An internationally renowned art director, Nils learnt his craft in London at some of the UK’s best design companies and advertising agencies.
Inquisitive about the world, Nils left Europe in 2001. His first stop Japan, with extended periods in the US, and since 2004, China during a career spanning over two decades.
Last year he moved to Y&R in China, after spending the last 5 transforming Ogilvy & Mather China into one of the most celebrated agencies in the entire WPP network.
In 2005 he create the iconic and highly successful Motoral RAZR Cut campaign, then continued to build a body of Motorola work widely acclaimed for its fashion aesthetic. Notably the work created for Motorola in this time was commissioned in China yet ran worldwide.
By 2006, Ogilvy Beijing was voted Media Magazines Asia agency of the year, in the same year his Motorola client was voted Asia’s client of the year. In 2007 he was runner up as Media Magazines Asia creative of the year. 2008 was equally fruitful where he and his team won China’s first ever, yellow D&AD pencil.
All these firsts for any China agency.
Through his knowledge and unique experiences, Nils has become an invaluable partner for international brands wishing to enter the China / Asian market as well as Chinese breands wishing to expand beyond the country.
This is part two of a two part interview with Nils where he talks about his journey into advertising, work across his career, trends in the Chinese industry and the bright future for the Chinese market.
How would you describe the creative talent / level in China? How does in compare on a worldwide and on an Asia wide scale?
It is still a very young industry here. However, the talent is there.
It’s just a question of the colleges and the industry fully developing those talents. And the more exposure to what ‘great’ is, the better everyone will become.
The truth is that there is very average work produced everywhere. In the US and the UK too. But when the work is good in those markets it can be brilliant. Those heights have yet to be hit here, beyond a few examples seen at awards shows. However, over time as the market demands it, it will come.
How does the creative quality compare to when you first arrived in China?
I have seen many changes over the last 8 years.
There was almost no presence whatsoever for any Chinese based agency at the international shows. And many clients had a slave and master relationship with their agency.
Though those days are not behind us, there is definitely more of an appreciation for what creativity can do for a brand.
The main difference since I arrived is that China has now arrived at the place where sales growth has been carried largely by distribution. But we are now at the edges of the country. Distribution cannot be everything any more. What remains is brand, and that is China’s next chapter.
Both for international brands truly connecting, not just using work from the West. And for Chinese brands finding their own unique voice. Take Li Ning for example. A Chinese brand with a great brand story. An Olympic gold medallist who started his own sports brand.
On the face of it, better credentials than either Nike or Adidas. Yet the young Chinese consumer is now so aware of what is going on worldwide, that unless the marketing and product is up there at the same level, they can struggle to compete. Even if the competition is within the country.
Do you feel good talent is hard to retain in the China? In your experience in China do you feel employees are more loyal to their boss or to the company?
The best people in this business are mavericks. They stay around as long as it is useful to them. In China I don’t find that any different.
What is your feeling towards the trend of job hopping for promotion and/or higher salary? (Do you see this happening?)
Yes, I am aware of this. All you can do is to continue to create an environment to which people are drawn. Where they feel they can grow.
What are Y&R China doing to retain and develop talent?
We simply try to get the best out of people. In doing that those who want to make a difference will hopefully stay. I remember being advised as a student to never take a job just for the money. Always go where you are able to show what you can do, as then the money will follow.
We have heard that you are very strong at presenting your creative ideas, what can people do to improve themselves in this area?
If you can’t articulate the potential for something precious that you have, that is a real disadvantage. I recommend everyone past a certain stage in this business goes on a presentation course. It helped me.
I also think it is really important to try to put yourself into the shoes of the consumer/client when presenting anything. People buy people they would like to work with, as they often aren’t sure what is a good idea or is not. And don’t use advertising jargon. It can sound pretentious. Just use language everyone can associate with.
Do you have any advice for budding creatives in the China?
Look and you shall find. Go to galleries. Listen to music. Don’t work late every day. Take your girlfriend or boyfriend to dinner. Go abroad if you can, and look at other galleries, and soak everything in. We are nothing without reference. Be brave, even stupid and dream of getting famous work out. And make sure you have a book.
You’ve spent time in both Beijing and Shanghai, do you think the city rivalry extends into the ad industry?
They are very different cities. Personally, I’ve yet to get the whole Shanghai thing, but I’m sure I will. As far as this industry, Shanghai seems to be more of an advertising/media centre, but there still isn’t a true heart to the industry here. You just can’t invent these things. They have to happen. As pop culture develops, so will the creative community.
Can China be a leader in creative quality? Do you see this happening?
Eventually China will be just that. However, it’s a journey and it’s still early days. At the heart of that journey is innovation, through quality. That means it’s not just advertising or the media driving it. It must be the brands themselves foraging for uniqueness in all aspects. Then the work that celebrates that will follow.
As the Chinese ad industry continues to grow and strengthen, do you see more brands moving their Asia ad hubs to China?
Yes, I think this is inevitable. The sheer scale of the market demands it. You can’t understand China from a distance. It’s going to be the largest market in the world for just about everything after all. Including advertising.
Are there any industry trends you are seeing that people should watch out for in the near and distant future?
The move from being force-fed, to choosing the content you want to be involved with, is just getting started. My son, for example doesn’t watch TV. He simply downloads what he wishes to watch, when he wants to watch it. Advertisers have to understand how to become part of programming and the digital media. I was recently lucky enough to spend a week with Facebook and Google in California. What they are trying to do is frankly amazing. One experiment even involved mind mapping images that feed off the firing of your synapses. Not what you see through your eyes.
Although that may be out there, brands getting used to having a conversation with the consumer, not just traditionally boring people with a message is the future.
And that after all, can only be a good thing for us all.
Thanks, Nils for speaking with us.