The People Of China’s Ad Industry: Kaiyu Li of Y&R

Kaiyu Li

Recently, Advertising@chinaSMACK was able to conduct an interview with the newly appointed Chief Strategy Officer of Y&R, Kaiyu Li. The interview focused on both Kaiyu’s strategic outlook for China and also on Kaiyu’s personal journey in China’s ad industry. Advertising@ChinaSMACK wants to start by saying thank you and congratulations to Kaiyu and the Y&R staff. Let’t get started and find out more about Kaiyu Li.

Business Questions

Miguel Roberg: Firstly, chinaSMACK and I would like to say congratulations with the new appointment to Chief Strategy Officer of Y&R China. We are interested in hearing more about the new appointment; can you tell us a bit about the new responsibilities of your position?

Kaiyu Li: My key mission stays the same – understanding consumers and use insights to inspire creativity that adds value to our clients’ business.  We’ll be looking to offer more integrated solutions not just in how we execute ideas, but in a more insightful and strategic manner.  Y&R has a great bunch of tools to help us do this, and we will be building a stronger team.

MR: It is my understanding that you have a strong background in research, how will you leverage that background into tangible results for Y&R clients?

KL: I like research. But we must use research to get out of the office, out of the common marketing speak, and get to the real stuff that matters to consumers.  We dive into numbers, yes, but we don’t stop there. We have conversations with people and that way we gain a deeper understanding of what those numbers mean.  We had assumed that wanting women to quit their jobs and become housewives was a sign of conservatism. That’s what the numbers were telling us. But when we spoke to real people, they told us that it was sign of progress!  People always amaze us.

“We had assumed that wanting women to quit their jobs and become housewives was a sign of conservatism.”

MR: Can you tell us a little more about these whispers, an overview of how they are conducted and how you use them to drive strategy?

KL: China is changing so much. The only way to keep brands up to date is by keeping ourselves up to date, keeping our eyes open and our ears on the ground. We like to mash up consumer exploring, data mining, and trend watching. Chinese Whispers are some of the key findings on how values are changing. Some of the changes are fundamental, some are more in the expression.

MR: What are the most important consumer trends to look for in the next 5 years?

KL: People are trying to find a new balance. Slow down is becoming the new aspiration, brainless is the new smart, family life needs protection.  Brands need to build a more intimate relationship with consumers. We see the rising contribution, to brand equity, of qualities like trust, down to earth, intelligent and fun on the rise. These are what we want in a friend or a partner. So brands must go beyond badge value and build buddy value.

MR: How do you think the advertising industry in China will change in the next 5 years?

KL: It’s interesting that as consumers get more empowered, the industry seems to be getting more fragmented.  We are looking forward to seeing more successes in integration, and more locally insightful work that’s international standard.

MR: What are the biggest mistakes companies make when they engage in advertising in China and how would you help a prospective client who has made these mistakes already?

“People are trying to find a new balance. Slow down is becoming the new aspiration, brainless is the new smart, family life needs protection.”

KL: If we look through a human lens, inconsistency, complexity, and lack of emotions are the big three.  Companies need to understand that brand is more than a trademark, it’s a relationship. How we start and maintain a healthy relationship is how we build a brand. None of the three mistakes is something we want in a relationship. It’s all very human.

Personal Questions

Miguel Roberg: What made you interested in advertising when you started in the industry? What do you find most rewarding about working in the Chinese advertising industry and why?

Kaiyu Li: China is a great place to work in this industry. The rewards are in the huge challenges. It’s a complex market, always changing, and most important of all, open minded consumers hungry for innovations. All help in terms of producing great work that’s got that consumer relevance.  We are seeing more and more work coming out that are fresh and interesting.

MR: In all your years of working in the industry, what has been the most interesting and creative campaign you have worked on and what made it stand out? What has been your proudest moment in your career? What made the moment special to you?

KL: There are many. Every time we hit on a really fresh and true consumer truth. Every time I see that insight inspiring great ideas.  Y&R was rated by marketing and advertising professionals to be the Number One in understanding Chinese consumers. We’ve improved our standing at creative and effectiveness shows. We’ve just been awarded Leading Influential Advertising Agency by China Advertisers Association.  I feel proud when I see more young people choose to start their career here.

“The learning curve never ends. Tell yourself you don’t know anything, and you’ll get somewhere.”

MR: Our readers are made of many people interested in the Chinese advertising industry, what advice would you give to a young creative? Or someone interested in entering the industry? What advice would you give to a seasoned vet?

KL: The learning curve never ends. Tell yourself you don’t know anything, and you’ll get somewhere. The reward is in the doing of it all.

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