Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Nov 20, 2014

Creative crosstalk: Five questions for three Greater China ECDs

Campaign Asia-Pacific asks a trio of ECDs from Cheil Hong Kong and OgilvyOne Shanghai some off-the-wall questions, leading to insights into their markets,the importance of achieving cultural relevance and the ingredients of virality.

Creative crosstalk: Five questions for three Greater China ECDs

The participants: 

  • Paul Chan and Shi Ping Ong, co-ECDs at Cheil Hong Kong
  • Darren Crawforth, ECD at OgilvyOne Shanghai

Editor's note: Like a true creative team, Chan and Ong spoke over each other and completed each other's sentences to such an extent that a true transcript of the chat would be difficult to read. So we are quoting them as if they were a single entity.

Q: In your market, how does your creativity do more than just to sell a product, but reflect the cultural philosophy behind it?

Chan/Ong: If you can make someone laugh, for example, then we’re pretty sure that would work in Hong Kong and also in any country. Rule number one, all communications need to entertain.

Hong Kong people do have this uniqueness—they are more into quirky stuff. If you look at all the kungfu movies, they have an element of slapstick jokes. But the same slapstick will bomb internationally, or even be thought of as crass and cheesy. It works very well in Hong Kong, but in advertising terms it’s not exactly the kind of commercial you want to do, obviously. Slapstick stuff is over the bar. Everything is over-acted. Which is even more reason why you shouldn't do slapstick, because then you just blend into all the other slapstick.

Crawforth: With every brief we handle, we always work closely with planners to try and dig into research to find an element that is culturally relevant. Because if not, what’s the point? A most recent example of this is the work we have been doing to launch luxury auto brand Lincoln into China. For a series of web films we created, we almost removed all traces of any US cultural angles and specifically geared the stories to be deeply reflective of the China market. The result was positive and effective as the audience seemed to genuinely respond to seeing a brand make the effort to respectfully tell stories that have real meaning to Chinese consumers. 

Q: A man bites a dog. How will a typical consumer in your respective market respond?

Chan/Ong: It’s not a trick question, right? [laughs] Because nothing much happens in Hong Kong, nothing newsworthy, so they’ll talk about it non-stop for two days. Yes, until the next man bites the next dog.

Paul Chan & SP Ong
L-R: Chan, Ong

Crawforth: Man bites dog in China. Instantly a huge crowd assembles to watch. Two minutes later the incident blows up over social media, with a million comments calling for the man’s head.

Q: Imagine your market is a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Describe its shape and characteristics.

Chan/Ong: On the map, Hong Kong is just a pinprick, isn’t it? So it'll be a very small jigsaw piece. But we would like to think, in terms of creative influence, that maybe it’s a bit bigger, that every now and then we punch above our weight. Right now, in terms of creativity, I think there’s really no sign of it. The setback we have here is because the market size is small, and the task asked for is smaller. We still strive to come up with good stuff, nice stuff, as an agency.

Crawforth: It’s a jigsaw puzzle that can never be completed. For a moment, a piece may seem to fit in one corner but very quickly, you find that the piece has changed shape and will no longer fit. The constant state of flux and rapid shifts in consumer behavior in China means that the pieces of the puzzle are constantly changing shape and as creatives, we need to be insanely fast to try and get a piece to fit before it changes again.

Q: What was the hit with the most 'virality' in your market? Why do you think it went viral?

Chan/Ong: The ALS ice bucket challenge. What they did was actually quite clever. It's quite a visual thing as well. It’s quite easy to spread. Especially when it first started off, it’s quite intriguing, isn’t it? You want to see what it’s all about. So hats off to them, they came up with a very good way of generating money.


So back to the point of creativity, it has to be entertaining to make it a valid message and a powerful call-to-action. But I don't think that’s a Hong Kong-specific thing. Everyone all over the world like to be entertained. You take away the ice, take away the bucket, you take the entertainment away, and it wouldn't have spread as quickly, would it?


Crawforth: Just this week, China celebrated Singles' Day (11.11), which is the most lucrative day for e-commerce. To drive consumers to Taobao, they launched the ‘Hit me mommy one more time’ campaign, which became instantly viral.

Why did it go viral? Partly because consumers could engage with a participatory element and write their own versions of the campaign messaging, but mainly because everyone found the premise of a child getting smacked by his/her mum really amusing. Which for me, is just a reminder of how much we have to continually learn about China.


Q: Take the 2013 Cannes winner 'Dumb ways to die'. How would you adapt and localise it for your market?

Chan/Ong: I would say don’t adapt it, it’s already spreading like wildfire in Hong Kong. And the first time I heard and saw 'Dumb ways to die' was in the office. By the time I’d got home, I was already humming the tune in my head. So pretty powerful stuff, and so that didn’t really need to be adapted to Hong Kong.

Crawforth: I’m not sure I would change that much. The campaign had such universal appeal and was hugely popular and influential amongst our creatives. I suppose if I had to, I would adapt it to target scooter riding in Shanghai, which I think can lead to providing multiple near-death ways to die on a daily basis.


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