"It's useless to be creative unless you can sell what you create," said Don Draper, the fictional creative director of Sterling Cooper in an episode of Mad Men. Brilliant, fearless, and very much a product of his time (1960s America, when sexism and misogyny were rampant), the Jon Hamm character was key to making Mad Men a drama that challenged its viewers.
Despite his flaws, the enigmatic Draper was hailed as a creative marketing genius and the model adman. Advertising executives looked up to him and boys wanted to be him. One such boy is Jaz Lee.
"I watched one episode of Mad Men and said, 'That's the greatest job in the world!' All Don Draper does is drink whiskey, sleep, and not doing much work, right? And also wearing nice suits. That's a really great job!" the 27-year-old says with a grin.
The Asia's Most Influential honouree admits it was these shallow reasons (not to mention the Mad Men glamour and the possibility of fame and money) that motivated him to get into the advertising industry. However, advertising wasn't always his first choice or passion.
Lee grew up in Australia chasing his football goals but a sudden life change forced him to uproot and return to Malaysia and drop out of high school altogether. "My parents separated and almost overnight, I was broke. My mom and I moved out, and going back to Australia wasn't an option. It’s like you’re stuck. And I don’t even have a high school degree," Lee reveals.
To survive, he had to work a lot of odd jobs as a teenager.
"I once sold Maggi mee at supermarkets. I was an admin at a law firm. I was a retail guy at TopShop. Then one day, I stumbled upon advertising through Mad Men," Lee says. "After watching that episode, I sent a cover letter to Eric Cruz (then Leo Burnett & Arc Malaysia executive creative director), telling him what advertising was, what it should be, and what's wrong with advertising today. I told him that advertising shouldn't look like advertising and that it should mean something. I said, 'Right now, all I see are ads. Ads that sound like ads, smell like ads, and feel like ads.' That was probably the dumbest move I've ever made, telling an executive creative director that."
It was a very ballsy move that Cruz appreciated. Lee landed his first big break and arguably his luckiest shot at life–a copywriting gig at Leo Burnett Malaysia. It's safe to say that he went into advertising with nothing but bright eyes and his dream of becoming Draper. And, boy, was he in for a surprise.