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 & Mater 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 one 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.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in advertising?
It was always going to be art or sport for me. They were the two things I enjoyed most at school. I could draw. And I could fence. But when I injured my knee training with the Olympic fencing squad, I chose to divert all my energy into art.
But I didn’t intend to go into advertising. I studied graphics, and was going to be a designer, or an illustrator. It was just a cruel twist of fate that landed me in this business.
Where and how did you get started?
My first paid design job was as a landscape designer, whilst I was at college. (Well that’s if you disregard selling ice-creams and donuts on the beaches in the South of France during the summer holidays, as I ate most of the profit.)
After college I joined a design company called Douglas Kelly Associates in Jermyn Street in London. There, I worked on graphics and product design projects. My first advertising gig was at Bates in London, after a friend suggested I bring my book for an interview.
The next thing I knew, I was working on a yoghurt commercial, and frankly didn’t know what I was doing. It was all very foreign to me.
How long have you been in China for?
I arrived on the 8th of August, 2004. I remember it well, as it was 4 days after my birthday, and I vividly remember thinking, what have I got myself into now? However, I was made very welcome, and wouldn’t have given this experience up for anything.
When did you join Y&R China?
I joined Y&R in 2010.
Which agencies were you with before Y&R?
I originally moved to China to join Ogilvy, as Greater China Group ECD. Prior to that I had spent 3 years in Tokyo and LA as ECD for TBWA and G1WW Japan. And before coming out here, I had learnt everything I knew from design shops and agencies in London. I was at Bates, then I left to follow my passion for film, and worked as a commercials director at Cowboy films, before joining Ogilvy London.
How would you describe Y&R China?
We are not big, which is great. I really do think the days of huge agencies getting even huger, are coming to an end. Smaller is becoming sexy, as clients start to realize that the quality of the work really does matter.
Can you tell us about the Lets GAP Together campaign for GAP China?
LGT, as it’s come to be known, needed to connect with an audience who knew very little about the brand. GAP could have just adapted global work, but decided to do something which was China specific and relevant. Something rooted in the GAP DNA.
At its most basic, LGT simply means you can shop at GAP now we are here (in China). But it was not just an introduction. It came with a fuller story, celebrating what people have in common, with GAP as a unifying factor. It brought together people from seemingly very different backgrounds, based upon their shared passion.
Do you feel that the Chinese market offers a unique opportunity for existing brands to reinvent themselves?
Yes, this market does offer unique opportunities for all brands. Not just because of the obvious scale of the market.
Equally important is the opportunity to connect with the Chinese consumer who in many cases has very little or no prior knowledge of your brand. Brands can arrive as their best self, learning from both their successes and failures in other parts of the world. They can treat it as an opportunity to reinvent.
What has been the highlight of your time with Y&R so far?
GAP winning ‘Asia Brand of the Year’ at the Campaign Asia Pacific Agency of the Year Awards because of the body of work we created together. That ranks up there.
Also globally launching Dell’s gaming brand, Alienware, out of China. It’s a complete digital experience that interrupts your digital space with a message from outer space, using a family of demonic aliens.
And our campaign for Land Rover, called ‘World’s End.’ A ‘Truman Show’ type take on how far a Land Rover can take you. This work ran not just in China, but also in the UK.
What’s one of your favourite campaigns you’ve worked on in China?
There have been a few, but I guess the body of work for Motorola, when they were flying high with new products was an exciting time. For about 3 years, we created all of their campaigns for the whole world, out of Beijing. At the time, that really was a first for China, as this region is usually on the receiving end of work coming from Europe or the US.
Of the many things we tried, a number stick in my memory. Getting ‘The Back Dorm Boys’ to mime for MOTOMUSIC. Shooting strange androgynous models in remote parts of Iceland for MOTOPEBL. Monks pointing in different directions for MOTOMING GPS. These are only a few of the crazier things we dreamt up.
What’s one of your favourite campaigns you’ve worked on in your career?
The MOTORAZR ‘CUT’ work we did in China was one of the highlights. The work was genuinely in the streets or on cinema screens in cities across the world. And dreaming up different ways to slice things, including an entire building in half, was a lot of fun.
And at the other end of the scale, an ambient piece we did called ‘ILLITERIT’ for a migrant workers children’s charity in Beijing.
In the UK, the ‘One of the safest places to be,’ campaign for the Ford Mondeo, sticks in my memory. One of the films involved a trained cat hiding under the car in a thunder storm. A nightmare to shoot, but the film worked.
And the print campaign for ING Barings, which was completed in the ‘deStijl’ look and feel. It was the first work for the Bank ING to break after Nick Leeson infamously broke Barings bank, and ING had bought it for 1 GBP.
What are your goals for Y&R in China?
To be recognized as the agency that consistently creates world class work for both international brands wishing to succeed here, and for local brands who are looking to develop their brands for the country and beyond. And to have fun doing it.
It’s as simple as that, though it isn’t simple. We are developing a culture where we look for the best in whatever discipline, to work for us or with us.
End of Part 1