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

Welcome To The Big Ideas Ghost Town …
July 16, 2009, 6:37 am
Filed under: Comment

Like most places on Earth, there are some intense rivalries between districts/regions/countries … and in the case of HK, one of their key competitors is Singapore.

You can understand why, because whereas once HK was the jewel in the Asia commercial crown, the buggers have now been taken over by that size-of-a-currant-on-the-World-map island down the road.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this – hunger, investment, foresight, apathy, moments of madness … however if HK is not careful, it’s role in international business could be in serious danger because companies can now choose between going either straight into China or one of the other countries that are investing more heavily in attracting foreign trade/organisations.

There is still hope – but its success depends on whether they appoint us to the recent pitch they called, haha!

Anyway, the reason for this post is that I recently got asked by Media Magazine for my view on the difference between HK and Singapore creative industries.

Now if you remember, I wrote something about this a while back … however as Media is professional and serious, they covered it by writing this …

Now even though that is what I said, there’s still something wrong with the article.

Putting aside the fact we’re not a bloody brand consultancy, but a creative planning company … the reality is that I come across waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too nice.

This is the 2nd time this has happened …

I recently got asked about a regional client we’ve just won and said “ultimately our brief is to put the fear of God into their Asia-Pacific competition” … but what ended up getting printed was soooooo straight, I worried I’d become an accountant or something. Seriously, don’t these journo’s know I have a ‘grumpy’ personality to nurture, ha!

OK, so in this case I did ask the very lovely journo if he could tone down my comments somewhat [as I went on a total, manic rant] … but I still wish he hadn’t been so brilliant at his editing because I don’t think it expresses how totally buggered I feel HK adland is.

[Though to be fair, the article was less about that and more about the country as a whole, so just ignore me – like usual – and let me rant]

Anyway, as I mentioned in the article … the culture of HK is VERY creative and there are certainly some very talented and brilliant people here, but as a general overview, I can honestly say I have never been in a country with such a bad industry attitude.

Yeah … yeah … people might say Vietnam or Iraq is worse, and whilst I haven’t been to the latter, I would guess the people in both those countries are hungrier, more open, more collaborative than the typical HK ad person … and that makes me ill because even though I have little to do with the local market, I live here and I don’t want that to be the environment I am exposed to on a daily basis.

It’s because of this I – along with some colleagues and friends at BBH and W+K – are in the process of setting up a formal Asia creative planning group [think APG, but with creatives, not just planners], so that people who want to try and make a difference can be inspired, encouraged and challenged to make it happen.

[Obviously my role will be just to put the tables out as I can’t even inspire the cat to sit on my lap, let alone get people to think bigger]

Once its set up, I hope people in HK will join – but to be honest, I’d rather it was guys who were interested in joining adland rather than those already in it, because it will require an ability to listen to objectivity, which in my limited experience is something local adfolk find almost universally impossible to do.

Have I got a downer on the HK ad market?

No shit Sherlock.

Look I know this all sounds like I’m putting myself on a creative pedestal and maybe I am – but if my Mum saw/heard/experienced how some people in this market act – even she’d think the majority are a bunch of arrogant and delusional fools.

So why is this happening?

Well there’s a few reasons …

A lack of agency training is probably part of it [or more correctly, a lack of GOOD training given this is a market that once had people in it who were nicknamed ‘FILTH’ which stood for Failed In England, Try Hong Kong] as is a lack of global creative exposure … and I would be lying if I didn’t talk about how a lot of HK business only wants lowest-common-denominator, celebratory endorsed wallpaper … but I think it’s more than that … I think it goes back to the fact that 12 years ago, HK was King of Asia and it breeded an arrogance that has remained to this day, despite the fact the glory years packed up and left long ago.

Thank god there are some great people and regional companies here [including my stupidly wonderful guys, who keep me sane and excited] … thank Jesus, Allah and Buddha there is a legacy of great and brave creative … and halle-bloody-lujah the culture of the country is vibrant, energetic, entrepreneurial and colourful … but for all that inspiration, I find it both sad and amazing that so many can go along with their noses in the air when the only interesting and relevant creative thing they have ever been able to produce is their CV.

Wake up HK, it’s time the countries ad industry became a lion again, not this over-pampered pussy.

29 Comments so far
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Something wrong with that article? The conflation of advertising and marketing perchance?

Comment by john

And it’s not a sector!

Comment by john

i take my last comment back. this is fucking gold but i dont think hk adland is the only country with a success hangover but it might be the one that needs some fucking berocca the most.

and for anyone reading this who gets fucking upset, remember this. campbell has no right to sit on a fucking creative pedestal because we are the suckers who did all the work he gets lauded for. but before you start high fiving or whatever shit you do over there, what that means his comments should hurt you even more because if a slightly above average advertising fucker can think this inside 6 months, imagine what someone really talented would say.

campbell is a lot of things but he knows what the fuck hes talking about and even if he didnt that shit move by lb hk pretty much gives him all the evidence the outside world fucking need.

