Anomaly Shanghai: The Unreasonable Spirit.
By Jeff Finkle.
It’s the Year of the Rooster and what better way to shine a light on Chinese New Year than an interview with Richard Summers, Head of Strategic Planning for Anomaly Shanghai. We’d like to thank Richard for taking the time to talk to us about the exciting and fun work being done in the Anomaly Shanghai office and their campaign to promote Chinese New Year for Budweiser.
AdForum: One of the things that Anomaly Shanghai has done since opening in 2013, that enables your office to stand out in a unique way is the interesting content you are producing, that is not always with a brand in mind. With “The Unreasonable” series, you’ve been able to take the famous George Bernard Shaw quote that’s in every Anomaly office and breathe life into this idea of the unreasonable man being what moves society forward. What is it about the Unreasonable series of films showcasing entrepreneurial mavericks that you think the typical Chinese consumer can find so relatable and do these unique individuals or “unreasonables” represent a new way of thinking for the youth of China?
Richard: I think there are a few different layers to it. Firstly, we see there’s a real appetite for high quality, original content in this market, both from a consumer point of view, and a media point of view. Part of the early success of our platform was undoubtedly our partnership with Touchmedia (the in-taxi media company), which shared our desire to create great content and deliver it to consumers. There’s a lot of poor content out there, but inevitably, the best will always come out on top, be shared, watched, and re-shared. So we put extra-effort into making sure our content is the most compelling it can be. Secondly, people are really interested to see what’s going on across China, both locally, and internationally.
There has always been a lively spirit of entrepreneurialism and innovation (admittedly, it’s sometimes been “opportunism”) in China, and I think that's what clicks with our content. We are showing the people who are really creating the future China, and that’s something which everyone wants to know about. Lastly, I think it’s the very spirit of being “unreasonable” that resonates with people, especially younger people. It’s about not just accepting the status quo. It’s about thinking creatively. And ultimately it's about progress. All things that young people want to be part of.
AdForum: The Unreasonable platform has taken off since 2013 as more than a video series, and you have over 500,000 followers on a WeChat app. What are some of the other ways you have activated the platform to engage your followers and how would you like to see it develop over the coming years?
Richard: We started from small beginnings for sure. In fact we started from just PDF newsletters, but we knew we were on to something interesting from the reception they received, so we started to create video content to better tell the story of the people we featured. After our first year in action, we published a book featuring 12 of the candidates, and distributed that to media as well as select bookstores. Aside from content, we also created a series of monthly events / salons, to give our followers a chance to meet the people featured. In addition, for the last two years we were invited by Design Shanghai to present our platform and people, which has been a great way to connect with the right audience.
We were also invited to Beijing Design Week, where we collaborated with Mighty Jaxx (also one of the people we’ve featured on the platform) to create an “unreasonable” experience. Aside from offline events, we have also collaborated with some of the people we feature to create new products. For instance, we worked with Fly Juice (an innovative healthy drinks company) to create our very own “Unreasonable Juice” (…don’t ask what's in it).
As we move forward, we are broadening our reach by working with new media partners, and also working with our other Anomaly offices around the world to create further content. We also have ambitions that this platform can potentially become a conference in its own right, as in this market at least, there’s a dearth of such events. And speaking personally, my ambition is that at some point in the near future, we can create a longer-form piece of content - an unreasonable documentary film. These are all things we’re exploring.
AdForum: Tell us a bit about the Unreasonable Attelier that your team created to be a part of the cultural platform YIHAUS, to enhance the shoppers’ experience in the Shanghai Village retail outlets, located next to ShanghaI Disneyland?
Richard: We were invited by Value Retail (the company behind Shanghai Village) to participate in their YiHaus project. They have rightly recognized that shopping is about more than just shopping, it’s entertainment in its own right. It’s a leisure activity. As such, they wanted to enrich their retail destination with cultural content and experiences. That’s where we came in, with our strong connection to local culture and creators.
