Product Design
  • Interview Excerpt: Tony Liu, Greater China Partner, M&C Saatchi aeiou, Shanghai

    Check out the work of Tony Liu.

    What do you think about showing work other than advertising?

    I hired someone with no knowledge of advertising but she had a sketchbook, and I hired her as a copywriter. Later she became more interested in making beautiful visuals, so she turned into an art director. And now she is a very good creative director.

    Sometimes students have doodles—a small drawing—and next to it a paragraph or small poem. And from that you know that they live. Advertising people need to live life. Without that, there is no way you can have inspiration. You don’t have to always write advertising headlines. If a person loves life and wants to put it down on paper for themselves, that person has merit. As a Chinese creative director we are like a jade finder. There is no way I can know everything about you, but there is something in you that makes me think you have a chance to turn into jade. And I am responsible to help this person develop and turn into jade. And if I’m a student I want to find someone who will do that for me.

    What characteristics do you look for that tell you someone might become jade?

    People who are easily inspired by a lot of things. By life. Music, books, movies, hobbies, friends, everything. If you don’t have that I don’t think you stand a chance.

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    Can you see that in people’s advertising work as well?

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    Creativity is all about mixing different things together. New combinations to make new things. I always encourage people to read more because whatever you read will be a box. A movie you watch will be a box. An ad that you see and analyze how it works will be a box. A friend who shares his life story is a box. Once you have the technique, you need all those boxes to try different things. The more boxes you have, the better. In this business you try out 100 options in your head. That’s how to do something good: try 99 options and see that one is better than those. If a guy comes in with just one idea, it is probably the same idea everyone else had.

    Good advertising people love life. They love to talk to people and see things. They get excited about everything. Creative people, not just advertising people, should be like that.

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    Do you have any advice for Chinese students on getting into advertising?

    I went to school in the States. One assignment was to draw 50 logos. Not for a company but for yourself. You were the client. And when we went to show them to the professor, without even looking at them he said to do 50 more by tomorrow. Sometimes he would take a lighter and burn your work and say it is rubbish. This hurt a lot of students’ feelings. But this is the business. Each week we would see the sun come up doing homework. And it is the same thing working. You burn the midnight oil. A lot of students in China don’t know about this. They don’t know what this business requires. So when they graduate and see this, they don’t want to do it, but it is already too late. In my school we started with 40-some people and only 8 graduated. And only 3 are still working in the business. The more toughness you encounter early on, the better you can cope with it once you get into the business. Maybe they can understand this a little bit when they read this.

    In China, because of the way exams work with getting into universities, you get students who go into advertising to get into a particular school. They may not want to do advertising or know anything about it. In the States, people will have an understanding of the curriculum and do it because they want to.

    You know if you are in love with it or not. Just like you know with a man or woman if you are in love or not. Don’t ever cheat on yourself by pretending you like it. It will be very painful for you. How do you make sure you love it? Go read One Show, Communication Arts, D&AD, and if you get fascinated by what’s in it and want to start making your own work like that, then you have a chance. If you love it, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. But if you don’t love it, then you stand zero chance.

    Tony Liu

    Tony Liu

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