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Cannes Lions Conversations: W Shanghai | 戛纳国际创意节对话:上海广告创意机构W


Last week at Cannes Lions, SHP+ caught up with China’s ad makers and shakers about Chinese innovation, creativity, and their presence on the international stage. In this Cannes Lions Conversation, we talked with W, a Shanghai-based independent agency, after they gave a session titled, “Don’t be a Creative, Be a Creator.” We were joined by 3Water Li, Founder of W, Irene He, Brand Strategist, and Jack Zhang, Business Director, to talk about W’s place in the world and its plans. Though W has attended Cannes once before, this was 3Water’s first time on stage, and W also submitted two campaigns for awards this year.


W Founder 3Water | W创始人的李三水

SHP+: How did you end up speaking this year at Cannes Lions? Was it through your relationship with Adquan?



Irene: [Adquan] are the media, they have the connections. They’re like AdWeek. They invited us here and recommended us to Cannes to select us as a speaker. This is the first time a Chinese independent agency is speaking on a main stage.

日清:广告门是媒体公司,他们有人脉, 就像《广告周刊》一样。这也是第一次有中国本土独立创意机构,受邀在戛纳主舞台上演讲。


W’s “Songs to Future Advertisements,” turning ads into music videos

SHP+: Everyone is talking about China brands breaking into the Western world. If the creative for those brands was more like the work you guys just shared, which is so original, it would break through much faster. Your work is very Western friendly but understands China insights. Are those the kind of projects you’re aiming for? Bringing a Chinese brand into the Western market?



3Water: Sure. Our next step is to go into the international market, and build our agency towards international agency levels.

Irene: We’re the first world-class independent local agency. It’s a long adjective, but you get what we’re talking about.

3Water: We have so many clients like Alibaba and Tencent who want to go international.





SHP+: So do you think there’s an advantage to having someone like you guys instead of an agency based in the overseas markets?


Irene: Well our local insights definitely put us in a position where we’re connecting cultures together and getting the point of what brands want.


SHP+: Right. Obviously your Chinese understanding is very strong and Chinese brands will see that. Are they seeing how well you understand creative work that hits Western perceptions as well?  Are clients like Huawei wanting to work with agencies like you to go overseas?


Irene: Even large, very popular ad agencies – when they operate for international clients, there’s no guarantee they can understand or deliver the best messages. But if you can find someone who does, it doesn’t matter their size. We’re only 33 people, and we’ve managed to do so many things in the past three years. Size doesn’t matter, only local insights and the ability to deliver.


An Ad That Shouldn’t Have Existed

SHP+: What did you submit to Cannes this year?


Irene: We submitted two campaigns. The “Return to Shanghai,” and one for Unionpay, “The Ad That Shouldn’t Have Existed,” an interactive thing that works when you wave your phone. That’s a connecting-brand function because it shows how you wave to pay. You don’t need to scan anything or take out a card. One was submitted to Digital Craft Lions and the other is in Entertainment Branded Content Lions – Social Influence category.

日清:递交了两部作品。《Return to Shanghai》,还有一个作品是给银联云闪付做的《一个不该存在的广告》,挥动手机,就会有互动。这就是联动品牌功能,一挥即付。不用扫描,也不用把银行卡掏出来。两部作品,一个参加的是数字工艺狮类别,另一个是娱乐品牌内容狮 – 社交影响力类别。

Wild Dog Island exhibition for 33 brands


SHP+: What are the pros and cons of being a small agency in such a big market?


Jack : I think the advantage is very obvious because the market is changing very fast. Being small means being more flexible and we can adapt faster to many changes.

振杰 :优势非常明显,因为市场瞬息万变。小就等于灵活,我们可以很快适应很多变化。

Compared to the budgets of our clients and the costs of larger agencies, we have so much room to be skyrocketing in this market because our costs are lower. Our overhead is small. We’re able to find other elements, instead of money, that help us move fast for our clients. 3Water believes that creating a shared community, a shared destiny, with our clients, consumers and with corporate partners is the best way to work.


Irene: So in short, [clients and brands] have capital and markets to drive whatever they do, but small agencies only have creatives. We need to find the next motivation and build to drive everyone forward, which is why 3Water says we need to build a shared community.

日清:简而言之,我们的客户和品牌 – 他们有资本,有市场,不论做什么都可以,但是小型广告公司只有创意。我们需要找到新的动力,激励每个人,所以三水说我们需要打造共同社区。

SHP+: Any other challenges, besides money, to being a small agency?


3Water: Talents. A lot of strong talent goes to large agencies, or companies like Alibaba and Tencent, because they have so much recognition.


SHP+: W Agency has only been around for three years, but your recognition must be growing. Will you stay small?


Irene: Take a look at our Hypermedia map. We’re planning on building out a new division for each specific kind of content: a production house, a film company, a music label. [Ed.’s note: This also includes an art zine, tech-art, an educational platform, concert production, and other departments in gaming, fashion and sports. We highly recommend you check out all of their projects.]  We’re going to grow but in different ways. We’re going to be a smaller version of Alibaba.


3Water: (laughing) That’s what Alibaba said, not what we’re thinking.


Jack: They told us we’re a small Alibaba after looking at our road map.


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