The first day of SLAF2015 was packed full of insights from the best of Chinese and global advertising thinkers.
Photograph by Tim Stephens.
This week a delegation of many of the UK’s most capable and successful production, digital, interactive and VFX companies descended on Shanghai to meet China’s top advertising professionals. Organised by the Advertising Producers Association (APA), the Shanghai London Advertising Forum was a chance for these two advertising industries to collide at the Sigma Film Club on the bank of the Huangpu river and learn from one another about how to continue making great advertising together.
Steve Davies, the APA’s Chief Executive introduced the event, reminding the audience that the forum was a follow up on the 2007 SLAF, which many in Shanghai commended as one of the best advertising events in the city.
It led to concrete results too. APA members have since made £30m turnover in China.
But that success wasn’t automatic, Steve said. This business has only come from continuing to nurture and maintain good relationships with Chinese agencies.
Next Graham Fink kicked off the day’s presentations with style. A big name in British advertising, he has been Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy China since 2011, so he’s a sizable character and certainly grabbed the audience’s attention with his list, 10 Things I’ve Learnt About China:
1. Everything that I knew was of no use to me whatsoever
While giving a creative team in London a “bollocking” for bad work in front of their colleagues might motivate them to come back and try harder next time, losing face is too unbearable in Chinese culture. Graham found they are likely to resign if you use this managerial style here.
2. China is fucking big
There are many languages and regions and they all require different considerations when it comes to making advertising.
The Chinese can build a 33-storey building in 15 days. But it might fall over due to having no foundations. Speed comes at the expense of craft.
Strong personal relationships are an important cornerstone of Chinese business. You must build up trust and respect to do well.
5. Be a Pioneer
Chinese advertising is constantly breaking new ground, making it an exciting place to be working. Some of these firsts are simply knock-offs of other ideas though, but that's how great artists learn their craft.
6. Ways of Seeing
Chinese people have a different perspective, which can be very exciting in advertising.
7. Crazy shit happens
Graham told a story of how a billionaire client of his demanded Will Ferrell for a campaign at short notice. By some miracle they got him. But it turns out she meant Colin Farrell.
8. The Government Can't Tell the Difference Between Men and Women
Having caused mass hayfever by planting millions of female trees, the state gave them a sex change with hormone therapy.
9. It's a Beautiful Language
One example: The character ‘hao’, meaning good, is made up the ancient symbols for a woman and a child, because when a woman and child are together that’s good.
10. It's the Greatest Place on Earth
Graham is convinced Shanghai is the capital of the world, the new New York. He noted that it looks like the pictures of futuristic cities you drew when you were a child.
Andy Orrick took to the stage next with his poetic talk, The Power of Storytelling. As Chief of Stuff at world-class production house Rattling Stick, he’s well qualified to discuss the subject of spinning a yarn.
He reminisced about his teenage obsession with My Own Private Idaho, saying great stories like that mark people’s memories forever. If advertising tells moving stories, it can have emotional as well as financial power. Rattling Stick are in the emotion business, he stated.
Wrigley’s Sarah & Juan is “the most romantic movie of all time”, according to one online review. It also happens to be a chewing gum ad and it was produced by Rattling Stick.
Executive Producer of Stink China, Desmond Loh, showcased some of the top-class work produced by the global production network, who have had a Chinese office for several years now.
Chinese clients have difficulty trusting foreign directors, he said, because they don’t think they will understand the cultural nuances. Desmond explained how this can be overcome by making sure the premium global talent of Stink has access to local knowledge.
After a chatty lunch, Steve returned to simply list Ten Things to Love About London:
1. Soho community
A tiny area of central London contains a huge concentration of creative talent.
2. Advertising Effectiveness Awards
The IPA runs these, looking scientifically at whether campaigns achieve the clients’ objectives.
3. Contractual Foundations
The UK uses a standard contract between agencies and production companies. This would be very welcome to many who work in the Chinese market.
4. Trade associations
Bodies such as the APA, IPA and ISBA provide a strong foundation for business.
