Take a journey into China with Milo Chao

Milo Chao is a marketing communications professional helping businesses to develop brand, creative and channel strategies. He has worked all over the world, developing strategies in almost every consumer category. A profit-oriented marketer, just working hard to make the rich even richer? No. Milo Chao firmly believes that advertising serves not only a commercial good, but also a social good. And creativity is the key to that.

“My goal in marketing communications is to create work that doesn’t just sell a product, but also communicates a higher-order message or provides a higher-order benefit”, tells Mao. “For instance, on Adidas originals in China, we launched a brand campaign that communicated originality, but also social inclusion or at least an emotional defence against exclusion.” Supported by the hashtag #thisisme, the campaign film shows self-confident people who are unapologetic about being too pink, too feminine, too geeky, too… whatever. The film is stylish, with an occasional film shot of an Adidas sneaker.

‘Without creativity, we’re doomed’

A high-order message

And Milo Chao has more examples of communicating a higher-order message in his work. “For Vitasoy, we weren’t just selling a soybean drink, we were selling friendship at a time when people were becoming increasingly more disconnected from each other and nature. And on McDonald’s we didn’t sell burgers; we sold the importance of family.” The main character of this 2016 campaign was a Ronald McDonald toy, travelling a long distance in the snow to be with his ‘family’ for the Chinese New Year and thus bringing a heart into fast food.

During his lecture at CWF2019, Milo Chao will talk about his journey into the world of creativity in Mainland China, the country that a lot of people outside of China will associate with mass copying and lacking in certain freedoms. Creativity is extremely important in relation to the challenges we face, Chao stresses. “It is the most important thing. Without it, we’re doomed. We need more creativity in China and for China. There’s not enough. It’s misunderstood and, consequently, curtailed.”


Milo Chao hopes to inspire people in China and abroad with new and different perspectives on creativity. He started the Milo Chao Show to achieve this by speaking to ‘remarkable people’ about the nature and nurture of creativity. Asked about the number of listeners to this podcast, Milo replies ironically: “Enough to encourage me, not enough to mollify me.” Doing a podcast is great, but doing a videocast is even better, he thinks. “It will allow me to reach more people – with video, you can use subtitles so more people can appreciate the messages you are putting out there.” A lack of resources makes it hard to achieve this goal of spreading the importance of creativity. “We need camera’s and lighting, film editors, translators, distributors, promoters, prominent interviewees…” Not to mention his own costs – “depending on whether I do this full time or only as a hobby, as it is today.”

‘A startup is creativity in motion. Their energy is infectious’

Accelerating startups

As an Expert-in-Residence at China Accelerator, Milo Chao assists internet startups from around the world. “The idea for a startup usually arises from a problem that exists. It could be a startup that promotes the programming talent in the Philippines to the world, one that hopes to empower illiterate factory workers in developing countries, or a startup that simply wants to be the Airbnb for home-alone pets. Start-ups, by definition, are acts of creation. They require tremendous energy and creativity to grow. Startups are not the creation of one person, but of many people. Having the idea alone is not enough to call it an act of creation. Starting it is also not enough. The curious thing about startups, is that many of them are on a path of discovery, a path that may lead them to different places other than those they had originally intended to go. A startup is creativity in motion.”

Why does he spend his time on this? “Their energy is infectious. Their positivity is contagious. Their ideas are inspiring. I want to be part of that, to play some role even if it is small. With twenty years’ experience in advertising, I can help them to think about who they are and how to communicate that in a way that is clear, distinctive and irresistible.”

Sensitive issues

What is possible and impossible for marketing campaigners, in a country where the government controls a lot? Chao: “Brands tend to avoid taking on social issues in China, especially those that might be sensitive, that may be construed as a critique of the government. Will a marketer take on issues the West would like him to address in China – like minority rights for instance? No. It is too sensitive, too political and way beyond the purview of a marketer. Frankly, most consumers, even young ones, would not rally to your side or say you are brave. No one would buy your product.”

‘Success in the modern world requires us to zig when everyone else zags’

Political correctness

Marketing in China is apolitical, but it is pro-social, Milo Chao explains. In that respect, China is not any different from Europe. “Individuality, following your own path, is actually a concept that one might think is taboo for a country that is ‘communist’ and that expects everyone to be, think and act the same. Well, this depiction is rather uninformed. Success in the modern world requires us to be different, to zig when everyone else zags. Consumers need to have diversity if you want them to continue to buy and buy different things. Pushing individuality is pushing consumption. That is very practical. But if individuality were to get to the point where it would cause social unrest, then that would be curtailed. Car brands, streetwear brands, even coffee brands have for many years talked about following your own path, being your own person. No one has or will talk about going against society. How many brands do? Let’s not be deluded into thinking that Western nations are somehow freer than China in what they express in marketing. Political correctness puts a very tight clamp on freedom of speech.”

Meet Milo Chao on day 3 in Eindhoven >

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