Martin Brooks: Forget Soho, China is the place to be for our young creatives

By Martin Brooks, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 11 October 2012 08:00AM

I've just spent a week in Shanghai among 21 million people in a horn-honking hurry to get everything and anything they want.

Martin Brooks is the chief executive of Work Club

Martin Brooks is the chief executive of Work Club

There's lots to look at, lots we should know about.

In the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, you can see scale models of what the city's leaders have approved for 2025. But already built is perhaps the world's biggest full-video advertising skyscraper. On Friday night, the Citi building's screen lit up Shanghai's Manhattan-like skyline with a 42-storey Angry Birds demo. This is one screen being watched by about a million people at once. Imagine our Centre Point tower, except twice as high, running full video, visible from Hammersmith, Peckham and Walthamstow.

Among other things, we were there to get our heads round Weibo. Functionally, it's Twitter and Facebook combined, but it's better because, in Chinese script, you can almost write a novel in 140 characters. It has 450 million users and handles well over 100 million messages a day. Access to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc are blocked to most, so Weibo monopolises modern Chinese life. It's the platform for every local and international brand and, though we may wince at its design, you can't argue with its reach and influence. We watched one pop video get 23 million "likes" in three days.

Everywhere you look, there's an accelerated "premiumisation" of everything. Young, wealthy, Shanghainese just don't do mid-market. Unless it's the best, they're not interested. Everyone under 30 seems to be in an incredible hurry to look modern, international and rich.

This acceleration carries into the agency world too. According to R3 (a sort of AAR for Asia), there are 247,000 agencies in China, of which 204 are network agencies handling around 30 per cent of a total £4.7 billion in revenue. But, on average, these networks suffer an annual staff churn rate of 40 per cent. One major three-letter network just lost its executive creative director, chief executive and executive strategy director to rival agencies in the space of a month - why wait to order your Panamera when you can jump network and afford one on Monday? Recruiter heaven.

Meanwhile, in client-land, multinationals faced with 1 per cent growth forecasts in Europe are relocating their best talent to China, where they can drive 15-20 per cent.

So, what can UK marketers learn from Shanghai? (1) Digital outdoor will soon be a broadcast media channel. (2) Twitter and Facebook aren't invincible (Weibo is a better platform). (3) All our best young talent will go to China.

But for all its scale and speed, Shanghai still lacks really great creativity in its marketing. If the West can develop the biggest and best ideas on the planet, the Chinese will buy them ... as long as we charge enough.

Martin Brooks is the chief executive of Work Club.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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