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

HK: Land Of The Super Small Minded Adperson …
April 1, 2009, 6:45 am
Filed under: Comment

Photo: Brymo

Before I start, I know it’s April 1st today but unlike last years post, this one isn’t a joke. Just thought I should point that out.

OK? Tops.

So I’ve been in and out of HK for a couple of months now and I have to say the one thing I’ve found incredibly shocking is how small minded many of the people in adland are.

OK … I’m generalising, because I’ve not met everyone in the industry, there’s been a few guys I’ve come across who are bloody fantastic and a lot of this attitude can be attributed to lack of training rather than lack of talent … but sadly, the majority of people I have come into contact with [who work for about 15 different agencies] seem to regard anyone who has a different idea or a different viewpoint or a different experience to them as ‘the enemy’, even if that individual is better qualified in a specific area.

I wouldn’t mind if these people were producing good, interesting work and/or winning business, but they’re not – in most cases they’re churning out lowest-common-denominator, celebratory endorsed tat under the rationale that the people in HK just want simple image/status-based messages.

I find that excuse pretty insulting … to claim a whole society is thick or superficial is an outrage and demonstrates how small minded these self proclaimed ‘geniuses’ are.

It’s up there with the often used “you don’t understand the country” comment – which is the standard excuse for anyone who is too frightened of being shown up for their own inadequecies because otherwise they’d be able to show work/thinking that genuinely demonstrated the unique quirks of the country in question.

And don’t think it’s just locals who come up with this shit … sadly there’s a load of expats who subscribe to it as well, expats who – almost unanimously – have never worked in another country within the region.

Now I know this all sounds like my ego has been hurt – and it has – but its because I find it amazing a bunch of people can say [or show through their actions] that I’m not good enough to even contribute when [1] I have quite a good track record in many countries [2] I am one of the creative communities biggest supporters and fans and [3] they continuously churn out work that is either a one dimensional execution, irrelevant or worse, creative for creativities sake.

What these people need to understand is the Crispin’s, Mothers, BBH’s and WK’s of the World – the people they hold in the highest esteem – embrace opinion and collaboration, they certainly don’t subscribe to the ‘strategy’ of sitting in a little room and deciding the client brief, strategy and creative all by themselves. [And then blaming everyone and everything else when they don’t win!]

I know I’m not brilliant, but I think I’m quite good at what I do so I’m just happy I work with my little team of clever, creative and collaberative merry men and women on a host of regional business because as much as I’d like to try and help change this myopic attitude, I know if I had to work/interact with these folk on a daily basis, the only work I’d end up doing is using a meat-cleaver all over their body.

Without doubt there’s some hugely talented people in this country … and without doubt the potential is huge, far greater than Singapore … I’m just sad the country I now live in seems to have so many ad people in it who are seemingly comfortable with letting their colleagues and their country now [probably] rank below Vietnam interms of creativity, ingenuity and thinking when only about 10 years ago or so, it was one of the great creative hubs in the World.

Earth is a much smaller place these days … and whilst I regard cultural understanding as one of the most important elements in developing great communication, the work being lauded by so many in HK adland has little to do with genuine cultural appreciation and more to do with fear, laziness and immaturity.

24 Comments so far
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remember what branson said: you have to earn the right to be arrogant

i fucking hate bitching about creatives but if they can’t even win awards for fucking scam they have nothing they can hide behind to keep their egos healthy.

i almost feel sorry for hk because I know for a fucking certainty youre not going to be able to sit back and see them go on with their fucking noses in the air and i know doing good work wont be enough youll want to take the whole fucking industry on as usual.

i dont like complimenting you but as my planner youve learnt a few things which is why you could make wpp asia quite good and why youll drag hk adland back to where it once stood. and if you cant chris will because he was one of the main reasons it enjoyed a brief stint sitting at the head fucking ad table.

youve not been the same since the mountain view fuckers put love and happiness in your dna. but youre not as bad as george.

im a fucking saint for sticking with you 2 but thats why i encourage you to make our adventures work because i live in daily fucking fear youll both come back to hq and make my life a fucking planner infested misery. again. i can handle pete and the boys being with me but you wankers have voting rights lol

Comment by andy@cynic

I am quite upset Andy thinks he can handle me and my team. From tomorrow we will try and create an atmosphere similar to the one he experiences when Rob and George are with him.

