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

If Mad Men Was Made For The Modern Asian Advertising Scene …
September 28, 2010, 8:51 am
Filed under: Comment

… it would be identical in almost every way except the female roles would be filled with Asian men and women.

Don’t believe me?

Have a look at the photos from the Campaign Asia Magazine launch party.

Lot of white men there aren’t there.

You could say an excessive amount of white men – even though the ones I can recognise are genuinely good, decent and clever guys.

Putting the people in the photos aside, I should point out I’m not suggesting [all] Westerners in Asian advertising are like their Mad Men counterparts – philandering alcoholics who rule by fear, dominance & arrogance – however it does disturb me how many of them/us are in positions of power when we are never going to know this culture as well as a local.

Of course there are some valid reasons for having an expat ad community in Asia – plus it’s always great to have people with experience guide and nurture the next generation of talent, [which in adland, at this moment in time, is probably more likely come from the West] but sadly I fear that when that next generation take their seat at the table, it will still be disproportionately filled with expats than Asians and probably expat males to boot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should give a high ranking job to someone just because of their ethnicity rather than their ability/talent, however I find it hard to believe in a population of 1.3 billion people – a population who are smarter, more dynamic and business savvy than most of us Westerners – there are only a few that have been deemed capable of running a department, let alone the whole bloody ad agency and even if that is the case, then I know some training would change all that because the ability is there even if the experience currently isn’t.

Saying all that, I don’t subscribe to the view that you must be part of the target audience to understand the audience.

As long as you put in the effort, don’t think you can ever understand it all and collaborate with a wide range of people who have experience in different – yet relevant – areas, I believe you can make a big impact regardless of how different your life and situation is from your ‘target audiences’ … and I know there are many of Western, agency bosses who subscribe to this view and live by this view – but it still makes me feel vey uncomfortable that so many agencies have white guys in senior positions with locals supporting them.

I should point out that not every agency is like this – but sadly they, like Asians and women in senior roles – are in the minority.

Hell, even my agency has 4 middle aged, white guys in the top 4 positions – though we’re pretty lucky given the local talent we have in the place is of such a high standard, they’re going to unsurp us from out seats any day and I am actually quite pleased about that fact.

This isn’t a view I’ve just started to have.

I remember writing to Campaign a few years ago saying it was ridiculous a [then] bald 30 something from Nottingham was in charge of the planning for the region … and whilst I think I am pretty good at my job, the reality is my real skill is being able to help people separate societal reality from cultural prejudice and spot a good insight from an average one … which is why with some training and exposure, I will hopefully hand over the reigns to some talented bugger from this region rather than another expat.

There’s a lot to be said for diversity, but when the majority are in the minority, it’s time we looked at what we were doing.

[PS: I have used the words ‘local talent’ in this post. I hate that term – it sounds condescending and does not reflect what I really mean so please note when it is used, it is meant in terms of talented people from this region rather than talented people from this region, but not quite as talented as Westerners]

25 Comments so far
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youre still there though arent you campbell but you wont be for much longer after slagging off every fucking whitey run agency in the region, including your own. remember campbell, its called wieden + kennedy not wieden + kennedy + campbell. our t was a joke, you dont run the place and they can chuck you out though they havent yet which means they must be very fucking tolerant. or scared.

quite a good fucking post. for you. well done.

and some of the people in those photos look like extras from night of the living dead or project fucking runway. that is not a compliment.

Comment by andy@cynic

Great post Rob, only you could write a post like it.

The situation you’ve described has been like that for many years and while it’s moved on from the days of FILTH [Failed In London, Trying Hong Kong] it’s still disappointing many senior positions are held by white Western men, even if they are predominantly good and experienced individuals.

Comment by Pete

he only wrote this because he wasnt fucking invited to the launch though theres some fat bald fuck who is doing a pretty good impression of him in half the fucking photos.

Comment by andy@cynic

That’s right, I’m gutted I wasn’t at a ceremony where I could mingle with men in suits all talking about golf, stock portfolios and other completely wrong cliches from the ‘men in suits must be boring’ book of Campbell prejudice.

Comment by Rob

You’re talking about Western companies in Asia with Western bosses right? Is there anything really that wrong with that or am I missing something?

Comment by DH

There’s nothing wrong with it Dave.

