Creativity was always on the cards for Yaho Yeh. As a young child, he would secretly take part in painting competitions. hiding his flair from his disapproving father. But, as luck would have it, he soon came across a way to turn his creative talents into a real career - a Japanese TV series set in an ad agency hooked him in.
These days, he drives creative for Chevrolet in China as part of the McCann Shanghai team. He’s been involved in bringing the automotive giant to the forefront of social media as well as a host of inventive campaigns. There’s the artsy sci-fi blockbuster that celebrated Chevrolet’s iconic black ‘bowtie’ emblem, working with Discovery and Ed Stafford to bring a cheeky Chevrolet adventure to Chinese consumers, and ads that brought a sense of humour to the normally straight-faced and serious auto sector.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Yaho Yeh to find out about his journey in adland and cultural and technological trends shaking up China’s advertising industry.
LBB> Looking back, what role did creativity play in your childhood?
I am a copy-based creative director. But when I was young, I had a little bit of talent for painting, and I often represented my school in various art painting competitions. My father was not happy to see me put effort in art or painting, so I often went to participate secretly by myself. The theme was always architecture, which even led me to think about having an architecture career.
LBB> What was it that first drew you to advertising as a career?
I entered the advertising industry because of a Japanese TV drama, which portrayed the love story between someone working in the advertising division of a Japanese department store, and an elevator service girl. His daily job looked very interesting, and I was fascinated by the product-shooting scenes in the drama.
So, I started to prepare myself to land an advertising job, because my college major was in international trade, which really has very little to do with advertising. Luckily enough, I got the chance to join the advertising department of a Japanese mall. The job was fun, just like in the TV drama, although the love story didn't happen!
LBB> What was your first job in advertising and what was that experience like?
My first job in adland was working with a Japanese mall. It was a very special and unforgettable experience for me. Festival (or holiday) marketing was an important part of our work, as we needed to plan different themes/activities for festivals like Valentines Day, Mothers Day, Christmas etc. We also needed to plan and do marketing for brands across different categories in the mall. Most of the time we could only check and set the windows and exhibitions after the store closed. It felt like we were making magic behind the scenes.
When I was a senior copywriter at Taipei United Advertising, my creative director once told me to put sincerity into everything that I do. These words influenced me for a long time, and inspired me to always think from true insights and feelings – to be empathetic.
LBB> Of all the campaigns you’ve worked on throughout your career, which are the really special ones that you are proudest of and why?
I'm proud of my work if it results in brands changing away from conventional messaging and doing something different, which resonates more with consumers. When I was working on Master Kong instant noodles, I put a huge effort into pushing the brand to switch its story-telling way, from talking about serious food technology, to doing more entertaining stuff, such as shooting a humorous script, or even producing animation commercials with DreamWorks… That's one of my best memories. I'm lucky that I've also been able to work this way with my current client, Chevrolet, who is thankfully very open to having a different approach.
LBB> These days you’re ECD on Chevrolet - why is this such a creatively interesting and satisfying role?
Advertising now is trending more towards social media-first, however, automotive ads tend to lag behind this trend and many auto brands are still using traditional ways to do advertising. When I started to work with Chevrolet, I tried to always think from a social angle for every single Chevrolet campaign. I am very grateful that the client was so supportive and our efforts have paid off - in the space of just one year, we have witnessed a very positive change on Chevrolet ads' impression and influence on social media.
LBB> And how is the automotive sector changing in China? What are consumers looking for and how are their tastes and needs evolving?
The development of China's automobile industry is phenomenal, especially the evolution of electric vehicles, which is super exciting, and is also shaping the development of China's automobile advertising. However, compared with the diversified development of the automotive manufacturing industry, car advertising is still too conventional and not innovative enough. Nowadays China's EV industry is leading the world, and we also look forward to seeing a new style of vehicle ads standing out on a global stage.
LBB> What recent Chevrolet campaigns from the team in McCann China really showcase how your team is helping the brand?
In 2022, for Chevrolet, we created several interesting campaigns, using a fresh approach. These included a branding campaign for its "black bowtie emblem”, and a unique BTS ads for Discovery’s ‘First Man Out’show and Ed Stafford. These campaigns received very positive engagements on social media. And I believe that's because we are trying to make advertisements not like ads, and people love Chevrolet's storytelling way which has truly helped the brand earn a meaningful role in consumers' lives.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the role that technology and data can play in creativity, especially considering the automotive sector you’re working in?
The creativity brought by technology and data has always been very attractive, but it also brings big challenges. Now we are not just limited to designing a website or a WeChat program, but are looking at new service platforms or new business models. Some electric vehicle brands could use these technologies to build their consumer clubs, and perhaps add new functions to the intelligent system of the car, or even create a brand-new traffic operation system.
LBB> How has the creative side of advertising in China evolved since you first entered the industry?
China's internet develops so fast, bringing huge challenges for advertising. So-called“digital” advertising has become outdated, and now we talk more about social advertising, platform advertising, or even topical advertising... New items can appear every few months. The rapid evolutions have already invalidated many advertising concepts and knowledge, even from the recent past.
LBB> You’re based in Shanghai, which is such a vibrant and culturally exciting city - for you, what are the creative highlights of Shanghai?
Shanghai is so dynamic and exciting that it can captivate the whole world. They say that those in Shanghai will never miss a new trend, or a hot topic. Creatives have to stay on top of this latest information to inform and create your ideas. You may even have to suffer from information anxiety to figure out that the creative campaign’s highlight should be: "Being at the forefront."
LBB> For readers outside of China, what are some of the trends and developments happening in the industry locally that you find particularly exciting?
The development of China's electric vehicles is in the global spotlight, and the innovation of China's new consumer brands is even more exciting. In the past, it was better, smaller, larger, lighter, and softer... Progress in the traditional sense no longer meets the needs of modern society. New consumer brands have also given consumers new life concepts, unique brand attitudes, fascinating brand experiences, and glamorous beliefs... These brands are subverting our ways of living. This is driven by a strong market undoubtedly, and in my opinion, it is also the evolution of humanity.
LBB> Outside of the advertising industry, I’d love to know what forms of creativity inspire you? And do you have any hobbies or other interests that help fuel your creativity?
It is hard for me to say which "form", but I have always liked "non-demonstrative conceptual creativity". Concepts can make people change their perspectives and behaviors, but illustrating concepts can easily become preaching.
For me, what can stimulate my imagination, could probably be a new consumer brand, the title of a book, a group that suddenly became popular, or an IG that is unfamiliar but attracts me. If you don't want to miss these exciting buttons, you must keep stretching your boundaries. Creativity, for me, is more likely to be inspired by browsing, surfing, rather than in-depth reading.
In addition, traveling in a foreign city could also be a good inspiration.
LBB> Do you have any creative heroes that have helped shape your own approach to creativity? If so who, and how?
There is no specific hero for me, or maybe the "young generation" as a whole is the hero. Those young people on the internet and on the street, their behavior, clothing, and opinions have been challenging my creativity. It is hard for me to restrain myself from learning and discovering, and I have to say this constant challenge is fun, but also torturous trying to keep up!
Looking forward to 2023, what would you like to see happening in the industry?
I'd like to see more content that surprises me, or strikes me as unexpected.