Andrew Ballen Attending C-100 Event in Beijing, 2013.
|Born||Andrew Craig Ballen
April 27, 1973
Manhattan, New York, United States
|Education||The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill|
|Occupation||CEO/Founder of AVD Digital Media,
Interactive-media Content Developer,
Andrew Craig Ballen (born April 27, 1973) is an American digital media and China millennial marketing expert, consumer advocate and entrepreneur. Ballen holds the distinction of being first American to produce, host and syndicate his own TV series in China. He is the founder and CEO of AVD Digital Media, headquartered in Shanghai, China. AVD Digital Media is a venture-backed innovation hub that created China’s seminal interactive in-video ad messaging systems.
Best known in China by the name Da Long (大龙), or Big Dragon, Ballen is a familiar foreign-face on Chinese TV. widely known for his role as host of China's internationally aired travel series, Getaway.
In 2013, Ballen and his team of technologists envisioned and pioneered China’s first fully interactive video shopping experiences for sports apparel brand Nike, Unilever, Kraft Foods, LVMH Group's Sephora on Youku, and Chinese TV shopping giant Acorn International as reported by Retail In Asia. Ballen’s TOUCH™ V-commerce mechanism produced greater than 500% increases in viewer engagement relative to traditional online banner, play-pause and pre-roll ads for Nike and Sephora, helping to revolutionize China’s V-commerce industry. Though patented, since inception, Ballen's TOUCH™ mechanism has been emulated by several of China’s largest video portals.
Early life and education
Ballen was born in New York. He is the son of Belizean and Jamaican parents and was raised by his father Patrick, a surgeon, and his step-mother, Naomi a nurse in Greensboro, North Carolina. Ballen left home at age 14 to attend Hargrave Military Academy, in Chatham, VA. During Ballen's Senior year at Hargrave, he became the first person of color in school history to become Battalion Commander, thus achieving the Academy's highest rank, Cadet Colonel. Ballen majored in Political Science and International Relations at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He later attended Duke University Law School, in Durham, North Carolina. Ballen left Duke after two years, unsatisfied with the constraints of a legal education.
Awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in International Relations, but distressed by racial and economic discord in America, Ballen chose to discover the World on his own. Influenced by the work of British Sinologist Joseph Needham and intrigued by China’s reform and opening, the destination Ballen chose was Shanghai, China. Ballen arrived in China in August 2001.
At first unable to speak a single word of Chinese, Ballen taught himself Mandarin and first found work at the Wall Street Institute. He made several guest appearances on Shanghai Media Group entertainment programmes and subsequently was named host of Shanghai Radio talk show “Live It Up Shanghai”.
In 2002, quoting reporter Michelle Zhang from Shanghai Daily:
"Charmed by his silky-smooth voice and perfect pronunciation, one of his students at the Wall Street Institute recommended him to a local radio show "Live It Up Shanghai."
Initially, no sponsors or advertising existed for Ballen's radio talk show, the same being true later for his TV show Getaway. Ballen seized on this market opportunity, starting his own company in China to identify and attract global brands seeking to reach emerging millennial Chinese consumers, and white collar university graduates. Ballen is an advocate of content-marketing and unintrusive, digital ad messaging. He developed disruptive, touch-based mechanisms that do not annoy or disturb digital consumers' viewing experience, providing consumers with greater opportunity, and clients with increased levels of eCRM data, and downstream monetization. Ballen frequently addresses the topic of interactive content-marketing and in 2014 coined the term "Audience ROI". His mechanisms promote audience choice in ad messaging, enabling organic insight into audience preference; these insights are based contextually on what consumers themselves see, like, and then touch inside digital content they view. AVD TOUCH™ is a registered trademark. In 2014 Ballen hosted the Committee of 100 5th annual Sino-American Cooperation Summit where he gave an address on the state of Sino-US cultural and economic cooperation. Among the gala's attendees was Chairman of the People’s Bank of China, Governor Zhou Xiaochuan.
Leveraging Western Entertainment: Marketing and Cultural Exchange
In late 2001, while frequenting Shanghai night spots, Ballen and friend Adam Wilkes, currently Vice President of AEG Live, observed China's lack of a hip-hop and urban club scene. This led to the idea of Hip Hop Thursday's, held at night club, Pegasus, targeting Chinese youth and the international student market. Ballen and Pegasus were featured in the fly-on-the-wall documentary No Sleep Til Shanghai. These weekly events became highly successful, leading Ballen to bring to China for the first time the likes of Ice-T, Asian-American hip-hop artists Far East Movement and MC Jin. serving as the benchmark formula for other club venues in Shanghai and Beijing. Ballen's unorthodox entertainment-marketing success was covered in the book, Business is War: The Unfinished Business of Black America. written by Darren J. Perkins.