5. Great commercials
Steve showed impressive ads for Eurostar, Honda, Lurpak, Nike, The Sunday Times, Pot Noodle, Mulberry and the Guardian.
6. John Hegarty’s insights
“Advertising is 80% about the idea and 80% about the execution.”
7. Groudbreaking interactive work
The UK is home to some of the most innovative companies making non-traditional advertising on all sorts of screens.
8. Advertising Week Europe
Probably the best industry event in London, with a huge offering of thought leadership from advertising’s best brains.
9. World-class VFX companies
Many of the world’s largest global post houses have their roots in London, but now work across hundreds of other countries.
10. Truly global industry
A massive chunk of the work APA members do is for markets outside the UK, Steve concluded. There are many good reasons for that.
Speaking of worldwide outlooks, the next session was a panel of speakers from three of the world’s top visual effects companies, all with their origins in London. I moderated the panel, made up Hector Macleod, Founder and CEO of Glassworks, Joce Capper, Managing Director of Rushes and Thomas Gibson, Executive Producer at The Mill.
While coming from different perspectives, all agreed that Chinese agencies should not be afraid to approach them for any project. There are always solutions to the constraints of budgets, schedules and client demands. Each of them demonstrated how they had effectively brought their world-class expertise to Chinese work and showed off the staggering technological forces at their disposal.
The Forum was host to the uncontainable Simon Gosling next, who was there to extol the virtues of augmented and virtual reality in his role as CEO of Happy Finish. He marvelled at how fast the developments are in this field, with new examples coming every week. He shared his latest inspiration, Google Expeditions, with the audience, as well as innovative work for Honeywell’s, Becker beer and Lamborghini (who famously ‘don’t need to advertise’). A case study of their recent work for Subway showed the powerful reaction VR elicits.
Simon is evangelical about these new technologies and quoted Confucius to explain why. He said: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.”
Kevin Lee, ECD of Leagas Delaney Shanghai spoke next on the important question of How to Save the Idea When it is Bigger Than the Budget – a frequent problem working in the ambitious-but-thrifty Chinese ad market.
Speaking from experience, Kevin trotted off a list of tips and tricks to make modest budgets look a million dollars (figuratively speaking). Clever workarounds such as working in smaller Chinese cities, using physical talents over special effects, shooting one explosion with as many cameras as possible, and casting the client’s employees as actors can all save money while helping an idea reach its potential.
Meeting the Challenges of Budget Pressures was the rather daunting, eternally relevant title for the next talk, delivered by The Sweet Shop Managing Director Claire Davidson. She celebrated the talents of producers, the best of whom are experts in solving problems, many of which are to do with money. She made the worthwhile observation that nobody started working on million-dollar campaigns, so every good producer knows how to work with a low budget. When they were in school they had to cobble together films from friends, favours and whatever they had to hand.
That said, she did make it clear that smaller budgets obviously cause headaches for everyone. Even with a top producer, a lack of cash will cause suffering. She showcased a selection of work with varying budgets and consequently varying severity of headaches, but noted that some projects like their Coca-Cola Share a White Christmas campaign, are worth the pain of a limited budget.
The first day reached its climax with Nils Andersson, President and Chief Creative Officer for TBWA\Shanghai, told the audience to Fail Hard. He revealed that apparently you can’t get a job at Facebook without admitting to some sort of failure, because failure is natural.
Having worked in China for over ten years, he expressed his desire to see the country to become a world-class advertising market. And for this he said it must look to the world’s talent and pair it with local insight.
Using a few examples, he demonstrated how far China has come in this regard since 2004, when Motorola decided not to run an ad reflecting Chinese society in China. Apparently it was too realistic and not aspirational enough.
Nils demonstrated the distance the Chinese market has come since, through the incredible launch of GAP in China, starring Western and Chinese celebrities shot by Annie Leibovitz, to projecting babies faces onto illegal pollution for an air purifier client, brilliant illustrations for Penguin. His final example, the adidas #ThisIsMe campaign, shows how much more confident Chinese people are with their representation in advertising. The China it reveals is young, vibrant and confident – a strong message to end a brilliant first day of the forum on.