ZANADU Founding Partner Dirk Eschenbacher：Life is life
Once worked as creative director for Ogilvy and DDB China Group, also researched design and creativity as a PhD at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, now Dirk is the founding partner and Chief Creative Officer of ZANADU. He is also an occasional runner and partner in Yugong Yishan, China’s best club for live music.
A= Dirk Eschenbacher
Q: It’s quite interesting that you learned arts in college and then turned to Asian Marketing Management and Business Studies, but finally you threw yourself in the advertising industry. Would it be possible that Adverting is actually your original intention or true love?
A: I am convinced that everyone who works or has worked in advertising has a love hate relationship with their job. It can be one of the most tiring jobs in the world. Countless overtime, crazy demands from clients, rushing to launch a campaign, so many problems that need to be solved.
But on the other hand advertising is also one of the most rewarding professions. You are able to work with an amazing collection of bright minds. Designers, writers, directors, strategists, data people, programmers, technologist, sales people etc. There is no other industry that attracts such diverse talents and makes them work together on exciting projects. You constantly push the boundaries, try to break new grounds, to innovate. It challenges you, every day, and it keeps you sharp and creative.
The most important thing that advertising can teach you is the concept of the BIG IDEA. It will inspire your entire life and you carry it with you into every job and every project that you do.
Q: After leaving Germany, you went to Thailand and started your career there. Then you came to China and joined Ogilvy. What’s the story behind such a change?
A: I am a very curious and restless person. I want to explore new countries, new people, new cultures, new industries. After I graduated, I worked in advertising for 2 years in Germany. Then however I got bored and moved to Thailand. I was invited into a night club and restaurant there, then started my own online travel company.
In 2001 I got an invitation from Ogilvy Interactive in Beijing to work on a freelance project. By the end of the project they offered me the job as creative director. Honesty at that point I had no idea what a creative director is supposed to do, but the challenge sounded interesting and I accepted. It has been an amazing ride since then.
Q: It must be quite a tough process to introduce the creative ideas to China, considering the huge culture differences. How did you work it out then?
A: I came to China with the plan to be a bridge between East and West. I tried to contribute Western creative thinking and at the same time learn from everybody around me how to develop ideas in a Chinese context. I think we all learned a lot. My Western thinking learned to adopt to the Chinese culture and market and people, and our agency learned how idea thinking can add value to Chinese creativity. The process was sometimes easy and sometimes difficult, and there is no end result. It is a journey of learning and trying and pushing and experimenting, and that journey is what makes it fun.
Q: Since you have worked in Ogilvy and DDB, could you share with us one of the most impressive projects you have worked on or you are proud of?
A: In Ogilvy times I was very proud to work on the Motorola brand. We created some very influential digital campaigns at the time, working with Jay Chou and a production studio North Kingdom in Sweden. I also loved the work we created for Audi during the 2000s.
I had another small stint with Ogilvy a few years ago, where I was fortunate to work with Graham Fink and his teams on a campaign for Galaxy Soho, where we brought a monkey back from space. And a campaign for Yihaodian where we launched 1000 augmented reality stores across China. Both campaigns I think were quite influential.
Two of my favorite projects in DDB were for Volkswagen. For the Scirocco we created an interactive graphic novel. We worked with a writer and illustrator from Marvel Comics, which was really inspiring.
For the Volkswagen Touareg I spent one month in Xinjiang working with famous director Lu Chuan on a TVC and a 25 minute short film. It was very challenging and several times we almost started fighting, but in the end came out a beautiful story and film.
Q: We noticed that you went back to Central Academy of Fine Arts for a PhD degree after working for a long time, why did you make such a decision? Have you got any new thoughts or “Aha” moments during your time in CAFA?
A: While at DDB, I spent most of my time on planes. I had around 160 flights per year, traveling from office to office. I got really tired and decided to take some time off. I always had been a big fan of CAFA and Professor Wang Min, so I enrolled in a PhD program in his studio. It was an amazing experience going back to school. So many passionate students, so many smart teachers. I had never been very academic so this provided a new and exciting challenge again.
Q: You have been so successful in China’s advertising industry, then what’s the reason that you chose to leave and had your own startup?
A: I always loved travel. I have been traveling with my parents since I am a little boy and I found a lot of inspiration in new countries and cultures. When I lived in Thailand, I had my own travel startup and always thought of the travel industry as a very happy working environment.
When the opportunity came along to create Zanadu together with my founding partners, I jumped on it. As the creative director at Zanadu I was always able to bring my knowledge and skills in brand building and communicating design into the company. Logo, website, mobile site, app as well as marketing campaigns etc are all great projects to work on especially if it is your own brand. You have more freedom and it is so exciting to create something from scratch.
Q: ZANADU built up a very professional video shooting team and created a “travel VR” App. Why do you want to try such an idea? It seems that it is a large effort of technique and a cost of money.
A: At Zanadu we always have been leading the trends. Our travel products really mean a new way of traveling, a new lifestyle option for Chinese travelers. But because our products are very new in the market, we always had to explain them to our customers. Therefore we have been creating a lot of content over the years. We had a very successful wechat channel, we published a magazine, we shoot videos and short films. All these we do are to inspire and inform Chinese travelers about our kind of travel products.
VR offered itself as a great media to immerse people into a destination or a hotel before they book it. They can literally be there and experience it before they go. We created many such experiences for some of the world’s best hotels and destinations. Diving in Maldives, skiing in the mountains, driving luxury cars, staying in the world’s most exclusive hotels. This is all possible with VR.
We even created a travel experience store in Shanghai where our customers can have a great interactive VR experience.
Q: Could you please share with us one of your most interesting travel experience?
A: The most recent interesting travel experience was our trip to Burning Man festival in the nevada desert. It’s the world’s most amazing creative festival. 80,000 people get together in the desert for one week. They build a city full with interactive art camps, art cars and art installations. It is very hard to spend a week in the desert, you have to bring everything yourself and you are not allowed to leave anything behind. You literally have to build a camp and supply food and drinks for everyone.
It was the first time there was an interactive art camp from China. We brought 30 of China’s leading startup CEOs with us, and we all were blown away by the experience.
Q: You are also a cofounder of the famous Livehouse, Yugong Yishan. What kind of business are you involved in?
A: The founders of Yugong Yishan are great friends of mine and I admire their passion and dedication to bring the best local and international music to the people. I am not much involved into the day to day business, but helped with my design and marketing knowledge. Music is very important in my life. Every year I am involved with musicians working on our projects. I think music really gives inspiration and helps me to find ideas and directions.
Q: It seems that you have a very western and traditional attitude to your career, as family goes first, work follows. Then how do you balance work and life with your busy schedule and how to keep the fresh feelings for life?
A: My wife is a very successful architect and designer, both of us are creative people and entrepreneurs. As creative people and entrepreneurs, our work and life is not really separated but is the same. Work is not called work in our language. I think this is the same for mist creative people. Since we are creating things, work becomes not a means of making money but we look to build things, to change things, to solve creative problems.
At the same time though we are both very much family people. We love to hang out together with our daughter, we love to go on short and long vacations, we cook a lot at hime and spend quality time with our friends and family. At least for creative people, the distinction between work and life is not as clear as it maybe was 10 or 20 years ago. Life is life, and life is made up of creating things and enjoying things.