In front of me the plate is crawling with life. The recipe is simple: Take an octopus, chop it into pieces and serve with sesame seeds. My colleagues smile and tell me: “You need the yellow sauce for that.”
A couple of days ago I started my first journey to Asia. First to our office in Beijing to help with work for a client, do internal workshops and a presentation at the One Show China, then directly onto our office in Seoul to do the same presentations, workshops and work on a project for a different client.
Beijing never stopped surprising me. The city is full of smog, but it turns out they all ride electric scooters. When you think of China, you think of tea, but the coffee there is really great. I ordered a “Cajun Chicken Sandwich” but got a Baguette with spicy egg salad. In all three cases not at all what I expected, but really great! So my first impression of Asia was that everything is surprising and different. At the same time, it felt like it’s all the same.
Our cultures are very different. Actions that are normal at home can turn out to be something different in another culture: Blowing your nose in a public place is impolite. So is shaking the hand of the wrong person first. What seems like an incidental encounter with the boss of your client should be considered an honor.
But as different as our cultures are, as similar are the challenges for brands trying to sell their products and agencies trying to help them.
Chinese Advertising-Godfather Peter Soh used completely different words, but said the same at a densely packed Britain-themed after-party in Beijing, as Branding Icon Tommy Li on the Design Heritage stage in Seoul: History, opinions, technology – it all comes second. We need to tell the right story.
Pixar-Legend Dr. Alvy Ray Smith talked passionately about how the speed of computers are making animation so lifelike that we cannot tell it apart from reality. But as much as we can make it look like an actor, we still have no clue about how to get the computer to do what the actor does.
That is true for advertising, too. We can teach people how to develop the right ideas, but to tell the good ones from the bad ones is about emotional intelligence. We need people with the right kind of heart and a good part of intuition. And we need to help them fight for their ideas even though it is not always easy to fight for a feeling.
The tentacles stick to the inside of my mouth as I chew the life out of the rubbery arm. It is still alive and fighting while it slowly releases a delicate flavor that mixes with the sesame dip. “This is a new kind of feeling” I think and smile back at my colleagues.