As I said, there’s many reasons why some companies need/want a Western head running their Asian operation – but when the majority of the agencies ‘heads of department’ are also Western [or none-Asian], it starts having the potential of becoming more of an issue and given this has continued to be the case for many years, we have to ask ourselves how this can be possible because the people of Asia are obscenely clever, so there must be other factors influencing this situation of which some are probably very sensible and well-meant and some maybe more subliminally unnerving.

I suppose when I saw the photos, the impact of seeing so many Western men shocked me – even though, as I said, I’ve known this to be the case for a long time and that the people I recognise in the photo are generally top guys who have invested their soul into the region rather than just treat it as a playground.

Comment by Rob

All this post has made me do is want a job in Asia.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Didn’t you read what I said Billy, you still have to have some talent – being white isn’t enough.


Comment by Rob

Nice post Rob. I’d like to know your opinion of the Asian expat in other Asian countries phenomenon. I was talking to someone a couple of years back, and they’d mentioned that there were a lot of Singaporeans going to China to head companies there.

Because just as the white guys did some 20 years back, they had the experience that perhaps most locals didn’t have. So basically do you think there’s a difference between a Singaporean running a Chinese agency and a “white guy” running one?

Comment by rafik

Hi mate – I know exactly what you’re talking about and whilst there are some awesome Singaporean agency folk/leaders, in my experience one of the factors that makes them attractive to some Western companies is because they feel they ‘look Asian’ but behave ‘Western’.

Of course that is a highly prejudice comment – and one that is not meant to be a generalised view – however it cannot be denied that from a cultural perspective, many Singaporean’s view of the region is as prejudiced as many of their Western counterparts unless they have experienced or been actively exposed to the wider region.

As I said, I don’t believe you have to be one ‘type’ of person to do a good job, but the secret is knowing what you’re bad at so that your experience can work with others who have different skill bases and make something even greater happen.

Comment by Rob

Thanks for putting the wanderlust to rest- if talent is required rather than ethnicity I’ll stay put.

Or become an ethnographer.

Comment by northern

Or a Barista.

Comment by northern

Or a Media Arts planner?

Comment by Rob

116 pages devoted to the world of advertising – that must be selling like hotcakes. Its just what you need whilst you’re waiting for your coffee to be created.

Comment by John

Oh very droll Rob

Comment by northern

okay, im just gonna say it, dont hate me… referring to “the people of asia” as “obscenely clever” and the likes… if find this weird. i think its a bit like saying all women or men or people are clever, or, on the contrary, dumb… i guess you said this because you feel there is a glass ceiling for groups of people that share a quite low, yet obvious, common denominator. a glass ceiling which is there for no intelligent reason, and you want that to be broken. judging from the pictures, there seems to be one, i agree.

Comment by peggy

campbell follows the michael moore school of arguing. he goes to the opposite extreme of the people he opposes and hopes to fuck the general fucking view is met in the middle, though he secretly hopes he wins overall because hes a fucking only child with all the shit that brings.

Comment by andy@cynic

Thanks for being my PR person there Andy, very kind.

You’re right Peggy, not everyone in Asia is obscenely clever, but if you were to believe the shit I hear way too often [or you could simply read ‘Grey’s: EYE ON ASIA’ report], you’d think Asian adfolk couldn’t even tie their shoelaces without some Westerners help and not only is that bollocks, it’s fucking naive … but then the people saying it have a lot to lose if the masses started getting chances to show what they can do.

Comment by Rob

what the fuck are you doing up at this time campbell? havent you got a wife to bore the shit out of?

and you owe me 10k for defending your honour. and thats us dollars not that chinese shit. whinge all you fucking like but its still cheaper than hill and fucking knowlton.

Comment by andy@cynic

Pick up the phone, I have some news that will make you happy. Sure, it won’t make you as happy as me being sacked or divorced, but it’ll bring a smile to your face.

Comment by Rob

come on then you fucker. it better be good, hearing your whiny tones first thing in the day is more likely to make me take a fucking overdose than happy.

Comment by andy@cynic

ahh, i see, andy… is that a similar approach to saying planners are a waste of space? 😛

Comment by peggy

campbell uses that approach, i say it as i see it which means what i say is always fucking right especially where waste of fucking time and space planners are fucking concerned.

Comment by andy@cynic

“Being white isn’t enough” Hilarious.

Comment by Blinky Signs

is there just too much white-male-power bullshit at the top for chinese staff to bother? or do they value family more than their white-male counterparts? these are some of the reasons given for women not being at the top… you never know, it might sway for the racist kids too.

Comment by lauren

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