Rogier Bikker is the Dutch founder and CEO of TOMORROW, a Shanghai-based creative agency with an ambition: to make Chinese youth fall in love with your brand. He says that his team of talented young people creatives gives him an edge in grasping what drives viewership, likes, and shares in the Chinese digital space. SHP+ had a conversation with Bikker to know more about his creative journey, his purpose with TOMORROW, and some of his most beloved projects.
“I only have two passions in life; one of them is running an agency, the other is China,” Bikker says. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he didn’t face any objection in pursuing his passions. At age sixteen—the minimum legal age to register a company in The Netherlands—he opened his first agency to build websites from his bedroom. A few years later, he interned for Energize, a creative agency in Amsterdam. That’s when Bikker, only nineteen years old, came to China on an inspiration trip alongside a group of many established CEOs. All expenses paid by himself.
TOMORROW – Agency Reel 2020
His drive convinced the Energize’ founder of his passion for doing business in the country. At age 21, three days after his graduation, Bikker landed in Shanghai to open the Chinese outpost of Energize. The office worked with leading Dutch brands, like Heineken, KLM, and Miffy. For him, it was a deep and practical dive into the world of Chinese social advertising. Five years later, though, Bikker quit Energize to pursue an idea he was in love with.
Bikker in his first office in Shanghai in 2009, looking for his employee #01
“I became very interested not just in China but also in Chinese brands. So I thought of Brand New China, a project for which I drove from China to The Netherlands using only Chinese brands and recording my journey,” he says. During this three-month saga, everything Bikker drove, touched, or wore, was Chinese. “The car, phones, computers, everything was Chinese, even my underwear. It was my way of telling the world that we can do it all with Chinese brands—and do it well.”
“我不仅开始对中国感兴趣，还对中国品牌非常感兴趣，于是我想到了‘品味新中国’（Brand New China）这个项目。为了这个项目，我从中国开车到荷兰，全程只使用中国品牌，并记录下了我的旅程，”Bikker告诉我们。在这次为期三个月的长途跋涉中，Bikker开的、摸的、穿的全都是中国品牌。“汽车、电话、电脑，这一切都是中国的品牌，甚至是我的内衣。我用这种方式告诉世界，我们可以用中国品牌做所有的事情，并且做得很好。”
Brand New China aimed to change the negative connotation of whatever product was “made in China.” It had all the ingredients for PR success, including Bikker himself. “A foreigner sufficiently in love with China and crazy enough to promote local brands in that way? The media loved it,” he says. BYD, Huawei, and Lenovo were a few of the names sponsoring the stunt. He had also talked to Alibaba for support, but it didn’t work out because of a conflict of interest.
“品味新中国”（Brand New China）这个项目旨在改变 “中国制造”这个标签对于任何产品的负面含义。这个项目具备公关成功的所有要素，包括Bikker本人。“一个深爱中国中国、疯狂地以这种方式推广本土品牌的外国人? 媒体最爱这种题材了，”他说到。比亚迪、华为和联想均是这次宣传活动的赞助商。他也曾向阿里巴巴寻求支持，但由于利益冲突，未能成功。
Bikker’s car in which he drove to Holland
“Alibaba wanted to sponsor it. But they were promoting their car repairing service, so they only wanted to invest under one condition: that the car would break, and they would send help. Of course, BYD didn’t like the idea. They gave us the car, so…” Bikker shrugs. “Funny story. The car didn’t break, but I crashed it pretty badly and had to have it repaired. It was my fault. It all happened in the middle of Uzbekistan.”
Back in China, Bikker worked with Chinese brands for a few months. Still, he quickly realized that his value was in deciphering the ever-changing Chinese social media landscape to help foreign companies. That’s why he founded TOMORROW; to work for brands wanting to commit to the Chinese market.
“We have the purpose of making Chinese youth fall in love with the brands we work with” Bikker says. TOMORROW does not specialize in one industry. Instead, they’re experts in an audience: the almighty and free-spending Chinese youth. With his youthful team of 45, including a crew of seven strategists, they’re always digging consumer insights through interviews and research.
“If you want to have a younger approach, rejuvenate a brand, we are the agency for you. We know our audience; we understand what a 16-year-old girl from Xiamen watches on Bilibili; we know what a basketball kid from Chengdu thinks of your brand. And these are the questions we like clients to ask us,” Bikker says.
By design, TOMORROW‘s team is composed mostly of young Chinese creatives. Even with a foreign CEO, they can work from a local perspective. As long as the team shows superior creative competence, Bikker is indifferent to their foreign language skills. “If you forget about your team being able to speak fluent English, it opens up a large pool of talents,” he says. “I hire people that are the best in what they do, regardless if they speak English or not.”
Nowadays, Bikker‘s work revolves around pitching, meeting clients, and giving feedback to his team. They are the ones that come up with the creative ideas, much often to Bikker’s wonderment. And they do it fast. Bikker stretches that speed is one of TOMORROW‘s founding pillars. The name has a double meaning: to state that they’re ahead in tomorrow’s trends and that they work fast to meet the demands of Chinese marketers.
“Before, brands needed a campaign every three to six months. Now, to “feed the feeds”, they need branded content every week. Still, it needs to be high quality and made to fit the same annual budget,” Bikker says. He adds that such content needs to be tailored to each social platform and, of course, to each client.
TOMORROW has worked with industry heavyweights, including Budweiser, Burberry, Coca Cola, Absolut, Converse, Volvo, Ballantine’s, New Balance, just to name a few. For instance, in a recent campaign for Victoria’s Secret, they invited young consumers to reimagine what it means to be sexy. They did so through a series of thought-provoking testimonies from Chinese brand ambassadors. “They wanted a fresh approach, and that’s why they came to us. The campaign was all about redefining the stereotypical form of sexy, which of course, the brand is very much about,” Bikker says.
Victoria’s Secret x Combined Film
But the work Bikker is most proud of during his 5 years of running TOMORROW is a campaign for Absolut that aimed to support China’s creative nightlife. “We created a digital platform where anyone can submit their creative nightlife idea. Every week, we would choose one idea and fund it with ten thousand Renminbi. We then sent a massive box with vodka, event decoration materials, but no rules to follow”, he says. With a focus on second and third tiers cities, the campaign ran for over three years and supported over 450 events in more than 200 different Chinese cities.
Absolut Nights_Edison Chen
Currently, TOMORROW is working with leading plant-based brand Beyond Meat. An industry and brand Bikker seems very excited about. “As lead agency, we’re given carte blanche to build a brand that Chinese youth will love, if we do our job well. In the two months of working with them we’ve done collabs with DOE, Innersect, Oatly, KFC and Puma. With even more exciting collabs coming up soon!”
Last week, Campaign Asia announced that TOMORROW got shortlisted for China Creative agency, Independent agency, Social agency and Specialist agency of the year 2020, following their wins as Boutique and Independent agency of the year in 2018 and 2019. Bikker himself got shortlisted for Agency Head of the Year, pending results next month.
TOMORROW is currently investing in its in-house video and photo production capabilities and on the lookout for more creative talent with hands-on video and photo production experience to meet the demand. It’s also keen on establishing more partnerships with production houses.
Bikker can be reached on his Wechat ID: rogierbikker