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


Zàijiàn My Beloved China …
May 16, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, China, Chinese Culture, Comment, Love

I know I said there’d be no more posts for a month, but I leave China today, so deal with it.

I’ve said all I want to say about how wonderful and magical a time I’ve had here.

If you’re ever given the opportunity to visit or work – do it – it will change your World.

To sign off, I want to leave you with a little film.

Every day – for the past 7 years – as I walked to work, I would stop off at Starbucks at The Centre building in the Former French Concession.

Over the years, most of the time directly outside the window where I would be supping my latte, I would see all manner of people doing all manner of things … from walking dogs to undertaking rather interesting approaches to exercise.

There were a few people in particular that always seemed to be there and I started videoing them and adding music to their routine.

It’s important you know I never did this to mock them – far from it – I did it because they were part of the reason my 7 years in China was utterly wonderful and I will miss them – and the country – more than anyone could ever imagine.

Goodbye Shanghai. Hello LA.

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It’s Been An Honour …

After 7 years, today is my last day at Wieden+Kennedy.

Just as traumatic is that in 6 days, it will be my last day in China.

Or said another way, it will be my last day living in Asia-Pacific after 22 amazing years.

There’s honestly too much to say.

Too many memories to write about.

Too many people to thank and talk about.

So instead I’ll just say it has been the time of my life.

An amazing, spectacular, wonderful adventure both personally and professionally.

From marriage and babies to being part of work that defined World Cups and Olympics.

Wow.

It’s absolutely fair to say I will miss every bit of it but I’ll take the memories because it means I had the experience and for that I am truly grateful.

Now, because we’re in the middle of mad moving mode, this blog will be on a little hiatus for a few weeks.

Probably about a month. [Though we all know there’ll be the odd post here and there]

On the bright side, when it’s back – probably sometime in June, in time for my birthday [ha] – you’ll get to read posts that won’t just be about planning, but how I don’t understand how to make anything in America work.

I honestly think I’m going to find it harder to acclimatise to America than I ever did to China.

Hell, I can’t even order a cup of coffee without getting confused about their cup sizes.

So with that I want to sign off with a few little thank-you’s.

The reality is a huge amount of people made my time here amazing, however there’s some who had an even bigger influence and I want to call them out because the adventure I had – and am about to embark on – literally wouldn’t have been possible without them.

My wonderful planning team. Past and present. Every day was a genuine fucking honour. The awesome Kennedys. It was seriously the professional highlight of my last 12 months. Thank you. And that definitely includes you Juni. Kel Hook. For hiring me. You changed my life and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. Jason White. Thank you for supporting me even when I caused destruction. John Rowe. For being brilliant in every possible way and making my time at W+K Tokyo so good, I never wanted to leave. NIKE. I know that might sound corporate toady, but as I have nothing to gain from saying it, it means it is true. 99.7% of every person I met or worked with at Wieden+Kennedy worldwide … whether they are still here or long gone. Martin Weigel. You’re a cantankerous, warm hearted, brilliant man. Just propose to Mercedes and get on with it. Whiteside. Because you’re awesome and funny and humble and deserve so much and yet are happy with what you have. Clare Pickens. I love you. I literally fucking love you. [But stop cutting your hair because it makes you look shit] Sandi Hildreth. For being awesome and gorgeous and loving the same sort of rubbish music as me. Claudia Valderrama. For looking out for me even though you told me I was a “pain in the ass”. W&W, Azsa, Arlene and Max … for making sure I stay excited – and in awe – about the birth of amazing ideas. Gerber, for somehow – and I’m not sure how – influencing me to get tattoos. I came here with none, I leave with not enough. Simon Pestridge. Thank you for everything. In many ways, you changed my career and opportunities. You’re more than a great client, but a friend. Kim Papworth. For that talk that was totally worth the wait. Luhr. For being Luhr. Stech. For making your 6 months here, the most exciting 6 months for me full stop. David Terry and Paul Colman for trying really hard to be ‘alpha-males’ but actually being fucking sweethearts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Joe Staples. He won’t understand why, which is why. MJ. No, not Micheal Jackson or Michal Jordan, but Matthew Jung … for being a phenomenal Nike and Converse client who backed us to do the best work we can do every-single-time. Karrelle. For pretending to still be British when he’s basically American. Steve Tsoi for still welcoming me to the table even though I never made life easy for you or your team. Scott Silverman. You had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be here. Chris Jaques. You also had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the platform to show others what I could do. What I could be. Dan Wieden. For not actually firing me even though you said, “You’re fired” every time you saw me. And starting a place that is so special amongst special companies. Xiaoli. For everything you have done for us, but most specifically for the love and care you have shown my son. China … for being so important to global business that you gave me access and exposure to the sort of senior leadership few in the World will ever get to experience. The amazing, warm, slightly crazy people of China. I will absolutely miss everything about your unique ways. Except the spitting and the plane delays. And finally – and most importantly – my beloved Jill, Otis and Rosie. Without you guys, none of this other stuff would have mattered.

OK, the Gwyneth Paltrow bollocks is over … and to prove it, have a look at this.

Do you know what it is?

That’s right, it’s one of the 600 stickers I have had made that I have spent the last 5 weeks hiding throughout the refurbished Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai office. And I mean ‘throughout’ … including various W+K hangouts, like Baker & Spice, Jamaica Blue and Little Catch.

That should make their life a pain in the ass for a few years.

It will be like I’ve never gone.

And with that, it’s time to go.

It’s been a lot of fun. Time for an adventure in LA. God help us all.



A Look Back At 7 Years …

As I have 2 days left of working at Wieden, I thought I’d put up some of the films [some are case studies because I can’t find the actual spot online] that I’ve either had something to do with or happened on my watch while at W+K Shanghai.

To be honest, there’s loads more – including 3 campaigns that haven’t come out yet, of which one is particularly exciting – but I appreciate how indulgent this post is already.

So with that – and in no particular order – here we go …

Converse Lyrics

NIKE Mr Sun

Fiat 500 La Vita E Bella – with thanks to my Mum

NIKE Temple Of Deadly Quickness

P&G Best Job

NIKE Find Your Greatness

Jeep Built Free

Jordan Winning Moment

Heineken Curiosity Pays

NIKE Epic Step

Spotify Japan Music Changes Us

As I said, there’s a bunch more stuff I could put up, but when I look back at this – especially in relation to where China/Asia advertising traditionally sits – I nod and, to paraphrase Phil Knight from the W+K global credentials film, say “It’s not bad”.



May Day …
May 1, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: China, Chinese Culture

So this is the first day of both my final month in China and my first month in America.

Given I’m missing out on my 6 week sabbatical with Wieden by a matter of weeks, I think it’s super kind of the Chinese Government to give the nation a national holiday so I can have one final day of blagging from work.

Thank you Government, you’re ace. Back tomorrow …



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.