The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Little Things Make The Difference …

In Asia, hand cleanliness is almost an obsession.

People even eat their sandwiches and burgers with knives and forks to avoid having to pick them up.

OK, so maybe that’s the case everywhere and I’m just showing my common Nottingham roots … but I still find it fascinating.

Everywhere you go, there’s hand sanitisers.

I’m not just talking in hospitals, I’m talking restaurants and all sorts of other places.

Recently, I saw this on my wife’s bag.

Yep, it’s a portable hand sanitiser.

But I’m not saying this because it highlights how long we’ve been in Asia, I’m saying it because making a product that can attach easily to a bag is an act of simple genius.

For a culture that doesn’t want to just wash their hands, but have them truly germ free … this little idea has big appeal.

Sure, there’s other products on the market that do a similar thing, but having something that attaches to your bag gives a peace of mind that wipes hidden in your bag, just can’t do. Plus being permanently on display helps advertise the brand to all who see it. Nice.

I’ve said for a while that I feel designers are doing things in more interesting ways than ad agencies and ultimately that’s down to one simple difference of approach.

Designers want to solve problems whereas ad agencies want to communicate problems.

Not all agencies are like this.

Not all agency employees are like this.

But right now, the design industry is kicking our ass and I swear it’s because we are holding on to remuneration models that reward ‘the old ways’ rather than finding ways to get paid for what we are truly capable of if given the freedom to do it.

[That and the fact adlands creative department hiring policy is still primarily based on art and copy rather than embracing different types of creative people/thinkers/doers]

We will have to wake up soon, otherwise the bullshit we churn out for Cannes – that we claim is ‘creative problem solving’ will become the benchmark for our standards and when that happens, we may as well pack up and go home.

But I have faith it can be done, if only because I saw The Kennedys Shanghai consistently solve problems in imaginative and innovative and intriguing ways for 9 months.



Do As I Say, Not As I Do …

As you know, I utterly love China.

Sure, there’s some things I’m not that keen on … the pollution and the copyright infringement to name a few … but apart from that, it’s amazing in so many ways.

The speed of change.

The integration of technology in daily life.

The TV programs that show a young girl make animals fall asleep on National TV.

All this from a communist country.

I know, everyone talks about China in terms of its mass consumption, and I get that, but make no mistake, China is a communist nation.

Sure, it doesn’t always appear that way.

[Though much of that is based on our prejudice of how a communist country should look]

And it doesn’t always act that way.

[Though communism never said the people couldn’t all be rich. Though that is far from being the case here so that’s not an argument I can make with a straight face]

But the fact is, it is … even if it is only demonstrated by the sorts of signs I saw above.

Though – to be fair – the sign isn’t really telling people to not spend their money on material possessions, but to warn sightseers [I took this at The Bund] of dodgy tourist guides.

But hey, since when has this blog – or advertising – been about ultra accuracy. Ahem.



The Shanghai Kennedys Graduate …

So last week – on Founders Day – we saw The Kennedys Shanghai graduate after 9 months of trials, tribulations and torture [their words, not mine]

What an amazing journey … for them as well as for me.

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was taking on when I agreed to launch The Kennedys – Wieden’s creative talent incubator – but it has proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It’s been amazing.

Actually that doesn’t do it justice, it has been one of the most rewarding, exciting and creatively fulfilling times of my career.

Seriously.

Seeing these guys use their creative talent to brilliantly solve an amazing array of radically diverse challenges was an incredible privilege but the work they created was only part of the reward, because I also got to see how their journey affected all of them individually.

Watching them discover – and start to believe – in their own, individual creative voice was brilliant.

Not just in terms of how it affected the ideas they came up with, but also in how they looked at every challenge given to them.

At the beginning of The Kennedys, there was a sense of cautiousness – a feeling of concern they might do something wrong – but by the end, they didn’t give a shit about what others may think and had the confidence to go full force with whatever they believed.

Of course to get to that stage wasn’t easy … and yet the way we did it was.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was we needed the guys to feel they were in an environment where they were safe to be vulnerable.