Don’t blame us Andy, you started it. 🙂

Passing by Andy’s last paragraph, I agree with everything else he has written and know HK won’t know what’s hit it once Rob’s spent more than 5 continuous days in the place. This is a good thing for HK adland and Robert’s blood pressure.

Comment by Pete

Oh dear, I’m worried this post might of come out wrong and made me sound all depressed.

I’m not – honest – maybe a bit frustrated at times, but not depressed … though I accept if I had to work directly with the people I’ve just described, I would be, but fortunately for me [and definitely for them] I don’t.

I just hate how people who claim to be open minded and free thinking tend to be conservative and process driven. It would be fine if this attitude just affected them, but it doesn’t … it affects everyone in the industry because what they end up doing is educating clients to think this way and then get them to buy bullshit under the guise of it being strategically developed ‘killer creative’ when it isn’t. At all.

It was just a whinge … a whinge I could have [but for different reasons] at many people and many countries of adland but Charles does it so much better so I’ll just shut up.

Comment by Rob

Wonder if the people you describe above wil realise that you’re not out to flog them without reason, but actually to help / force them to churn out better work.

Comment by Bhaskar

I understand no one likes being told by a ‘stranger’ – especially a ‘stranger’ they don’t actually work with – that what they’ve done isn’t good enough – but I’m not saying it out of some sick pleasure, I’m saying it because …

[1] in most cases I know they are capable of much, much more if they just spend a bit of time on it rather than trying to rush it out under the delusion they’re so great, they can answer anything within 26 seconds.

[2] I know ads and so can spot a rip-off from a mile away

[3] sometimes what they produce has no relevance with what I’ve been told the objective of the work was

[4] the only way our industry will get back the respect [and cash] I think it deserves is if we stop letting bullshit come out and start training our people on communication philosophy not just proprietry tools and producing lowest-common-denominator ads.

I’ve never had a problem with creatives – mainly because they know I see my job as helping them produce and sell the best ideas they can come up with … so to be told [literally or subliminally] by some that I’m not worth hearing out does piss me off, especially when I’ve been insulted by far more talented and famous creatives than they could ever be in a million lifetimes.

But that’s the thing with ego, the ones who have the most of it tend to be the ones with the least amount to shout about. 🙂

[PS: When Andy isn’t his blog persona, he is not as arrogant as he appears – and yes that is a compliment but then he deserves it. Sometimes]

Comment by Rob

What the hell happened to HK creatively? It used to be the leading creative market in Asia, with original work, great production values and shockingly good ads. Now all I see is a pile of crap, produced by a lot of people with even more effort, daily. Yet as a city it is forward thinking, modern to the extreme, risk takers by nature and always at the cutting edge of what’s current……except in advertising. As George Best was once asked, where did it all go wrong?

Comment by martin

wonder who ticked you off! guess it’s a bunch of people who till now got away with lazy thinking and, now will probably have to mend their ways of working[ thinking]!

Comment by Bhaskar

I am confident HK’s advertising pollution is about to be cleared up by a big breath of fresh Robert Campbell air.

Comment by Lee Hill

I don’t know the specific answer to your question Martin, but I think there are many factors to it …

From the value corporations place on adland … the reality most brands of the last 15 years have grown through product development rather than brand communication … the lack of real training within agencies … the rise of media agencies importance … the low ‘intellectual value’ of adland compared to say [ironically] the banking industry and the handover – for nearly as many reasons again – from needing ‘locals’ to deal with the plethora of new ‘local’ business to the arrogance/prejudice of Westerners not wanting to learn the culture and ways of the region plus almost everything inbetween.

And thanks Lee … I know reading between the lines you’re saying I will be seen as a new strait of SARS, adland SARS! Ha.

Comment by Rob

interestingly, same goes with contemporary art from hong kong. under an foreign sovereignty, HK was producing amazing contemporary works and artists. now, well, even singapore has a better proportion of engagement with what’s going on artistically. and that’s saying something!

Comment by lauren

Whilst there are many talented people inside Singapore [and HK] the reality is the ones who ‘make it’ [for want of a better term] are the ones who either have shunned the cultural value system of their respective countries or are ‘bought in’ by the Government in a quest to appear ‘cultural’ to the wider World.

I think – and this is a pure guess – the reason why HK used to produce more contemporary artists is that under UK rule, art was not viewed as something ‘less important/valuable’ as material success whereas now under Chinese rule, it is often viewed as the ‘jon’ for the career failure … despite its history of unbelievable creativity and progression.

But I could be – and probably am – wrong.

