In just four years of work, a creative boutique in China has made the inaugural Cresta global Top 50. Here is a talk with the founder of The Nine Shanghai, Jody Xiong to find out more.
The Nine Shanghai is an impressive independent boutique and yet also more like a freelance team. You don’t seem to have a website.
Jody Xiong The Nine Shanghai is a small creative boutique. We won’t say we are entirely independent because Insight Group, a listed company, holds a small share of our shares. But we have 100 percent creative freedom and we operate independently.
It is well known that WeChat is the most important communication tool in China. We do not have a website but with The Nine Shanghai WeChat Public Account, we can publish our latest cases freely, which is a more popular way for people to browse and share. I also have my personal Behance page, which has nearly 300,000 views and attracts clients for the company. We don’t really have much time to do PR and all the stuff that would keep us in the spotlight. Sounds strange right? That’s because we’ve almost spent all the time on our works and ignored a lot of the image-building. We don’t have many staff. Keeping it elite and sharp is what we wanted since the beginning.
The Nine Shanghai has only 15 employees, but we have achieved groundbreaking cases in this traditionally conservative market, such as “The Elephant Art Museum” for Times China Holdings, “The Handheld Concert” for Rokid Portable Sound Speaker, “Kungfu Water” for Vatti Kitchen Appliances, which won a 2020 Cresta Awards Silver…and more. We made our way into CampaignBrief Asia’s top 25 agencies in Asia as 16th, amongst the fiery competition of big international agency networks.
Where does your name come from if there are 15 of you?
The Nine Shanghai refers to the nine aspects we think essential to an impactful campaign: insight, innovation, aesthetics, design, technology, art, entertainment, events, content. We believe successful commercial communication should be three-dimensional, multifaceted, combining multiple elements rather than single.
How do you work? Do you have regular clients or are you more project-based? Do you work with a regular team of other creatives?
It’s hard to define my job. I am an advertising creative when creating the music video film for Times China Holdings; I am a space designer when designing the Exhibition Space for 2020 Guiyang Import and Export Fair; I am an artist who creates giant sculptures for the Times China Property; I am a product designer for the Daming Palace in Xi’an; I am a film director who shoots and produces promo films for Tencent’s “Game For Peace”. Our client list is diverse, ranging from brand upgrades to packaging design, installation art, space design, toy design, and of course, traditional commercial films. More often, I play multiple roles and this allows me to experience a richer life.
‘Kungfu Water’ for Vatti dishwasher won Cresta silver
We’ve won big pitches and we’ve also had clients offering us jobs. Some are stable and long-termed and some by project. In this rapidly changing market, the form of cooperation is really not that important. It is the guarantee of high-quality works that is our way to attract new clients.
What did you do before The Nine Shanghai? Where did you study/train?
I worked in international 4As for 18 years, from Beijing to Shanghai, from a designer to creative director. Before founding The Nine Shanghai in 2017, I worked in Ogilvy Shanghai as Group Creative Director, responsible for Buick’s automotive business. Before that, I worked in DDB Shanghai as Creative Director and helped the agency to win Volkswagen and McDonald’s business, also winning China’s first Gold Design Lion in Cannes. As the Chinese saying goes, “Walking among three people, I find my teacher among them.” My leaders and colleagues have always been my best teachers. They come from different countries and regions, and our cultural differences have greatly benefited me. I have to say my thanks to Graham Fink, Kweichee Lam, Francis Wee, Michael Dee… and so many others I’ve met. It is a privilege for me to spend time with them. There is no denying that China, a rapidly changing market with the most diverse clients, is also my teacher.
From 1993 to 1998, I attended two universities, Hunan University of Technology Business and Central Academy of Arts & Design, where I studied Art Design. That’s where I began training my basic aesthetics. I left Ogilvy in 2016 and attended New York Film Academy for half a year. Today, The Nine Shanghai doesn’t just provide creative services to clients but also commercial film directing for brands. It means a lot more possibilities for myself.
What are your influences and inspirations?
Life itself is the best. All details of life, every romantic relationship, every trip, every dream, every loss, every good book, every art exhibition, every movie…
‘Everyone Can Be Life’s Artist’ for Times China Property
I like everything about our life on earth because everything inspires me, especially movies. When I was a child, I went to the cinema to see “The Shaolin Temple”. I felt that there was a great energy in the cinema to allow people inside to forget about the cruel realities, including fear and death.
On my way to studying filmmaking, I realized that I was faced with two problems, one for the audience and the other for myself. Almost all the creators want to find out from themselves what problems are to be solved and the main characters in their films always take the questions with them on their ways and finally solve them, although sometimes the answer is not satisfactory to everyone. However, because of the presence of the audience and the presence of people who like movies, we still have the obligation and responsibility to take the audience with us creators during this exploration, to take our own problems with the audience, and to experience, with the audience in the process, the meaning of life. This, I think, is the charm of filmmaking.
Film is a comprehensive art. For those who are creatives, or designers, who don’t have much time to enjoy our daily life, film is a powerful nutrition for us to learn not only editing, music, costume, lighting, art, composition, storytelling, etc. but also more experience in life, even though it is virtual.
I remember that the screenwriter training sessions were fun and useful. Kangaroos, Beijing opera characters, high heels, buttons… all these unrelated elements are to be combined and form an unexpected story. And with that, we need to set up multiple and complex characters, societies, politics, religions, and philosophies and ultimately a grand world that no one has ever seen. These nutrients and techniques could all become the driving force behind the creation of better works.
What are you working on at the moment or have completed most recently?
I just directed a five-minute CG film for Amber Shanghai, a cross-category collaboration between two major international brands: Volvo and Durex. The film is about a fantasy tour around “Safety”, which was released on White Day on March 14 and has attracted tens of millions of views and discussions in China.
This was originally published on The Cresta Journal.