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“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” That’s what Rogier Bikker, one of two Dutch guys who recently drove from China to Holland for a project called Brand New China, says. Brand New China was a personal project of two Dutch guys who travelled 20,000km along the ancient Silk Road, passing through 11 countries – and using only Chinese products.

More than being a remarkable road trip, the project aimed to change the image of goods ‘made in China’ across the world. With an estimate earned media reach of 5.6 million people, they might just have succeeded. It took a year for Maren Striker and Rogier Bikker to prepare the project and get sponsorships, including some of China’s biggest brands, such as BYD (car), Huawei (smart phones), Lenovo (laptops), AEE (cameras), Ozark (outdoor gear), XIYOUJI (clothing) and Braos (sunglasses).

Bikker is now back in Shanghai, running Swedish branding agency Rewir to help Chinese companies build strong brands. TechNode asked him to talk about the why, how and what of Brand New China.

Why Brand New China? 

When you say ‘Made in China’, people often have a negative view of Chinese products. That’s because they think that it’s a copycat or low quality and made in bad working conditions. I want to tell a different story and give a positive image for China. Having lived here for six years, I’ve seen the country change for the better. Driven people working at innovative companies run the new China that I see around me. That’s the China I want to share with the rest of the world.

How did you come up with the idea? 

I used to run a Dutch creative digital agency called Energize, where we help foreign brands including Heineken, KLM Royal Dutch airlines, Miffy and other brands to localize their marketing to the Chinese market. It was great, but personally I became more interested in working for Chinese brands and wanted to help them create strong brands to eventually go abroad. At the same time, my good friend Maren and I were discussing undertaking a road trip. Over a couple of beers, the idea of ‘Brand New China’ came into existence. It combined everything we loved: China, traveling, brands, innovation, etc. So we quit our jobs and after a year of preparation, we made it happen.

How do you see the Netherlands and how do you compare it with China?

The Netherlands is a great country and I love to visit my family. But for me it’s not exciting enough to live in, at least not at this stage of my life. I like to live and work in China, as every day is exciting and big changes are happening.

What’s your drive in life? 

My motto is “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” I live by this, and try to push myself to explore new things everyday, and do the things I’ve never done before.

What do you think is branding about?

Branding is knowing who you are today, knowing who you want to be tomorrow, and all the efforts made to reduce the gap between the two. In other words, the act of branding is tomorrow minus today.

What’s your feedback after using only Chinese brands for three months? 

We were sponsored by seven Chinese brands. The remarkable fact is that none of the product broke down during the trip.

Our main sponsor was automobile brand BYD or Build Your Dreams. We didn’t have any  breakdowns or repairs, which is rare for an around-the-world road trip, considering that we drove through 5,000-meter high mountains and 48°C deserts. Similar trips done with a Jeep or Land Rover would have required mechanical knowledge, while we didn’t even open the hood once – with the exception of a car accident in Uzbekistan, which was my fault but only delayed us one day.

The interesting story behind BYD is that it originally manufactured over half of the mobile phone batteries in the world. BYD had the opportunity to produce batteries for car brands going electric, but instead opted to launch their own car brand, knowing that they had the battery R&D and manufacturing capabilities in-house. This prompted top investor Warren Buffet to invest in the company. Whenever people say Chinese are not innovative, I share this story.

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What’s your overall judgement of the project?

Overall, it was beautiful. The most interesting thing was the friendliness of all the people we met around the world. Seeing our colorful car, wherever we went, people asked, ‘Why are you here? What are you doing?’ I hope the project inspires others to make their dreams happen, to travel more and to look at China in a more positive way.

Image Credit: Brand New China

Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)