Who Killed the Adman? In October last year, Norman Tan asked this rhetorical question to his peers in the advertising industry; veterans like himself that have shaped the realm in China over the past thirty years. He has been in advertising for 37 years, was a chief creative officer at various 4A agencies, and recently founded his boutique branding agency, OnBrand. Along with his daughter, Lily Tan, he produced a short documentary to instigate reflection on the subject of creativity and survival of the “Adman” in the current state of advertising landscape.
Last week, the father and daughter team released a sequel to their film. They’ve asked the same question to representatives of the younger generations of advertising creatives, many of them in leadership positions at independent agencies.
To watch with English subtitles go to YouTube @ https://youtu.be/RGrSKiV62YU
The idea for the follow-up came during the premiere of the first film: “You asked if there would be a second episode, but I told you that it was not in my plans. I was wrong,” Tan tells SHP+ when announcing the sequel.
“The online discussion around the first documentary was not as heated as expected, but the difference in opinion between those trained in the 4A global agency model and those outside was significant,” he says. Tan noticed huge marks of generational differences in the discussions; he felt like making another documentary to give voice to younger generation of creatives.
Norman Tan 陈耀福 & Lili 陈思立
Indeed, the array of opinions in the first film was not balanced to provide a comprehensive review of the current state of the industry. Most arguments are fit, but they focus on changes with a melancholic negative undertone and nostalgia for the so-called “golden era” of advertising. Some interviewees even risk saying that creativity is dead when trying to answer Tan’s question and its metaphor.
On the other hand, in the second part, we hear the other side of the industry: younger professionals working in independent agencies. The interviewees of the sequel express strong views:
One of them perceives Tan’s question as cynical and pessimistic; another believes that someone who affirms the Adman is dead pays no attention to progress. Many of the interviewees believe that economic, social, and technological changes are the main factors for the disbelief in the almost mythical figure of the Adman and proclaim it’s now the best era for Chinese advertising. They affirm that there’s new and exceptional talent available and that the industry is working in inventive ways where creative spirit of Adman is well present.
As we can see, there’s a radical generational gap when it comes to advertising from the first film to the second. Nowadays, glorified international agencies are sometimes seen as ‘heavy dinosaurs,’ often failing to deliver high-grade work because of their difficulties in catching up with the ever-evolving technological and social landscapes. In parallel, we see the rise of independent creative agencies in China — a brilliant new generation of creatives attuned to their costumer’s needs and working in more innovative ways. Creativity is far from being dead; it’s on the rise.