China Advertising with Ogilvy & Mather Beijing

We sat down with Juggi Ramakrishnan, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Beijing’s Executive Creative Director, on the night of their recent Portfolio Night, to discuss what defines commercially successful advertising, how creative teams can most effectively work together and what you can do to keep pace with an industry evolving rapidly. The brains behind multiple decades of award-winning campaigns and consistently ranked as one of the top ad execs in the APAC region, the dude knows what he’s talking about.

Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Beijing’s Executive Creative Director Juggi Ramakrishnan

What trends are shaping the ad industry and what does the future hold? Juggi: In the past, an ad team used to simply be a copywriter and an art director working together with very clear and separate roles. Now, the industry has democratized, now it’s everybody. Ideas now come from everywhere rather than a dedicated creative department. Everything is media now. Your branding can appear on any surface at any time. And no where is this more true than in China. Sure, there are still specialized fields – art, copy, digital, coding, tech, music, etc. – but the overlap between these areas is larger than it’s ever been. That will only continue. Another factor is that the process of working has shifted. With the proliferation of media, the entire workflow is increasingly complex. Originally, a creative director would write headlines for the ad piece, send to the art director to decorate and then it would get published. Now the process is much more organic, dynamic and difficult to control as the process is no longer linear and with defined, predictable roles.

"Don’t be a slave or bitch to technology. Look at the project in a holistic way..."

"Blue Sky" iPhone app created by OgilvyOne Beijing for WWF China, March 2014

Despite the evolving nature of the field, Juggi emphasized that the goal of advertising is still the same – that the fundamentals of what makes an effective ad are something timeless. Juggi: The fundamental goal of advertising is still the same: come up with interesting solutions to clients’ problems. It’s about problem solving. It’s about whether you can reach enough people with your message to effect the desired change. A good advert needs to move people from one place to another emotionally. Purely rational ads allow people to absorb convincing facts and information but it’s about reaching the right side of the brain that touches people more deeply. This kind of advertising philosophy is still young in China, though it’s changing. And how do you achieve messages with this emotional component? Juggi: Most brands talk about what they do and how they do it, while great brands tell you why they’re doing something. You need to tell people what you believe in. One of the first Apple commercials was the famous 1984 (think Orwell) introduction of the Macintosh computer (see the YouTube version here). It was a strong move to intentionally alienate themselves from the industry, to come out loud and clear to declare their philosophy. It was clear from the very beginning what they stood for. And this branding approach has spawned the loyalty dynamic of the Mac vs. PC user. The PC argument emphasizes functionality – faster speed, lower price, a multiplicity of features – but despite that, the Mac guy will often stay a Mac guy because he’s bought into the philosophy and feeling behind the Mac. This isn’t so much a rational decision as it is an emotional one. The same dynamic of articulating why you do what you do also applies in the creative workplace. Motivation is much easier to come by within a team when people know why you’re working the way you do.

"Blue Sky" iPhone app created by OgilvyOne Beijing for WWF China, March 2014

So how do you gauge whether an advertising campaign is a success? Juggi: The best campaigns are those that move organically. There’s a perception, especially in China, that paid-for media to bump up numbers is an effective strategy. But I don’t care about numbers. To me, it’s the ideas. Does it move someone to share it of their own accord? If you paid someone to share it, or paid for your followers, that doesn’t count in my book. The same goes for paying for celebrity endorsement. That has a time and a place and that’s when it fits with the story and the emotional philosophy behind the campaign and the specific problem at hand. You say these certain advertisement approaches have a time and place. What about incorporating technology? Juggi: Don’t be a slave or bitch to technology. Look at the project in a holistic way that takes into account the tried-and-true classic approaches while also taking into account more recent trends in order to tailor your approach. You need to find a balance. Having your approach dictated by the latest apps and new technologies – what some call innovating or staying at the forefront – is just as limited as neglecting them altogether and stubbornly adhering to traditional advertising forms. As with photography, it’s not about the tools or camera settings or filters you use, but about your eye and the ideas behind what you’re doing. It’s about content and that won’t ever change.

"...Emotionally distancing yourself from your work, to sustain the kind of open-mindedness conducive to continual innovation and new approaches is extremely difficult. It requires resilience and strength of character and confidence."

"Celebrity Promoter Challenge" created by Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Shanghai for KFC China, April 2014

What do creatives themselves need to keep in mind in order to succeed in advertising? Juggi: A successful ad creative is able to consistently generate ideas that solve clients’ problems – that is, to avoid becoming a one-hit-wonder. The single most important practice to do this is to cultivate creative discipline. By that I mean the ability to create a good idea then emotionally disconnect from it and switch gears to create another and another. This process of emotionally distancing yourself from your work, to sustain the kind of open-mindedness conducive to continual innovation and new approaches is extremely difficult. It requires resilience and strength of character and confidence. The toughest thing that young people in the ad industry today can’t handle is rejection. And the ad industry is a rejection industry. The problem is when people become married to their ideas and are destroyed when their creative director tears them apart. If you can’t handle negative feedback and direct criticism of your work, You need to remember that it’s not personal. It’s about the quality of the work and nothing else. If you can dispassionately approach your work and put constructive criticism to work to effectively amend your briefs, that’s where success lies.

"Words can be Weapons" created by Ogilvy & Mather Beijing for The Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang, April 2014

So how can a creative director work most effectively with these factors at play within their team? Juggi: The best creative directors lead by example. They show that they’re both able and willing to do the work alongside the team below them. You need to make it clear from the outset that it’s all about ideas and the caliber of the work; that it’s not personal. Always give credit to everyone who participates on a project and show humility and flexibility with your team, keeping in mind your own weaknesses and respecting others’ skill and work-time limits. A successful CD is involved and competent throughout the entire creative process – they’re part account manager, part relationship liaison, part art director, part creative and part planner/strategist. A level of familiarity with the workflow and responsibilities of all team members is essential to knowing how to help them work well in concert. Really though, the same goes for everyone in the team. With so much overlap, the more you know about what other peoples’ responsibilities are, the better you’ll be able to do your job. At the same time, you need to, depending on the project and team dynamics, be able to give your crew the requisite creative autonomy to collectively make use of their respective talents.

"Words can be Weapons" created by Ogilvy & Mather Beijing for The Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang, April 2014

So, what have we learned? 1) Don’t be technology’s bitch. 2) Grow some thicker skin so that when you’re creative director rips your work apart, respond with: “Thank you sir, may I have another?” 3) Show why you do what you do. Nobody cares what you do or how. Be human. 4) Humility and work ethic rank high in creative teams. Respect others’ time and limits and work your ass off and other people will work their asses off with you. 5) Remember that ideas can come from anywhere. Listen when your ayi pipes up about why she’s dissatisfied with her soap. That insight might blow your art director’s thoughts outta the water. *** Photos courtesy of Ogilvy Thanks for reading