The organizer--the state-run China Advertising Association in Beijing--moves the event to a different city each October, attracting thousands of ad executives, provincial TV operators, students, and even a few politicians to an enormous conference and exhibition.
Even though there is scant publicity for the event outside the mainland, and nearly everything is conducted in Mandarin with no translation offered, this year’s festival was more international than earlier events, evidence that China is joining the global advertising community.
"I see better speakers joining from around the world. There is still an eagerness to learn, whether it is the academic community who wants to know what is happening with rest of the world, or the young creatives dying for some intelligent guidance from the global leaders," said one speaker, Jeffrey Yu, regional president of Bates Asia in Hong Kong.
Other speakers included Spencer Wong, McCann Erickson’s exec creative director, Hong Kong & Greater China in Hong Kong; Matt Freeman, New York-based CEO Worldwide, Tribal DDB; and Miguel Angel Furones, Leo Burnett Worldwide’s Madrid-based chief creative officer covered topics like online advertising and creativity.
Mary Warlick, executive director of The One Club and Kevin Swanepoel, its interactive director, addressed an audience of more than 500 on interactive media and recent trends using animation in advertising, with examples from brands such as Apple, Guinness, Honda and MTV.
"China is hard to navigate and it was sort of like Carrefour, just a huge amount of everything with acres and acres of exhbition space," said Ms. Warlick. "Our exhibition looked good but they labeled it "The One Shoe," instead of "The One Show," she added with a laugh. "My presentation was completely full, and the whole audience held for the entire talk. It was heartening how enthusiastic they were, they even applauded the ads we showed. But I felt they gave lip service to creative in the rest of the conference."
A handful of western agencies also picked up top honors at the two new award shows. Both were introduced this year as a regular part of the festival program, another sign China is serious about raising the standard of the festival.
Leo Burnett won the $10,000 grand prize for a campaign called "Ink Ball” for Li Ning Co., a major local sportswear brand, at the inaugural Chinese Element International Creative Festival. The show was created to promote the best use of China’s culture, literature and language in ads, to develop a unique voice for Chinese advertising as it competes with more countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan and Thailand, according to its organizer, Onicek He, Shanghai-based CEO of Asia ICC Group, an ad industry communications consultancy.
The striking campaign for Li Ning, whose founder is an Olympic gold medal winner, illustrated its Chinese heritage by tracing the movements of the basketball player with stylized Chinese calligraphy. The judges also gave out four gold awards to three local agencies, Black Horse, Meikao and GuNaZhengEr and Tsinghua University's Academy of Arts & Design.
McCann Erickson, meanwhile, scored well at the Effie awards, organized in conjunction with the New York-based American Marketing Association’s Effie awards for the first time in China. McCann won a gold for an integrated Coca-Cola campaign that connected the brand with S.H.E., an all-girl band, with a series of humorous TV spots; "World of Warcraft,” a wildly successful online game and McCann's Chinese iCoke web site (www.icoke.cn). The U.S. beverage giant also decorated 10,000 cyber cafes with elaborate branding. Altogether, the campaign increased Coke sales by up to 30% in the cafes in the first few weeks.
Coke has continued the theme into 2006. Last May, S.H.E. members were taken hostage by World of Warcraft characters on the iCoke site and could be released by consumers in three ways. The singers rescued themselves, or they were rescued by either the winner of last year’s popular Supergirl singing contest, Li Yuchun, or Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Players could also come up with their own way to free them. The campaign ran through September.
“It was a best-in-class example across touch points, a great iCoke web site with downloads, wallpapers, blogs, behind-the-scene information about the TV spots and games that all kept consumers coming back, plus above-the-line ads and outdoor media,” said Wasim Basir, group business director, for Coca-Cola, McCann Erickson, Shanghai. It was “very grounded in Chinese reality, so we gained consumers’ respect.”
Three other gold awards were presented at the Chinese Effies to Lowe Worldwide, Shanghai for a campaign about Coca-Cola Co.'s Nestea brand, Ogilvy & Mather, Beijing for Motorola advertising and a local agency, Xiezuo, Guangzou, for a campaign promoting the Chinese search engine Baidu.com.
Despite the challenge of navigating the enormous event, one major draw for foreign visitors was the site’s location this year, said Michael Wood, Leo Burnett’s Hong Kong-based CEO, Greater China. “Many China execs have already been to Xi’an,” he said, a reference to last year’s location, “but Kunming is a bit more out of the way, so this was a good chance to visit a new city.”
Known today as China’s “City of Eternal Spring,” for its temperate climate, leafy streets and lakes, Kunming was the gateway to the Silk Road that facilitated trade with Tibet, Sichuan, Myanmar and India. It remains a focal point for China’s minority cultures, such as the Yi, Bai, Miao, Dai and Hani tribes, who are distantly connected to hill tribes in nearby Tibet, Laos and Thailand.
Next year’s festival, which will be held Sept. 21-23, is likely to be another strong draw for foreigners. The chosen city, Qingdao, is a seaside town on China's east coast.