How Anomaly Shanghai Built Its Own Content Platform in China

It's Another Way Anomaly Has Been Developing Its Intellectual Property

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Anyone grabbing a cab in China might come across an unusual video series playing on taxi screens. The short films profile entrepreneurs and mavericks -- a rural revivalist, the founder of a sustainable meal delivery startup. They're all people who disprove the tired stereotype that China lacks out-of-the-box thinkers.

At the start of the films, the Anomaly logo flashes on the screen. The films are part of the agency's intellectual property play -- a content platform in China focusing on people "who create progress." The agency calls the franchise "The Unreasonable," which comes from the George Bernard Shaw quote that is displayed in every Anomaly office. The quote reads: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Beyond the videos there's also a platform on all-purpose Chinese app WeChat, with over 50,000 followers. There's a weekly email newsletter, an annual book, a shop on Alibaba e-commerce platform Taobao, exhibits, and as of a few weeks ago, a "salon" discussion series.

When Anomaly Shanghai opened in 2013, it wanted to do something to celebrate the local culture in China; that was the spark for "The Unreasonable."

"China from the outside is often seen as uncreative, but here on the inside, we see lots of interesting and innovative stuff happening everyday and want to champion it," said Richard Summers, partner and chief strategy officer at Anomaly Shanghai. "These people are the future of China and need to be supported more."

While Anomaly is known for creating its own intellectual property (EOS lip and skin products and cooking show "Avec Eric," for example) "The Unreasonable" was the first IP play from the agency's Shanghai office. Since then it has launched two others -- a joint venture with Mighty Jaxx, a Singapore-based artist's street-culture collective, and a creative work space called BaseCO, in partnership with the landlord who owns the agency's Shanghai office. Both those men have been profiled by "The Unreasonable."

There have also been a few crossover products with Anomaly's interviewees. With juice brand Fly Juice, for example, launched by singer Yu Siyuan, it created an "Unreasonable" juice flavor.

The project started out as a PDF newsletter shared with friends, Mr. Summers said. As the team grew, the agency filmed content and formed a partnership with in-taxi interactive company Touchmedia. The videos now play on 25,000 Chinese taxi screens.

Going forward, Mr. Summers sees a need for high-quality conferences or events in China.

The platform "continues to extend, we see it as potentially becoming a 'TED' of China -- there's the opportunity to do more talks, to bring more experiences to people," he said. "Even evolving into more of a lifestyle brand is a possibility we are considering in the future."

The project may also get more international. Other Anomaly offices are interested in contributing, and Anomaly is looking for media partners that could air it outside China.

For now, Mr. Summers says the agency isn't actively looking for brands to sponsor or partner on "Unreasonable" content. The focus isn't on revenue but on developing the platform. One benefit has been attracting talent to the agency and in generating business from clients, Mr. Summers said. "It pays for itself in ways more than money."

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