Comment by andy@cynic

You’ve worked around the World with some of the best creatives, media and suits that you can find. You’ve won a bunch of creative and effectiveness awards and are still passionate about ideas and collaberation.

Think that all makes you a pretty good judge of what HK adland is. Glad you’re there because you are one of the guys who stand a chance of making it change. I’d of packed my bags in a week.

Comment by Pete

I haven’t been on here for quite a while but I read this post and felt I should add my pov.
This all feels rather similar to the Pepsi/Coke brand war because it appears the 2 ad markets have become so obsessed with beating each other, they’ve failed to realize the wider World no longer finds them as relevant, valuable or interesting.
There is no reason why an agency in either of these markets couldn’t become a more international player but it would seem mindset and attitude are huge obstacles. With the greatest respect, I cannot understand why anyone would aspire to be the biggest agency in HK, it’s like being proud you are the biggest cotton wool manufacturer in Luxemburg; good but nowhere near what you could be.
For a region of the World that has such ambition, drive and hunger, I find it very disappointing this attitude hasn’t translated to the industry that claims to drive brands and business forward. It is especially upsetting to see HK fall into this demise as once upon a time they had a number of people and agencies who were real powerhouses in this regard. I don’t know how many are there now, but I know Sunshine will be one of them.
Excellent post Robert, only you would say what I am sure many others think quietly while sat at their desks.

Comment by George

It’s all very sweet of you guys to back me up – but it’s OK, I can handle any shit I get thrown at me.

To be honest Pete, any awards and stuff I’ve got count for nothing – I am a big believer on being judged on what you’ve achieved today, not what you got in the past. In other areas of life – I might think differently – but in adland I don’t because I get fed up of people living off an ad they did in 1987, especially when they fail to acknowledge the other people who contributed to its creation and result.

As I wrote, I know this post sounds like I am positioning myself as some kind of creative guru – and whilst I think I am pretty good at what I do – I certainly don’t think I am something exceptional or the best in HK. In fact nothing could be further from the truth because I have met some really brilliant people here – creative, intelligent, insightful and pragmatic – it’s just a shame that in the main, they’ve worked outside of the ad industry, but there are some great folk plying their trade in a HK agency too.

I think George makes a great comment relating to the Coke vs Pepsi type attitude, but it could be worse – because rather than view Singapore as their numero uno competitor, it’s other agencies in HK. Of course that is quite similar to many countries – UK, US and Australia in particular – but when you have such a small population with a decreasing level of companies setting up base here, you’d think the desire to compete with the bigger boys wouldn’t just be something your ego would crave, but your balance sheet too.

Talking of balance sheets … apart from the ‘Shine’ promotion I wrote about a couple of days ago … I’ve heard a certain WPP agency here is offering 3 months free work to any new client in a twisted bid to boost revenues. So rather than do work that MAKES people want to come to them, they are fucking up the whole industry [and their existing client base] by futher devaluing what we do. And they wonder why business doesn’t take us seriously …

The irony of all this is that as a city to live in, it’s wonderful. Sure its as expensive as all hell – but the culture is vibrant and the landscape diverse – but sadly for me, that isn’t enough. There’s no honour in beating the lazy – the way to improve is to challenge yourself against the best, though I appreciate this view seems to be in the minority in HK adland … so if there’s any person in HK adland that feels I’m not being a total misguided, opinionated twat, then please get in touch and let’s see what we can do to show what this countries industry is capable of, because I do know that interms of potential – it’s huge.

Comment by Rob

I love George.

Comment by Angus

Hi Rob

There was originally an extra paragraph of ranting in there but it was chopped for space. We’ll get your grumpy self in there next time, I promise! And we did recently quote you saying that you’d rather drink bleach than follow Ashton Kutcher.

Full Media article is here, if anyone wants to read it:

Love the blog, by the way

(Managing editor, Media)

Comment by David Tiltman

Well now I’m shitting myself – the bloody Editor of the Asia’s uber-ad mag reads my rubbish, it’s all over folks – I have to become “nice”.

In all seriousness, I hope David know I’m just teasing – MEDIA has always been very kind to me especially given that if sanity prevailed, you wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence, let alone ask me for comments.

Maybe next time we meet, you can tell me what you really think is going on here. I promise it’ll stay in my head rather than on this blog.

PS: Did I say the bleach thing? God, that’s almost quite funny – must of been an off day!

