It’s no secret that China’s hit rate at global award shows has been surprisingly low for a country of 1.3 billion people and around 100,000 ad-related companies. In 2018, China won just two graphite pencils and seven wooden pencils at D&AD. At Cannes Lions 2018, the country took home 11 Lions, just two up from 2017. (By way of comparison, Spain, population 46.5 million took home 44 Lions.)
5,000 years of creative culture, a diaspora that traverses the globe and a booming tech industry that is stealing a march on the rest of the world… one can’t help but wonder if global juries might be missing something. That’s what the organisers of the London International Awards began to suspect – which is why last year they set up the LIA Chinese Creativity category . And it wasn’t just the quantity of award winners that struck organisers, but the nature of them.
“We have been observing that all the work that comes from China that does well in award shows is visually-led, not culturally-led,” observes Gordon Tan, who heads up LIA. The entrants are not stupid – they’re not going to spend all that money investing in work they don’t think the jury will understand . So you will actually miss a lot of the good work, so we thought hey, there’s a good opportunity.”
What makes the show different is that it’s an international platform – as a Chinese language award, it’s open to work from all countries. And this year entries came from everywhere from the USA to Singapore, Malaysia to Thailand. Judges too come from countries as far flung as Brazil and Japan, as well as Chinese speaking places like Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and, yes, Mainland China. As the show isn’t limited to the PRC – which means that unlike local awards, they count towards international rankings.
And according to this year’s judges, there are all sorts of nuances that are given greater appreciation by juries with a greater understanding of the Chinese cultural context.
Richard Yu, CCO of ADK Taiwan and China network creative consultant headed up the Branded Entertainment jury for the Chinese Creativity awards this year. He’s noticed that longer format onlilne film content, which he describes as ‘micro movies’ , are particularly popular with clients and audience in Greater China. However the slow pace and heavily emotional storytelling tend to be tricky for non-Chinese speaking juries to get into.
“They are quite popular – the client feels that the long form film can touch consumers more because the amount of they spend online on mobile [content] is more than [they spend] TV commercials. So they can put some concept and brand spirit into the film,” says Richard. “In Greater China the micro movie is much more emotional and slow – you can’t quickly see the idea. So having the Chinese language show means that some of this outstanding work can be awarded.”
These longer, languid films tap into cultural preferences – but they’re also built for a young generation that spends much of its time attached to its smartphones.
The smartphone-enabled digital environment in Mainland China in particular is something that Western juries struggle to get their heads round. For example, the overwhelming dominance of digital ecosystems like WeChat is something that can feel almost alien – and Europeans and Americans can fail to appreciate the insight and creativity of activations within that environment.
“Maybe some idea is big in China but they don’t understand why. Maybe you change a feature or API for WeChat, the biggest social media network in China, and it’s quite important or quite creative, but you must explain many things for international juries. There’s a gap,” says Chris Chen, CCO at isobar China, who sat on the digital jury.
These Chinese social platforms are so pervasive that people can accomplish all sorts of tasks within them, from payment to sorting out legal matters.
“You know in China, no one carries a wallet or credit cards any more, you do everything on WeChat. You can even divorce your wife on the phone…” laughs Gordon. “If you go to restaurant they don’t even have a menu – they have a QR code on the table and you scan it and it beams straight to the kitchen and you pay through the phone. Now this is something an Australian wouldn’t understand.”
To illustrate the point, Gordon recounts the tale of one judge who had to frantically hunt for his credits cards ahead of his trip to judge in Las Vegas, so unaccustomed are people in China to using anything other than their smartphone.
A pertinent comparison is with Hispanic culture and language. International awards platforms for the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world are well established. The likes of El Sol and El Ojo, for example. The LIA Chinese Creativity show provides a similarly international platform.
And it’s particularly important when it comes to copy. The pictorial nature of the Chinese language means that copywriting comes with a different set of challenges and opportunities than alphabet-based languages.
Ultimately, the current international awards set up assumes certain shared core assumptions – and those with different cultural roots find the standard 2 minute case video taken up with explaining basic concepts to juries. “You don’t need to explain what Halloween is, what Christmas is, what the Super Bowl is. You don’t even need to explain them in China, most people know what Halloween is,” says Chris. “But people don’t know Chinese New Year , the background or the Moon Festival. So that is, I think, the cultural thing.”
LIA’s Chinese Creativity Awards are just in their second year – this year entries were about 700. The setup has drawn admiration from rival shows but it’s early days yet. However, perhaps it’s a much-needed platform for the international Sino-sphere.
LIA results will be revealed on November 5th.