Our view was that if they ever sensed they may be laughed at, criticised or ridiculed then we’d never get them to explore or experiment with where their creativity could go.

To achieve this, we told them we would never say ‘no’ to their ideas.

We could challenge them … we could ask as many questions as we like … but we could never, ever tell them their idea ‘is wrong’.

The second part was to give the guys challenges that made them vulnerable.

Part of this was to prove The Kennedys was a safe place for them to express themselves without limitation, but the other part was we knew the only way they’d discover the power of their truth was if they experienced real vulnerability and came out of it unscathed.

To do this, the first 3 months of assignments were made up of self expression exercises … from making a film about how you felt when you were made to dye your hair white, to creating art work about eating a live octopus to writing a resume of all your failures and an incredible amount of things in-between.

Now, I’ve got to be honest, a lot of people – including The Kennedys – felt I only did this so I could satisfy my evilness, but that is not the case at all.

When you see the creativity in the work they created later in the course – such as the takeaway coffee cup that turns into a frisbee for a local cafe that attracts lots of dog owners … to the Superhero toothbrush glove that makes 5 year old kids want to actually brush their teeth … to the innovation behind a Nike Shanghai Marathon campaign [to name but a few] – I’m pretty certain it was their comfortableness in their vulnerability that got them to this sort of work.

Nothing sums their confidence like their final assignment.

We asked them to come up with something they could leave at Wieden+Kennedy that defined what they had learnt over the course of The Kennedys.

In a perfect world, it would act as a legacy for them as well as an inspiration for everyone in the agency.

It didn’t take them long to sum up their 9 months experience with this turn of phrase …

“The freedom of creativity”

I liked that. I liked it a lot.

Their belief that creativity was about freedom and that freedom meant that any challenge could be met in interesting and intriguing ways was almost the perfect outtake from 9 months of bizarre and wonderful.

And so what did they do with their freedom of creativity?

This …

Yes … it’s a Street Fighter arcade game, but not like any Street Fighter arcade game.

You see the guys decided to reprogram the machine so it featured them as the fighters and included all their experiences over the 9 months of The Kennedy’s.

The characters.
The locations.
The challenges.

They’re all in there.

Including me … where my ‘special move’ is the F-Bomb, and a Birkenstock comes down to destroy everything in its way.

Cheeky bastards.

Someone at Wieden Tokyo asked me to explain what it was like and I said the best way to describe it was South Park on speed and LSD.

Seriously, it’s utterly mental and chaotic and for that alone, it perfectly sums up the journey and spirit of The Kennedys, let alone the way they used creativity to solve the challenge in the freshest of ways. 

But while it is absolutely awesome … what’s even better is the effort it took to make it.

I’m not talking about sourcing the game or even re-programming the game – though they were difficult in themselves – I’m talking about what they did to make sure it was all perfect.

For example, to ensure they could match all the animation of the ‘fighters’, everyone had to take thousands of photographs of themselves – in front of a green screen – in various poses.

THOUSANDS!!!

Then they needed to photoshop it all.

And then animate it.

And that’s before we get to all the other stuff like the background scenes … the animated story sequences and the re-design of the game cabinet.

At Wieden we have this phrase Fail Harder.

It basically means that if you are going to fail, make it because you were going after an audacious goal.

A goal that few would ever dare to try because they would see the obstacles rather than the opportunity.

This game – which they only had 3 weeks to pull off – is the perfect encapsulation of Fail Harder.

Except they didn’t fail.

In fact, it’s so good, I asked them to make another machine so I can have one for home. 

I’m thrilled they said yes … Jill, a little less so. Hahahaha.

Portland might have their “Fail Harder” wall but Shanghai has their “Kingdom of Chaos” Arcade game.  

I am in awe of these guys, I truly am.

7 strangers.
Over 9 months.
Given 21 individual assignments.
Producing over 140 pieces of work.

I couldn’t be prouder.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I couldn’t feel more honoured to have been a part of it and to have these talented guys in my life … even if they don’t exactly feel the same way, ha.

Of all the great things I’ve done at Wieden+Kennedy, this has undoubtedly been one of the best.

