Nanjing-native Fanqiao Wang is a designer, illustrator and, to use a cold, business label, an IP creator. After three years studying and illustrating in Treviso, Italy, she returned to Shanghai to try her hand at freelancing. In 2015, she was urged by friends to start a WeChat public account, ‘sealandfriends’, following the innocent everyday adventures of ‘seal’, a character she had created two years previously as a pasttime. To her surprise, the account has since attracted more than 20,000 dedicated followers, and continues to grow every week. Seeing the opportunity to align themselves with an unassuming, young opinion leader, large brands (McDonald’s) and smaller ones have begun working with her to create branded sealandfriends content.
SHP+ caught up with Fanqiao to see what she makes of it all.
How would you describe sealandfriends?
sealandfriends is a place for relaxation
What inspires you when you are thinking of ideas and stories?
Mostly the things around me that touch me or make me laugh. I want to share those things with everyone. What happened to seal happened in real life. I do add a little spice to it, to make it more touching or funnier.
How many followers do you have now? Who are they? Do you interact with them?
I have around 20,000 followers from different industries. They all have a soft heart and eagerness to relax. I often chat with them from the backend and some of them have became my friends in real life. I feel very lucky to know these guys. I feel very comfortable talking with them.
When you started sealandfriends, did you think you would make money from it?
It never occurred to me that it could get so popular, or make any money. I only opened this account after my friend urged me to, over and over. At the start it was just a method to cheer myself up, because I get blue from time to time. I never thought others could find comfort and value in it. This really makes me feel great.
When brands ask to sponsor you, how do you integrate them into your posts?
I was approached by GOUSA, Musicanvas, YiBao and McDonald’s. Some are independent brands, some are big brands. Their PR people saw the seal and liked it, and then their whole team liked it. So they left me a message and we had a meeting. Some of them even became my friends now.
They gave me a lot of freedom to create, I just need to put in certain elements. It so happened that I also like these brands, so it’s easy for me a find something that will interest both of us. The experiences working with these brands were very good.
Are you afraid that your work will lose some of its creative integrity/honesty if you are paid by brands?
Yes I do worry. Especially because honesty is the thing that I emphasize the most. So I’m very selective when choosing the works. I don’t really mind how much they pay me. It’s important that I like the brand so that I could create good ads. This works for both of us.
Now that you know brands are interested in your work, has it changed the way you approach your work?
Yes, it has changed the ways I look at things. I realize as a creator, the things I pursue sometimes aren’t different from what the clients want. We both want to attract readers and consumers, to let them feel what we thought. I convince them to spread my work out. Even if the ads I did only strengthen the impression of the brand on people, it is kind of a success. I hope the seal can participate in more valuable commercial works, to let those ads seem more heart warming and relaxing. These commercial opportunities led me to think about relationships between people. I saw a win-win opportunity.
What are your plans for sealandfriends in future?
I think basically it is to stay happy and calm when creating quality and regularly updating things. Then the commercial opportunities will come naturally. I hope to guarantee myself as much freedom as possible when creating, but I also want larger scale projects, which will require me to work with others. I think I need to find a balance between creative freedom and co-operative projects.
What are your plans in future for your other creative work?
I like a “let it be” and “making more friends” attitude. If my friends contact me or the project is fun enough, than the money isn’t a big deal. If they pay me a lot and the work is easy, then the job doesn’t have to be fun. I think my purpose on getting paid jobs are either for money, or for the joy of working with a great team. So I don’t really have a plan, just following the flow.