Rice 5: We have been “bending over” backwards from the beginning

We’ve been ‘bending over’ from day one but it doesn’t mean we bow to reality

Andrew Lee, founder and digital director of Rice 5

Rice 5, the Hong Kong-based digital agency, carries a deeper connotation in its brand name in Chinese of “never bow to reality”. That makes its recent merger with WPP’s PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies seem somewhat ambivalent to some industry pundits.

Jennifer Chan caught up with founders Andrew Lee and Snowman Tsang to find out why they disagree and why they see the merger as a happy marriage.

What is your vision for Rice 5?

Andrew: We were originally started out as a production firm. We always want to go for something that is more tangible, instead of big lofty ideas. We pay extra attention to make sure our work is executable. There’s no such thing as one size fits all exist in advertising and that’s why we merged with a PR firm – because they understand that social behaviour is different for different channels.

Snowman: Paid media somehow limits creativity. Public relations understands the trick of vertical content, with digital creativity from horizontal perspectives. They compensate each other.

Some people say that the moment you agreed to be acquired, you bowed to reality. How would you respond?

Andrew: We have no intention of projecting an image that we are aloof from reality. The Rice5 logo is a figure that bends down at the waist in the opposite way – to tell people we refuse to be a typical and stereotyped agency even if our mission, like any other agencies, is to serve clients. So you see, we’ve been “bending over” from day one but it does’t mean bowing to reality.

Snowman: Our logo as well as our local identity remain the same after the acquisition. Equalising the merger with bowing to reality is a somewhat mistaken perception.

Will the merger influence your control on creativity?

Andrew: Certainly not. The differences stay on a strategic level. Many advertising agencies have approached us. One big reason we parked with a PR firm is to ensure our control over creativity.

Snowman: It’s sort of a happy marriage, rather than a forced one.

What does creativity mean to you?

Snowman: Creativity is all about the skill-set of problem solving, and a process of analysing problems. It’s something that is inspired from daily life that is waiting to be translated into creative ideas and content.

Andrew: It’s from daily happenings being converted into something with empathy. Everything you come across is an input or resource for creativity.

Is creativity innate or something can be trained?

Andrew: Both. You maybe born with higher curiosity and sensitivity but further development are required before evolving into creative ideas. In our creative training in university, we’re asked to do sketching on streets, which means getting inspirations without boundaries. This is one way to train up observational skills.

Snowman: Creativity requires exploration. For instance, I once tried to draw at night and it turn out to be “fluorescent” in daylight, due to the colour choice I made in the dark. That’s not something innate, but something you get after exploration.

Does technology facilitate creativity or impede creativity?

Snowman: Technology helps realise an idea. But the increase of creative ideas on the internet makes audiences more savvy and more difficult to satisfy then ever. Technology is making creativity harder in this sense.

Andrew: Entering information is almost too easy on internet nowadays. The same time technology facilitates creative ideas collection, it also dilutes the potential of cognitive and creative stimulation.

Do you think good advertising can lead to a change in social behaviour?

Snowman: I think that’s all packaging. A good campaign should be able to keep your audience engaged and inspired.

Andrew: Changing social behaviour is not something advertising can serve. At the end of the day, the purpose of advertising is to serve a brand and to provide solutions to exciting problems.

How will Rice 5 and Hill+Knowlton Strategies work together?

Snowman: Hill+Knowlton Strategies brings us on a wider APAC stage as we can now stretch out to additional Asia markets.

What’s the key to finding good creative talent?

Andrew: Synergy with the agency matters more than portfolios. That’s just gut feelings on top of creative skill-sets.

Snowman: The first question I ask candidates is who do they look up to. It reflects the kind of person they want to be. I also ask if they’ve ever created rule-breaking system against their former companies. It demonstrates their ability to make a difference.

Jennifer Chan
Marketing Magazine Hong Kong
Jennifer Chan covers daily online news and monthly features for Marketing magazine. She began her journalism career in London as a fashion writer and food reporter, where her interest in writing was sparked. Now based in Hong Kong, she most recently discovered the fun of reporting about the creative industry, uncovering marketing trends and hanging out with marketing and agency insiders.

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