Comment by Rob

And Angus, I think you should be loving me at this moment, don’t you. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Don;t why but these lines by you encapsulate the mood [ yours + theirs], for me “There’s no honour in beating the lazy – the way to improve is to challenge yourself against the best, though I appreciate this view seems to be in the minority in HK adland”

Comment by bhaskar

The HK creative industry is a shadow of its strong past. This is not purely due to the lethargy and myopia that inhabit local agencies but, as you correctly mention, a by-product of the shift in political and economic geographies.

But while you may think yourself in the minority, I assure you that you’re not alone.

You must meet the gentlemen of the Eight Partnership, you will find allies in your battle.

Very nice to see George grace this blog once again. His blend of insight tinged with a hint of acidic bite has been missed.

Comment by Lee Hill

I couldn’t agree with you more mate. For all these reasons I would find it hard to go back to the industry.

Take a handful of clients in HK and ask them why they advertise their brand. And take a handful of agency people and ask them why they work in advertising – and then compare that to the UK for example. It’s shocking and indicative of why the industry is the way it is. You get answers like – because our competitors advertise and we have to be seen. Or this from a candidate interviewing to be a junior planner – I did not know what else to do, I did not get enough marks to be an accountant. WTF!!

There is a huge lack of understanding in exactly what communications does or can do; a lack of skill, motivation and guts to do it on both the parts of the client and agency. Pile on to that the level of subservience between agencies and clients and it’s inevitable that you have a downward spiral. There is a reason why BBH, W+K and the like are not present here and a reason why Fallon did not last. Even if they made money they would do so compromising their creative integrity.

I agree there are some really talented and motivated agency people here (excluding those who are still basking in the dull glow of their 1990s fame who are the worst offenders but that’s another topic). However, time and time again I have seen them succumb to HK and their pay cheque rather than lift it out of the doldrums.

If I had a dollar for every person I have spoken to who first came to HK with a spark in their eye; got disillusioned by the way things are done; lamented but tried to change it; made little or no progress; got frustrated; left; or stayed, assimilated and started to preach about adutopia.

That’s why I was/am excited when you came to HK because there are still pockets of opportunities, there are still good people and I think you can/will spark the change….but no pressure!

PS. Give Vietnam two years 😉

Comment by Juanita

i’m too ill to care about either singapore or HK.
but i like what george said. you can tell he’s a dad – telling them both to stop squabbling and get something done, for fuck’s sake.

and rob – look at you playing all coy in front of MEDIA editor… bah! i thought you were tuffer’n’that…

Comment by lauren

I knew you’d have a view on this Juanita … and it’s a bloody good one. Infact the only issue I have is in the faith you place in me – but then I know it could be another of your brilliant ploys to either have me adopt or pay for more animals. 🙂

Comment by Rob

I’m not a miserable bastard to everyone Lauren.

Besides, Media haven’t done anything wrong – except make me look a little bit professional, which is going to hurt them far more than me.

Comment by Rob

Wow…this is like that Jean Claude van Damme movie where one of the twins is a badass HK dealer and the other some posh brit..they end up fighting the Triade together and saving HK. JC did both characters. should of got nominated.

Comment by Niko

So that’s it eh – you all think I am some miserable, rude shit.

I’ve never been so complimented in my life. Ha!

Comment by Rob

As with all things, the mistake is thinking it’s about being better than the “competition” when it’s actually about being as good as you can be in a way that’s relevant to the market you’re addressing.

Comment by john

What the hell has happened to this blog?

Comment by Marcus

It’s your fault Mr Brown, you haven’t been around.

Comment by Rob

Don’t blame me. It’s your blog.

Comment by Marcus

are you fucking kidding me marcus? why the fuck are we all here then? weve been hoodfuckingwinked.

Comment by andy@cynic

[…] we’ve also been told our criticism didn’t go far enough. Writing on his blog, Sunshine managing partner Rob Campbell weighed in, arguing that Hong Kong’s creative decline […]

Pingback by Media » Blog Archive » HK vs Singapore… the debate continues

Hey George – you’re comment about Singapore/HK being like Pepsi/Coke is being called a “valid opinion” over on Media Magazine’s blog.

Who’d of thought it – especially me, ha!

Comment by Rob

Be interesting to see if any of this changes anything. Singapore only wins the regional business as it makes it cost effective. The same reason why creative standards started dropping in Hong Kong. It’s not about numbers all the time is it.

Comment by charles

I don’t know if that’s the only reason Charles – maybe interms of attracting regional companies to locate there, but not regional adland, even though I do appreciate there is a correlation between the 2.

Comment by Rob

Remember how I said there was still hope for HK as long as they appointed us to the ‘refresh’ pitch they recently held?

They did. 🙂

Comment by Rob

[…] I don’t know if a Hong Kong agency created it or if they are just running it there, but apart from a few exceptions [mainly people, but a couple of agencies] … it reminds me why I once described that place – in terms of adland, not the culture – as the big ideas ghost town. […]

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