Granted, Chinese New Year was at the weekend and for those of you who were lucky enough to receive our special ‘China’ newsletter, then you’ll know that we’ve already tried to capture a snapshot of the region. But, quite frankly, we can’t get enough from the endlessly fascinating PRC - or Graham Fink, Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy & Mather China. LBB deputy editor, Laura Swinton picked the talented man’s brain to find out how it feels to win China’s first Cannes grand Prix, what he thinks the country’s current challenges are and what life in Asia is like.
LBB> ‘#CokeHands’ is now officially 2012’s most awarded poster in the world. How has this influenced or changed the advertising scene as a whole in China?
GF> I think it has had a big effect on our agency in terms of self-belief, but also, because of JWT China winning a Grand Prix last year, it proves to the industry that it's not just a flash in the pan. However, I do think the general standard in China needs to go up a few gears before we can truly be considered world class. We need to be consistently producing great work on big brands. This has to be the goal for all agencies here.
LBB> We've been having conversations with people from agencies around the globe about talent and the challenges involved in recruiting a new generation with the right mindset and balance of tech -awareness and creative thinking. What are your thoughts on this from a Chinese perspective? For example are there issues around creative thinking skills and education? How do you sift out the most interesting minds from such a large pool - and how do you attract them to advertising?
GF> In terms of advertising, China is a very young market. So I put a lot of emphasis on training. It's going to take time, but eventually the standard will rise. There is a tremendous willingness to learn. The other problem with recruiting is that, in a lot of cases, people are more interested in titles rather than doing great work, so the advertising culture needs to be changed. In my book the work comes first - if you do something great the money and titles will follow.
LBB> You've been in China for over a year and a half - now you've had time to settle into the culture and the advertising scene, how have your impressions changed since first moving there? What has surprised you the most?
GF> My impressions have changed, yes. The more I learn the more I understand what needs to be done. It's a huge job and it's going to take time. A few of the problems, I mentioned in the last answer. A big thing that also surprised me is that the advertising culture here is seen more as a job rather than a vocation. And if you are overly critical of people's performance they tend to resign, whereas in the West they might just go back to their desks and try a bit harder. So there is learning to be done on both sides - mine and the local Chinese. I am also surprised how little time there is to craft the work. Clients expect work to be finished in double quick time, but the craft seriously suffers because of this. Again, I think it's a matter of showing clients what they could have if only they allowed a bit more time. I just don't think they are aware. However, like the rest of China, attitudes are changing fast, so I am hopeful things will get better.
LBB> Which campaigns have you worked on in the last year that have particularly excited or resonated with you and why?
GF> Well obviously the Coke Hands poster was a highlight. It won Ogilvy & Mather its first Cannes Grand Prix. In fact, it was the first for O&M in Asia. It has gone on to become the most awarded outdoor ad in the world in 2012 according to The Big Won report. On top of that we did a great piece of work for Peace One Day. This was an initiative by D&AD and I'm very proud to say our work was shortlisted for a D&AD Pencil, one of the highest accolades in the world. But perhaps the most original piece we did last year was the campaign for SOHO China (China's biggest real estate developer). We created Abo, who was the first monkey put into space by the Chinese in 1946. We brought Abo back to earth to talk about progress and creativity and ask provocative questions to opinion leaders in a live studio debate on TV. This was one of the most amazing pieces of work I have been involved with. Logistically a real nightmare to make, but very rewarding.
LBB> As far as Chinese New Year advertising goes - what have been your favourite campaigns (from Ogilvy or elsewhere) so far?
GF> I can't claim to have seen everything, but from what I have seen, nothing has really cut through. A lot of the work is very schmaltzy and all looks the same. Again this is something to work on. Chinese New Year is the biggest human migration on the planet, and there are amazing stories to be told. But the way they are being executed at the moment leaves a taste of cheese in the mouth.
LBB> In terms of the wider creative and art scene in China, is there anyone you think our readers need to keep an eye on?
GF> Discovering Chinese artists and ideas is very exciting. There are a few people I want to work with in forthcoming ad campaigns, so I'm currently keeping them to myself.
LBB> What does 2013/ the Year of the Snake hold for China's adland?
GF> It's going to be a very interesting year - a year of changes that's for sure. I also predict that it's going to be notoriously difficult, but hopefully very rewarding. The more I understand China, the more opportunities will reveal themselves. It's just a matter of trying to keep my eyes wide-open 24/7.