AdForum: You have also partnered with the uniquely talented digital craftsman Zhang Zoujie in an exhibition at Shanghai Village. How does he make it possible for the average person entering the Shanghai Village to experience what it’s like to be a designer?
Richard: We worked with Zhang Zhoujie to create a bespoke experience within the Shanghai Village. His vision is of a future where the objects around us are as individual as every one of us. So take his iconic chair, this is made based on the dimensions of the individual sitting on it – so it’s suprisingly comfortable. We wanted to take that same concept and enable visitors to the Shanghai Village to create their very own product – to become the designer themselves. Through an interactive installation, visitors were able to create a bespoke vessel, which was laser-printed right then and there for them, every single one as individual as the person creating it.
AdForum: Another unique partnership Anomaly Shanghai has cultivated that would be of interest to our fellow comic book fans in our audience is the relationship you have with the Mighty Jaxx studio that creates 3D collectibles from designs by street artists and comic book illustrators. How did your partnership with Mighty Jaxx and DC illustrator, Jason Freeny come about? It’s not often I speak to an ad agency who has a licensing agreement with DC comics. The Batman ones are very cool, by the way. I can imagine the Shanghai Comic-Con is a fun, surreal experience and Jason Freeny made an appearance there in 2016, were you able to attend?
Richard: We formed a partnership with Mighty Jaxx after a mutual friend introduced us to them. Aside from them making awesome and highly sought after collectibles, we saw a significant business opportunity to establish their brand in mainland China, given the burgeoning middle class, the rise in disposable income, and the transition from a house (a place you live) to a home (a place you make your own). We’ve been working with them to establish the brand, the distribution channels, and identify local artists/illustrators to create new products. In addition, we leverage our global footprint in the cultural epicenters of the world (NYC, LA, Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Shanghai) and talent to extend the brand. This year, Taobao select us as one of the most creative and original sellers on their e-commerce platform, and exhibited us at their annual fair. When it comes to Shanghai Comic-Con, even though it's only in its second year, it's a great opportunity to reach the collector community, and Jason was really well received there.
AdForum: I wanted to ask you about the work Anomaly Shanghai has done for Budweiser in China. Unlike in the U.S., where beer ads typically focus on the “experience” of enjoying the beer with friends at a bar or party, Anomaly Shanghai’s “The Long Ride" ad takes a different direction. It’s an emotional and beautifully-shot ad that stands out to me for how you focus on the story being told over the brand and for choosing to tell the story of a bond between a father and daughter. What was the main decision factor in focusing the ad around a father-daughter bond and the journey one takes to adulthood in life?
Richard: Chinese New Year is a unique time of year, and itis also a highly emotional one that requires a different approach to the rest of the year. The film we created is one component of that approach, and serves the purpose of emotionally resonating with consumers to deliver the message that, at this time of year, we should say thank you to the people who enable us, to be us. While the story of the father and daughter is specific, it’s also universal, and represents a story that many people can relate to, across China. We have all faced a “long ride” in our lives, and we have all had people who supported us or encouraged us along those roads.
But it's important to note that this content is just one part of a much bigger, integrated effort across channels, and right down to the point of consumption or purchase. Ultimately, our work at Anomaly is not simply about creating content, but delivering tangible business results, and as such everything we do, we do for that reason.
AdForum: Finally, what has been the biggest challenge in marketing to the Chinese market what has been historically known throughout the world as a quintessential American brand?
Richard: It may come as a surprise, but that’s actually not the biggest challenge we face. Budweiser has been part of the fabric of China for over 20 years now. It is an international, premium, established and familiar brand here. In fact, the bigger challenge we face is the evolving nature of consumers in China. As well as becoming increasingly discerning, they are also increasingly diverse in their behavior. As such, we are constantly working with Budweiser to identify new occasions, or new ways to connect with them. One example would be the partnership with the Storm EDM musical festival, which enables us to be part of the booming electronic dance music scene in China. Another would be the Halloween campaign from last year, where we tapped into a new occasion for Budweiser. How we can continue to lead the trend and stay meaningful to consumers is what keeps us up at night.