Ballen was also the first marketer to convince Chinese mega-star Leehom Wang appear and perform live in a club setting. when he premiered the release of the MC Jin/Leehom Wang collaboration to promote Leehom's album release of "Heroes of Earth" featuring America's first, popular Chinese-American hip-hop artist, Jin.
Ballen hosted and co-produced China's nationally aired bi-lingual travel adventure series, Getaway from 2003 until 2008. On Getaway, Ballen toured China by car, conversing with locals and exploring local Chinese history, culture, cuisine and tourist destinations, featuring in several hundred episodes. Getaway appeared on Dragon TV and Channel Young and later aired internationally on CCTV News; re-runs of the show still air on ICS and China's Travel Channel.
Ballen also served as co-host and co-producer of China's first nationally syndicated Western Music radio show i-Music.
2008 Beijing Summer Olympics
In July and August 2008, as China hosted the Beijing Summer Olympics, Ballen and his company were commission by the Government of Jamaica to handle Jamaica's Olympic media, event production, marketing and public relations activities, including the marketing and event programming related to Jamaican track and field sensation Usain Bolt. His company and partners were the only entities permitted to bring foreign artists into Beijing for non-IOC sanctioned event programming. Ballen's 2008 Beijing Olympic event series hosted the likes of Paolo Nutini and Bob Marley's son Julian Marley for Beijing Olympic concert appearances. After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Puma AG used the Team Jamaica celebrations as inspiration for their 2009 global marketing campaign “And He DJ’d the Afterparty". The campaign slogan pays reference to Usain Bolt's actually DJ'ing the final Government of Jamaica (JOC) Gala Event and afterparty, sponsored by Puma, and attended by Team Jamaica. Along with Usain's signature Thunder Bolt pose, first seen at the 2008 Beijing Games, Bolt has made DJ'ing post-victory celebrations one of his signature moves. He did so again at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
In 2011, Ballen launched China's first ever, bilingual, Sino-American reality series, REMIX, a talent series offering amateur Chinese artists the chance to earn a recording deal. Selection utilized audience voting in support of their favorite contestant's micro-videos. Winners are pitched against Chinese and Western stars original recordings to see whose REMIX of global hits is best produced and performed. The judges for REMIX have included: American recording artist Sean Kingston, Taiwanese recording artists Jam Hsiao, Wilber Pan and Ballen himself. REMIX 2011 winner was recording artist Ping An. Ping An has gone on to become a highly acclaimed Chinese recording artist who regularly performs on China Central Television's (CCTV 1) annual Chinese New Year Celebrations. REMIX broadcast across China and Asia via cable and online by Channel V and Tudou.com. Ballen created, scripted and produced REMIX. The REMIX concept is copyrighted in China and the United States. REMIX marked Ballen's transition from the terrestrial, satellite and OTG marketing arena to China's rapidly emerging digital strategy and content marketing space.
On April 23, 2015, Shanghai, Ballen was awarded recognition as a member of China’s Digital A-List. The Campaign Asia Digital A-List aims to recognize China’s top digital entrepreneurs and innovators, who are fomenting disruptive change in China’s dynamic digital and new media space. Awardees from top brands, agencies and media came together to debate trends in China's digital marketing industry, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group and Pony Ma, Chairman of Tencent also received 2015’s A-List awards.
Beginning in 2015 Ballen's TOUCH™ interactive ad messaging system was implemented by Mango TV, the online platform under Hunan Broadcasting System on its top six programmes including one of China's most popular reality series "Where Are We Going, Dad? (TV series)". The use of TOUCH™ earned Mango TV China's annual award for most innovative video ad technology.
It was announced in April 2016 that Ballen was again named to Campaign Asia's List of China's Top 100 Digital Thinkers. 2016 is Ballen's second consecutive year to be awarded.
In a 2011 PBS interview with Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, Ballen controversially remarked that he felt China’s system of governance had measurably contributed to global social justice by helping lift 800 million people out of poverty.
In his lectures and speeches on content-marketing, Ballen often comments on the waste and inefficiency of pre-roll and play-pause advertisements which are often used as brand agencies' primary digital advertising medium. In Chinese media, Ballen has called those ads "interruptive, ignored and irrational" since they represent less than 1% of messaging content available to publishers and their Digital Native consumers. Studies show millennial viewers tune out interruptive, traditional advertising and enjoy using smart devices to touch and experience the visual content they themselves choose. Ballen says the consequence of interruptive advertising mechanisms is that online and mobile pre-roll ads are ignored or blocked by users who increasingly install ad-blocking widgets and apps on their smart devices.
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Andrew Ballen of Greensboro, North Carolina, became the first African-American to serve as Corps commander at Hargrave Military Academy.
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