Comment by Rob

so is taiwan also losing it’s quality because of recent closer ties to the mainland?

or were they always shite/great and continue to be so?

Comment by niko

It is always up to the audience to determine whether your post is a joke.

Comment by John

I can’t really comment on that Niko as I’ve not been to Taiwan enough [both interms of visits and duration] … but I doubt the difference would be as dramatic as a majorly Western influenced culture [in Asia] versus a variance of a typical Asian culture.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t differences within the region – there’s massive ones – but in the most basic of terms, I would say comparing HK and Taiwan would be like comparing Rolls Royce to Daiwoo.

Maybe. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Interesting. My understanding is that arrogance is quite common in HK… but if anyone can fix it…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Comment by I am not a media buyer

What’s wrong with letting creatives live in their bubbles of contentment?

You’re a happiness nazi. A school bully. A great fucking planner.

Give them shit Rob, I had to take your “encouragement” for 3 years so I don’t see why those fuckers should get away with it. 🙂

Comment by Billy Whizz

campbell doesnt pay your wages anymore billy so you dont have to be a fucking crawler

Comment by andy@cynic

This is indeed a puzzling puzzle, rated ‘impossible’ on the international puzzle scale.

There are no great newspapers here either.
Good design is hard to find (small pockets exist).
Bigger is better, but bigger does not always equal quality.

But most importantly, I think it is a city with a rapidly transforming identity. And the reason why that in itself is not a seed for creativity (like it would be in South Africa for example where transformation is also rife), is because there is a massive air of political correctness.

That is a toxic combination for creativity.

But who knows, not sure in which camp Rob classifies me so perhaps I should keep my trap shut 🙂

Comment by Leon Jacobs

Even if I thought you were in the HK bad creative camp [which I don’t by the way] I wouldn’t slag anyone [1] writes on this blog and [2] lives in the same city [note the word ‘AND’ 🙂 ] because I need as many friends as I can get!

Comment by Rob

So will Sir Martin be quivering in his cot about tomorrow Robert?

Comment by Bazza

I think you’re right Rob. The only thing i’d add, and I’ve worked largely out of the HK market for a long time but done enough to know a bit, is that we shouldn’t underestimate the role of clients in dulling the creative edge. No offense to any clients reading (which I doubt) but client briefs in HK are either non existent or pat-a-cake and more than not the agency who wins (from the 15 they make pitch) IS the one who comes up with the celebrity endorsement campaign or something of that sort. The client brief in HK should have a mandatory in the objectives section reading “SAVE ME FROM WHAT I WANT”. That said, agencies have got thin and lazy, in HK esp. TIp of the hat to Chris Kyme and his team at Eight Partnership, if everyone set their goal to be as hard thinking as them we’d be in a good shape. Neil out…

Comment by neil

Hi Neil … nice to have you pop by.

You’re right that it’s not just the creative/marketing folk causing this – clients have to shoulder some blame too – however the attitude I’ve experienced in my limited exposure here does lead me to think the ‘hunger’ to do the right/good thing is not as prevelant as in other markets, with acknowledgement there are the odd exceptions.

As for clients reading this blog – well shockingly board directors of both Virgin and Google Worldwide do, but they’re weird and tend to do the right thing so we can let them off the hook, ha!

Comment by Rob

A little bit late to this but the HK work speaks for itself. It’s client appeasing creative.

I was in a Coca-cola meeting a few years back where it was said that the prize for getting Hong Kong right was a promotion to China.

Which explains why the China work is shit too as it’s all about the quantity not the quality.

Hong Kong is one of the hardest working places I’ve witnessed and I memorably recall client change emails being cc’d to me at 3am which was not unusual. The bullying of agencies by clients that results in never ending changes is par for the course because once an agency goes up the corporate cock sucking route the clients know it’s ALL about the money and not about the conviction.

I’ve introduced you to Jason from HK Rob and we’ve long discussed what’s wrong with HK and it comes down to balls. Hong Kong has got no cajones.

There’s so much money sloshing around and even more towards Beijing and Shanghai that a good majority of the people who have risen to the top in the business of advertising are yes men who talk about passion of brands but don’t have the passion to say “you are wrong” to their clients.

I can think of one memorable capitulation that I witnessed between a network big cheese who meddled in the planning and a Nestle brand. I kick myself now for not letting him swing in the wind.

Must come back to this post when I’m in next in Hong Kong Rob. The gossipy bit will make you laugh.

Comment by Charles

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