Marco Pierre White—maverick chef and MasterChef star—is not just a master of ingredients. He is also a storyteller and problem solver. The “godfather of modern cooking” has spent his career using the culinary arts as an all-inclusive, cross-cultural storytelling device.
It was this connective thread that found the British chef on the Cannes Lions stage with Hylink, China’s leading digital advertising agency, this year.
Partnering with the firm behind some of China’s more innovative mobile campaigns, both share a relentless search for creative solutions for communities they serve.
“When you sit down at a table, and there’s delicious food, it just brings everyone together,” says White. “It dissolves everyone’s fears, and then you start to enjoy yourself. I think that’s the importance of food, that it brings people together.”
Delia Liu, head of strategic planning at Hylink and a jury member of Cannes Lions Mobile category in 2015, echoed that sentiment, finding humanity in the heart of marketing. “One thing that links people across the world is that no one goes online to watch adverts or learn about brands,” Liu explains. “We go online to look for answers to questions. So instead of using ‘insights’ to tailor messages that shoehorn brands into conversations, we focus on solving problems that really matter.”
At the symposium, White spoke about his unique techniques in kitchen management: “When I used to cook full-time and have 30 cooks in my kitchen, I’d try to understand every person there, their strengths and their weaknesses. That’s how I think you get the best out of people.”
While White discerns cooks on a personal level, Hylink goes to great lengths to understand consumers, social tensions, and how everyday problems can be addressed and solved.
Hylink’s people-centric strategy contradicts an advertising industry that all to often leverages data and technology to devise campaigns, but loses sight of the audience in the process.
“You have to empathise with consumers’ hardships and find a way to empower them to make a change,” says Liu. “We lend a helping hand in that process, and it’s not just about advertising, it’s about things that truly matter to consumers, like food, housing and relationships.”
Influencers: the antidote
White’s partnership with Hylink is a point made in the favour of influencers in the Chinese market. Chinese consumers would sooner consider a friend’s or family member’s product recommendation than a brand’s, but they also invite influencers, internet personalities and household names like White to navigate life.
Case in point, through her WeChat account ‘Niangao Mama’, 32-year-old Li Danyang shares parenting knowledge while recommending maternity and baby care products to her followers. Her advice is no mere novelty—it accounts for US$7.3 million in monthly online sales.
Digital influencers possess an astounding sphere of influence over their followers. This simple paradigm is part of a much larger industry trend — people don’t want to associate with advertisers, they want to associate with real people who understand their plight: empathetic problem solvers.
While chef White’s canvas is cuisine, Hylink seeks to problem-solve through its innovative platform, Life Ideas Studio, which presents a version of new advertising opportunities.
During the Cannes ‘Creativity in Focus’ forum, Hylink demonstrated in deeper detail how its problem-solving approach to mass marketing has helped bridge societal disconnects that can be leveraged for marketing.
Supplying student taxis
Taking this initiative, Hylink partnered with Chevrolet, and one of China’s most popular taxi apps, Kuaidi Dache (now Didi Chuxing). Each year, around 2,000 Chinese students miss their all-important university entrance exams due to traffic problems on the day. The campaign provided free rides to exam destinations, and alleviated the stress of traffic for both students and families.
To bolster the campaign, the student taxis were featured on the popular Chinese TV drama, Tiger Mom, and the show’s actors posted about the taxis and entrance exams on Weibo. In one week, there were a total of 1.3 million active participants, and 2.1 million views of associated videos on iQiyi.
An encouraging message
Hylink worked with Mengniu’s Milk Deluxe to craft a campaign celebrating the dairy product’s 10-year anniversary, relaunching the brand’s identity and image in the process.
China’s thriving economy has brought to light both new opportunities and new problems for young people. According to Liu, “Chinese consumers in their 20s are educated and well-connected, but they’re also unsatisfied with their current living situation, borrowing money and uncertain of their future.”
To offer hope to China’s young adults, Hylink stepped in to create ‘A decade of dreams’, inviting influencers to comment on how they had achieved their life goals over the past decade. The outreach garnered 22 million views of 100 stories from 100 influencers, and stacked up 38.8 million views of a 10-episode documentary on Youku.