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Creativity and innovation matter most in digital era

CHINA'S advertising market is expected to keep an above-average double-digit growth over the next few years. Last year, advertising expenditure was up 14.9 percent to 347.2 billion yuan (US$55.1 billion) and this year it could grow another 16 percent, according to GroupM.

DDB Worldwide is establishing a global creative center in Shanghai to bring more creative talents to the world's fastest growing major economy at a time when multinational brands are moving to local markets while domestic companies are seeking to raise their brand awareness in the global market.

One of the leading figures of DDB Worldwide's strategic move is its chief creative officer Amir Kassaei, a widely lauded advertising veteran and a world citizen. He was born in Iran, raised in Austria, and educated in France. He worked at agencies such as TBWA, Barci & Partner and Springer & Jacoby before joining DDB as chief creative officer and Associate Partner of DDB Germany in 2003.

Shanghai Daily talked with Amir Kassaei in DDB's Shanghai office about his understanding of the Chinese market and what digital revolution means for creative minds.

Q: Why did you choose to establish the global creative hub in Shanghai and how is the hub going to work?

A: We're seeing growing business opportunities in Asia and especially in China and at the same time global clients are asking the same quality of creative products in China as those in other places of the world.

The creative hub is expected to attract international talents to Shanghai and will become a platform where Chinese talents can be trained and educated.

China is also facing a shortage of creative talents, so our responsibility is looking at hiring international talents to educate local employees, guide them and give them the perspectives under which we can build something based on China's unique culture.

Q: How do you view China's advertising industry and what kind of role is it going to play within the next few years?

A: China's advertising industry is still in the stage of developing. It's not sophisticated enough, but will become mature very soon.

China is an upcoming market but lacks of talents, therefore we're setting up the creative hub, which is expected to boost the level of creativity.

It is still not a creative or innovation-driven country. But it will become one in the next five to 10 years.

I'm confident that Chinese people can learn really fast and they will be able to deliver the same kind of creative work in the next three years compared with mature markets like Europe and the United States.

Q: How do you address China's difference from other markets in the world?

Despite the cultural background differences, the universal value of human being is the same across all nations: living a happy life, striving forward, sending children to school and making sure they have a better life.

Chinese people are like those in the rest of the world despite they have a different cultural background.

We have to look at the Chinese market in a more objective way while most of the time US or European guys tend to think that China could be as equal as anywhere else.

Thinking that the West belongs to the old world and China is a new world is a kind of blinding arrogance.

Q: How does the emergence of social media and new technologies affect the creative industry?

There is a big misunderstanding in the industry that we have to change together with the coming of the digital age. But our core value never changes. That is finding a relevant truth and deliver it in a fresh way. That has always been the foundation of our business.

The media landscape has changed due to the rise of all the social media but that is only from the technology side.

For DDB, digital is not a medium, but a technology and infrastructure to be used in the right way to build and market the brand.

The purpose of creativity doesn't change just because of the technology revolution.

I don't care that much about buzzwords in the market place like integration, mobile marketing, social media... We need to bring back the focus to the people.

When we're living in the world where everything is connected via Internet, there is not much need to differentiating online from offline anymore.

Q: What's your expansion strategy in China? Are you thinking of acquiring some smaller agencies to strengthen your local operations?

A: Our business in China has doubled compared with five years ago.

We hope to grow by ourselves in China, but our China team will make their own decisions based on the timing and the demand from the clients' side.

It's not my decision to make with regard to any acquisition plans, but my job is to make sure that our core value and the company's culture remain. If the talent or culture doesn't match our existing operations, it won't work out.


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