I’d go so far as to say it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So before I end this post, I’d just like to say a big thank you to the guys who helped make this a very special time in my life.

+ The Magnificent Seven … Carmen, Felix, Griet, Matteo, Meng, Quentin and Wenshu
+ Juni Zhu, the Patron Saint of Saints
+ Arlene Lu and Maxito, the dynamic duo and table tennis losers
+ Patrick Rockwell, also known as the fixer
+ Bryan & Yang
+ Azsa
+ Stone
+ Grainne
+ Nike
+ Boom Boom Bagels
+ Jill Barker
+ Paula Bloodworth, Northy and Marula
+ Yvonne … for never raising an eyebrow when we put in our weird expenses
+ Kim Papworth, Joe Staples and Richard Turley
+ John Rowe and Ryan Johnson in Tokyo
+ Blake Harrop, Alvaro Sotomayor and Judd Caraway in Amsterdam
+ Tony Davidson and Ryan Fisher in London
+ Vitor Abud in Sao Paulo
+ Wieden HR who didn’t say anything even when we made The Kennedys do very weird shit
+ Everyone at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai
+ Everyone who was part of the Kennedys in Amsterdam, London & Sao Paulo
+ Everyone who applied for the journey
… and finally David Kennedy [and Dan Wieden] who let this thing happen because on April 1st 1982, you started a company that believed in the freedom of creativity

If you ever have the chance to be in – or part of – The Kennedys in the future, whether that is in Shanghai or any of the other Wieden+Kennedy offices, grasp it with both hands.

It will change your life.

It did for me and I’m pretty sure it did for the 7 guys who were our guinea pigs in Shanghai.



And So It Begins …
January 27, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: China, Chinese Culture, Comment, Culture, Holiday

So today is the start of the Chinese New Year holiday.

Yep, that means my first holiday of 2017 has already commenced.

A holiday that sees me away until the 5th February.

I know … I know … but don’t blame me, blame the Chinese Government. Or someone.

If it’s any consolation, I’ll be spending the next week or so doing a bunch of stuff. Sure, none of it will be ‘real work’, but according to you, I’ve never been doing that anyway.

Anyway, to celebrate the year of the Chicken [or, said another way, the year KFC’s share price goes through the roof], I leave you with this …

See you next month.



Louis Vuitton Go Wrong …

Louis Vuitton.

A name that conjures all manner of images in the mind.

Luxury. Sophistication. Worldliness.Travel. Wealth.

OK, so in China, it’s also known as the ‘mistresses brand’, because in the old days of China, the only people who could get their hands on the stuff were the lovers of Government officials or international businessmen who bought it when on one of their numerous overseas trips.

Now while ‘perception may be reality’, there’s some perception you don’t want and LV have spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars on changing this.

Given their success in China, you could argue it has worked – however there are two things that I think are potentially going to undermine them.

One: In their quest to keep the cash rolling in, they’re opening more stores in ‘lower tier’ markets. While this is helping wealthy people in those cities buy their products more easily, it’s putting off their core audience because frankly, they don’t want to be associated with individuals from places they regard as ‘being underneath them’.


Two: This …

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

OK … OK … I admit I haven’t seen this first hand [a friend sent it to me] so there is a big chance it’s either a pisstake or associated with an upcoming movie but if not, why-oh-why would they do such a thing?

While some may find a cliche-looking gangster cool, I’m not sure it fits in with the image the average LV customer wants for themselves. And what do you think is in those suitcases?

A pair of pants and some inflatable arm bands?

Probably not … and yet they have the cheek to add ‘the spirit of travel’ to the bottom of the ad.

Where are they travelling too? Jail?

And what are those ‘weapon looking things’ in the arms of the cliched ‘hired help’?

If they’re not fancy umbrellas, someone is going to be getting into a lot of trouble.

Look, I get the luxury inflation rate has pushed brands to basically make ads showing people bathing in a pool of money while burning poor people in their big, open fire but I’m not sure going to this extreme is a good idea.

If the goal was to make LV owners look so successful they don’t give a shit what others think [“Fuck you money”, as I wrote here] then I would have suggested they follow the lead of the brilliant ‘spoof’ Bentley ad below, as opposed to associating with people who might kill you if you even look at them funny.



