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The Little Red Book of Chinese Advertising

“Imagine the Beatles at JFK in 1964. That was what our reception was like.” Kevin Swanepoel, president of The One Club, was recounting what it was like to step before an auditorium of hundreds of clapping, cheering, camera-wielding Chinese students in Beijing and Shanghai at this year’s One Show China Creative Youth Competition.

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“Imagine the Beatles at JFK in 1964. That was what our reception was like.” Kevin Swanepoel, president of The One Club, was recounting what it was like to step before an auditorium of hundreds of clapping, cheering, camera-wielding Chinese students in Beijing and Shanghai at this year’s One Show China Creative Youth Competition.

The occasion? The launch party for the Club’s annual show of student work, generated during the organization’s yearly pilgrimage to the Far East.

Ranged around the room at the One Club Gallery’s on the second floor of 21 E. 26th Street in New York, were samples of the students’ work – a poster of increasingly blackened butterflies with the caption “Tail gas is killing our colors,” for HybridCenter.org, an organization that promotes hybrid vehicles. An elderly Chinese woman surrounded by dozens of cats in a riff on the MasterCard “priceless” campaign. Photography in which a crippled Chinese man, makes his way painfully forward in front of a billboard of Michael Jordan zooming in for a lay-up.

The John, Paul, George and Ringos who incited such excitement in the Far East were hardly your customary rock star types – middle-aged guys with sober haircuts and North Face jackets whose day jobs rarely involved thrash guitars. They had come, in their seventh annual trek, to China to hold creative workshops for young Chinese students with visions of big careers in advertising or graphic design dancing in their heads.

The week-long odyssey was designed to introduce 300 young people, some of whom had traveled 22 hours by train to attend, to the basics of Western advertising and design.

The competition this year was particularly fierce. By November, One Club organizers had received entries from over 1800 teams, representing 115 universities in 34 provinces.

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And the work they created was, Joe Duffy, chairman of Duffy & Partners, even better than in previous years — more original, more confident, and less imitative of the West.

But the prize for the winners is potentially more than just a cool week studying with such advertising and design masters as Duffy, Dave Holloway, creative director of Northern Lights, and Tay Guan Hin, regional EDC of JWT in Southeast Asia. In the wake of China’s 2005 decision to abandon the law requiring advertising conglomerates to partner with local agencies, a herd of major international agency groups have set up shop in the country. The only problem? A serious dearth of local talent.

In past years, Swanepoel says, a number of top students from the program had scored jobs with big agencies within weeks of their completing the program. Given the quality of the work on display, it’s clear these kids are ready to compete on not just a national — but an international — stage.

The show will run through May 25.

Below is a slideshow of images from One Show China:

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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