One characteristic of a Möbius strip shows how a line drawn starting from the seam down the middle will meet back at the seam — but at the other side of the strip. If continued, the line will meet the starting point and will be double the length of the original strip, forming a single continuous curve.
This single continuous curve is representative of the ampersand in the group's name: Fred & Farid, a Paris-based independent agency founded by Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart five years ago.
In an exclusive interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Raillard said the agency's international expansion into China meant that it is now a whole greater than the sum of its parts (the two founders) — with the agency's philosophy built on becoming a bridge between the two cities and cultures.
Choosing China for the agency's first international foray was, surprisingly, more of a humanistic than an "artificial" business decision — unlike other independent shops chasing the proverbial Chinese dragon and its monied, young, urban consumers.
It began with Feng Huang, formerly creative director at Fred & Farid Paris, who worked in France for 10 years as the only Chinese to have reached the position at a Western agency. With Huang planning to return home to Shanghai, the French agency's Oriental adventure started.
"We fell in love with China. This country is full of positive energy, vitality and has an eager spirit. It is a great joy to be able to link our professional destiny to the country’s history," Raillard said.
Nonetheless, strategic reasons also fuelled the move to the 1,000-square metre premises in Shanghai, a former opium warehouse from the early 20th century that now accommodates up to 200 people after its renovation.
Seventy per cent of its clients are active outside of France. Nearly half of the group's revenues come from international brands, for campaigns managed from Paris.
"Year 2012 is a slowdown for Europe. We wanted to maintain our competitiveness, our growth, but also, and especially, our enthusiasm. So it was rather natural for us to give thought to expanding the group physically outside France," Raillard said.
Having obtained a business licence and bank account for a WFOE (Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise) in China just this past month, Fred & Farid is now proud to call itself Franco-Chinese, and will be mobile and social media orientated.
It will serve the interests of European brands which are settling in China, as well as the interests of Chinese brands going to Europe. The office has already started working for L'Oréal, LVMH, Pernod Ricard, Oxylane, Yves Rocher, Interparfums, Vicomte A, and Sohu in China.
China is the most attractive market especially for French luxury brands, as one out of every two buyers of luxury goods is under the age of 35. "Globally, British advertising may be better than the French, but for luxury goods, we are better," Raillard stated.
"But we will be a failure if we become just an agency for French brands," Raillard clarified. For "interesting" domestic brands such as Feiyue shoes and Yongjiu bicycles, Fred & Farid hopes to "premiumise and inject value into their images with branding intelligence from the French who understands 'masstige'," Huang explained.
The offices in Paris and Shanghai are connected continuously via live, real-time connections between the two entities via www.FF9263.com, a gateway site that shares posts on Weibo, Instagram and Twitter on large-screen displays set up in the foyer of each office. 9263 km is the distance that separates the two cities.
Fred & Farid also encourages exchanges between its Paris and the Shanghai branches. Both teams have access to all creative briefs, with a number of projects stipulated to have a joint creative task force, down to art buying or photography.
"France and China are two countries that have much more in common than one can imagine. We want to create a bridge between these two complementary cultures that have easy chemistry—easier than with London or Los Angeles," Raillard said.
To fully illustrate its biculturalism, the group has opted for a new Franco-Chinese logo for all its documents, even those used in France. Also, everyone within the agency must select a Chinese first name, compulsory on business cards. "We are serious!" Raillard said.
The agency's name in Chinese characters, coined by Huang, in line with Buddhist philosophy that argues for associations with openness, chance, intelligence and an infinite forward-and-reverse state of existence—much like a single continuous Mobius strip.
"The day-to-day collision involving both of these cultures will result in creative fireworks. I'd like to bring to China the tastes that the French have and to bring to France the energy and enthusiasm of China's rising creative generation," said Huang, who has also launched Creative China, a digital medium to discover and promote the mainland's creative talent.
Separately, Grégoire Chalopin, who was previously at Fred & Farid Paris, before joining TBWA Shanghai in 2010, reunites with the agency as creative director. "Feng and Grégoire embody the new management model we aspire to: this openness to other cultures and a particularly high standard of our business,” according to a press release.
When asked how the French can fully understand China, Chalopin shared, "Here, we have to react with our hearts instead of our minds, because many times we may not understand China completely, but the starting point is respect, honesty and humility. That spirit is superior to pure rationalisation. The only obstacle is time".