God Bless Communism …
October 1, 2016, 7:30 am
Filed under: China, Chinese Culture, Culture, Cunning, Holiday, Unfair Life, Wankers

Want to know the definition of bittersweet?

Knowing you have a weeks holiday from my blogging because from today, China has a week-long national holiday.

That’s right, I’m going to be on holiday. Again.

Yes … I know I had one only a few weeks ago and I know I had a month off only about 6 weeks ago, but hey, I’m just a humble servant of the Communist party so don’t blame me.

So unless you live in LA – because I’ll be knocking on your door – enjoy the break, because I know I will. Till the 10th …



One Step Forward, Four Hundred Steps Back …

I love China.

My time here has been one of the most exciting, interesting – and, I have to be honest, challenging – times of my life.

I will always love China and will always defend it from the prejudice they experience every day at the hands of foreign media and companies.

But there are some things here that I loathe. 

Things that does the country harm.

Things that don’t actually represent what the majority think and yet validates the prejudice that other countries feel.

I wrote about one of these things recently, with the launch of ‘sports brand’, Uncle Martian.

But last week something even worse happened.

This.

I have to be honest, the moment I saw the first scene, I feared I knew what was going to happen.

And then it got worse that I ever imagined.

Apart from being utterly disgusting and distasteful, it’s an total blight on China’s international reputation and – it pains me to say it – so it should be.

I cannot believe that a nation with such strong censorship rules allowed this through.

I literally cannot fathom it.

It’s stupidity at a level that is beyond comprehension.

And what about the poor black guy in the ad? How desperate for money or fame must he have been to allow himself to be in this shit.

And the other actors … what the hell were they thinking?

And don’t even get me started on the brand who actually agreed to putting this thing out.

[This is what they said about it, which smacks of someone freaking out they’ve been “caught” by global media even though it’s pretty obvious they thought this would be a quick way for a small brand to get big attention]

I’m literally struggling to make sense of it. But I guess that’s because there is no sense to this … it’s racism on a level that beggars belief.

I hope the people who made it … approved it and commissioned it are all named, shamed and made to pay the price of their disgracefulness because what they have just done is promote hatred as well as damage China’s international reputation.

Do I think those people will care?

Probably not because otherwise they wouldn’t have done it … but I hope the Government do.

I hope the hundreds of millions of citizens who don’t think like this do.

And I hope they show it through fines and product boycotting. [They’re already expressing their disgust through social media]

Look, I’m not going to deny China has racism within the culture.

Sadly, most countries do.

Ironically, I have always felt their worst opinions are aimed at others from Asian countries rather than those from the West. In fact a black friend of mine who lived in China, once told me he felt it wasn’t that China didn’t like black people, they just don’t like anything different and to them, he’s just different.

Of course that is no excuse for this shit nor does it make it any better.

Frankly I am devastated about this. Devastated that these attitudes still exist. Devastated there are people who don’t think it is wrong to make an ad featuring this as their ‘storyline’. And devastated China has just taken a backward step in the minds of many across the World.

I would love to meet the people who did this and commissioned this and literally smash them in the fucking face.

They’re beyond racist. They’re stupid.

But then, when a country that claims to represent the Free World can have a presidential candidate who is the antithesis of it, I fear stupid is winning.

____________________________________________________________________________

Just to make sure no one is stupid enough to suggest only the Chinese are racist, watch this …

Yes, I know it reinforces the misguided belief China just copies what others have done rather than create it’s own thing, but that’s obviously, not the point I want to make.

Racism is everywhere and unless we fundamentally deal with it, society is on the fast track to devolution. A good way to start might be to get everyone to watch this.

Then stop Donald Trump.

____________________________________________________________________________

PS: I found it fascinating than in the recent Austrian elections, the narrow loser – a far right candidate – took the loss with grace. Despite supporters claiming he had been cheated, he knocked that talk on the head. I don’t – and never will – support his viewpoints, but I respect his acceptance. Now if only he could do that beyond just an election result. Trump take note.