Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jul 23, 2013

Q&A with Alvin Chiang, the only Cyber Lions jury member from China

Campaign Asia-Pacific recently caught up in Beijing with Alvin Chiang, chief marketing officer at Renren, who talks about his experience as the only Chinese juror on the Cannes Cyber Lions jury last month and where China's creative community stands against the international competition.

Alvin Chiang in Cannes
Alvin Chiang in Cannes

How did you become a Cannes juror?

I got invited to be a jury member after being initially recommended by the China Advertising Association (CAA), which did the preliminary screening and reference checks of candidates. There were 24 other international jurors in the Cyber Lions category, but most of them were from advertising backgrounds at the big 4As and cutting-edge independents. There was one lady, Susan Bonds, from a film startup in the US and another guy, David Petermann, from a Wunderman sub-brand in Austria, but I was the only media owner from China. I think because it's the 60th anniversary of Cannes Lions, they really wanted to have a balanced mix of jurors' backgrounds. I guess I was lucky.

The other jurors representing China were Pully Chau in the Creative Effectiveness Lions jury, Polly Chu in the Design Lions jury, Sirena Liu in the Branded Content and Entertainment Lions jury, Johnny Tan in the Press Lions jury, and Georg Warga in the Direct Lions jury.

How did China fare in the Cyber Lions?

As jurors, we had to judge nearly 300 pieces of work in an online judging platform in a preliminary round, which had some work from China, but only a pretty low percentage got through to the final shortlist. I actually felt kinda bad, but it will take time for the whole Chinese industry to catch up with the West. China has surpassed the West only in terms of volume and in terms of the total online population. But in terms of coming up with really acute consumer insights that bring about a very smart idea to integrate all the relevant digital channels with attention paid to craft, China is still behind the global standards.

The Nike Greatness social media campaign that won a Bronze Lion in the viral marketing category was the only winning entry from China. The whole Cyber Lions jury had been talking about the signals we want to send out to the global advertising industry by the granting of awards. We talked about a few things: social is huge, and mobile will speed up user engagement and speed of response. From the branding perspective, brands have to be really agile to smartly leverage what's happening at the moment and turn that into something that can go viral 24/7. So the Nike campaign had a really clear proposition, because regardless of whether the athlete wins or fails, Nike translated that into greatness in their own way.

Objectively, it should win more than a Bronze, but it is not up at the Gold level. The weakness of the case is due to it containing so many things about China that Westerners cannot understand, and the amount of time we were given to judge a piece of work was quite limited. Although the case film was already narrated in English, it didn't get straight to the point in the first 30 seconds and took some more explaining to jurors who were running out of patience. And not every juror knew about Liu Xiang (刘翔). In fact, I did try to elaborate the cultural context behind why so many Chinese were in tears about Liu Xiang crashing out of the Olympic 110-metre men's hurdles, and managed to use my juror's right to 'upgrade' certain campaigns. Otherwise, this Nike campaign would have just stayed on the shortlist.

That's like a wild card! Nike China must be pleased.

Yes, I also pushed the McDonald's 'Our Food, Your Questions' campaign in Canada and the adidas 'Window Shopping' campaign in Finland, which was a close contender for the Grand Prix. The Oreo 'Daily Twist' campaign, which did get one of the two Grand Prix awards, actually didn't receive that many votes, but won because Bob Greenberg, the legendary president of our Cyber Lions jury, supported it strongly (though he cited the Super Bowl blackout which was irrelevant to the case). The other Grand Prix, Intel/Toshiba's 'The Beauty Inside' campaign was a pretty obvious win as it got unanimous votes.

For Metro Trains' 'Dumb Ways To Die', we didn't give it a Grand Prix in the Cyber Lions although it had brilliant and humourous content, as we felt it might not be the future of the category. When it comes to interactivity, it's not very strong.

However, I promoted the adidas one as I felt this case addressed the challenges of the overall retail industry that has been seriously impacted by e-commerce, and will continue to be, as fewer people come out onto the streets to go shopping. This applies especially to China's future of retail integrating out-of-home and mobile, and can be easily duplicated. But some jurors thought this was a bit gimmicky, and not really 'up there' in terms of craft. Well it's Cannes, and everything has to be 'perfect' to get an award.

Next year, work that repeat the same winning mechanism as this year will only be treated as basic. Secondly, the bar for craft levels in the Cyber Lions will be raised higher, as most are not up to the levels of traditional media yet, though we have seen many micro-films that were produced to Hollywood standards. Thirdly, campaigns that showcase technology just for the sake of it will not cut it, as evident from the technologically-advanced entries from Japan and Germany that did not win golds, as they tend to become very gimmicky. That is not enough as we should look at what brand objectives were accomplished as a result of the technology.

I heard it's not all glory being a juror despite the fame?

I paid for my own flight to Cannes, by the way. And there's more work judging the Cyber Lions compared to other categories. We couldn’t judge just based on a highly-polished case film, but needed to really examine and ‘interact’ with the work by going online or downloading the app, so those took a lot more time. If it’s a viral video, we need to check how viral it got, and if it’s ‘too viral to be true’. In general, our jury was pretty responsible to do all those for each case that aroused even a bit of controversy. It’s not easy to be a juror for the Cyber Lions. It’s just very exhausting. For print or film work, it’s all showed there.

Are there any campaigns on Renren that are worthy of Cannes attention?

The BMW X1 campaign featuring cross-screen interactions that we ran on Renren last December is a piece of work I think can make it into a Cannes Lions’ shortlist if it was submitted. It is similar to this one done by Google Chrome, which won a Gold in the Mobile Lions this year.   

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