies of Madison Avenue in NYC (BBDO Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson), and as a creative director for a multi-cultural ad agency in SF (Dae Advertising). Previous clients include Pepsi, Gillette, Doritos, Trident, Kellogg's, Listerine, Kleenex, Lubriderm, Wells Fargo Bank, Southwest Airlines.

• Academy of Art University, SF alumni and former instructor for Advertising Design.

• Currently exploring a personal passion project designed to give back to the Philippines while honoring its culture, traditions and unique sense of humor.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a creative?

I love creative problem solving, and when it comes to the applied arts, particularly advertising design, I am able to combine my love for both the visual and verbal.

I was never gifted in the fine arts, so when I started learning about advertising design in a famous University in Manila where most of the foundations classes included painting an ad in water color or poster paint, I got disillusioned fairly quickly.

So imagine me as a kid, newly migrating to America suddenly feeling free with all the inspiration that the great ads of the time offered (VW Beetle Ads, FedEx’ “Fast Talker” with John Moschitta, Pepsi’s “Innertube” TV spots, etc.). A whole new creative world opened up for me that rewarded big conceptual ideas, rather than just “place key art here”.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

Forest Lawn is a world-famous landmark in Southern California. It’s known for its beautiful memorial-parks, its collection of art in its Forest Lawn Museum, but most of all, it’s caring service in funeral, cremation and its mortuary services.

I am the in-house Creative Director for Forest Lawn’s Marketing Department. Brand creative steward for its messaging, look and feel in all its branding, tactical and conceptual campaigns across 6 parks and sales offices in LA, OC and Riverside Counties.

4What does “creativity” mean to you?

Drawing out what’s hidden and expressing it in a manner that better articulates the obvious for other people to then see.

5To you, what makes a “creative” idea and/or design?

A big idea that seems obvious and easy, but is actually cleverly drawn out. The “aha/magic” it allows spectator to feel.

6Tell us about your creative and/or design process.

I gather all information, then walk away and let it simmer. My best ideas have been when I am not forcing the solution. Showering, driving etc.

7What's your favorite part of the creative process and why?

The process of distilling the simple truth and conveying it in the most creative and unexpected way.

8Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.

I try to find joy, and show joy. And sometimes it’s through sentimentality. I am Filipino after all! Splashes of color also make me happy.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?

I was born and raised in the Philippines. I am always going to have multiple sides happening all at once; the Filipino, the new immigrant in SF, the New Yorker, and now the Californian. I am all at once and that just means a more dynamic, non-linear approach as I am able to look at anything from more angles.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

We are an industry that’s very hard to promote. No one wants to talk about death. It’s not cool like a lifestyle brand. It’s not sexy like a car could be. Nor newsworthy often like an influencer. But it’s the truth and it's reality. And in order to celebrate life, we must acknowledge death.

We take our responsibility to honor a life very seriously. At the end of a day, the service we offer is the ultimate celebration of a life well lived. It’s very encouraging to know that good old fashioned and authentic values like caring for another still wins regardless of what product or service. It was a limited production budget, with a limited amount of crew. But our hearts were always in the right place and we never lost sight of that.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

While the advertising is for a cemetery and mortuary, it’s really about its people and the bigger celebration of our humanity. Genuine caring is what ultimately separates us and elevates our cemetery from just a plot of land, however beautiful.

The Forest Lawn employees being the secret ingredient––the compassionate and helpful individuals that come to a person’s or family’s side during their darkest hour.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

With a very small and limited budget, this TV spot/content video had to fulfill several multi-fold goals–– 1) remind the public about this local, but landmark brand in the Southern California area (Los Angeles and Orange County) 2) share the brand’s 100 plus- year creed and make it relatable today 3) challenge very limiting perceptions about the cemetery industry by humanizing it 4) recruit quality and values-aligned new employees 5) and inspire and motivate current employees.

All above lofty goals are typically projects that each get their own budget and require their own videos. But with a regional brand such as Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks and Mortuaries, we had to make the most of one meaningful spot to service all points. Forest Lawn took on this challenge and turned the long list of limitations on its head by simply distilling it down to one guiding principle––Caring Service. By declaring a far greater stance on the subject of "quality of life" and embracing love and compassion for another as our Reason to Be or Manifesto, we took ownership of being stewards of life, not death.

13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

It’s a way for the team to take stock and pause. Advertising and marketing is very fast paced and we never really take a moment to breathe it all in.

14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

• The challenge.

• The inspiration. That initial spark of when you know you landed on something.

• The unique opportunity to communicate while making the world a more interesting place.

15What makes your country specifically, unique in the creative industry?

These uniquely uncertain times have put a spotlight on brands’ authenticity like nothing else before. At least not in recent times.

Good values and not “splash” has surfaced to once again be the most important.

16If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Creative Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Just go for it. You’ll never know unless you try. A big motivation for me was the deep desire for the work to be seen, not so much to win, though I’m very, very happy to have won!

I’m very proud of the creative solution, the good team that made it all possible (a great majority being the Forest Lawn teams of gardening, autoshop, memorial counseling)––and of the values the video was trying to promote.

17What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?

• Museums and galleries. Can’t get enough inspiration.

• Circles (any): Learn from more creative people than you are.

• Any school that ignites a passion for curiosity, and encourages you to think differently.

• Travel outside your comfort zone or your usual. And I don’t mean that you have to go far, just somewhere different from your normal. In the age of Covid-19, I travel by way of books and videos or podcasts.

• Music (anything that awakens you)

18Tell us something you have never told anyone else.

I don’t look good in beige.

19Who has inspired you in your life and why?

All the strong women in my family.

All my mentors in all my previous ad agencies.

20What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

Always know that you have more to learn.

As my great mentor once taught me––Donna Weinheim of the “Where’s the Beef” (Wendy’s) and “Pizza! Pizza!” (Little Caesar’s) famous campaigns––Always be kind.

21Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?

I always intended for the spot/video to just be seen by a wider audience. So, to win is such icing on the cake. Thank you for the opportunity.

Winning Entries

Special People | 2020

With a very small and limited budget, this TV spot/content video had to fulfill several multi-fold goals–– 1) remind the public about this local...
(read more at MUSE Creative Awards)

Forest Lawn

Forest Lawn

Forest Lawn has been a leader in the funeral and cemetery industry for over 100 years, upholding their simple creed of 'Caring Service is our reason of being'.

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