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

You Don’t Have To Be Mental To Read One Of My Presentations, But It Helps …
June 6, 2013, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Comment

So today I presented at the wonderful Mumbrella360 conference.

My presentation was about working in China and both attacking the [negative] myths about the place as well as celebrating the amazing things you do.

In essence it was about the tension between frustration and awesomeness which is why I entitled it: ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Sadomasochist To Work In China, But It Helps’.

Amazingly – given the amount of little digs about Australia’s prejudice and arrogance towards Asian advertising that littered the presentation – it seemed to have gone down quite well, but that could also be because they thought that by not asking many questions, it means I’d leave their island more quickly.

Anyway, for anyone who is interested [read: no one] I have attached it below.

In typical ‘Campbell style’, it’s my usual random picture + ambiguous statement approach which means that unless you were there, it will make even less sense than if you were there.

In addition, I have removed the 2 video case studies [Converse & NIKE] that appeared in the television sets on slides 58 and 68 … though the good news [if you can call it that] is that I’ve hardly recycled any of my old presentations in this and you get to see a bunch of new random pictures + ambiguous statements.

But obviously, you’ll also see some of my old favourites.

Anyway, here it is. There’s a brief debrief on what the hell I’m trying to say, below.

Slides 1-7: Just setting the context of my chat. I’m not Asian, or Australian. I won’t be talking specifically about W+K, nor will I tell you a bunch of ‘facts’ about China that every bastard on the planet knows [it’s big, has lots of people, they have a lot of money and get turned on by luxury brands] … but I will be rambling aimlessly like delusional, self appointed Aussie social commentator, Alan Jones.

Slides 8-29: These slides talk about what I found when I full-time moved to Asia in 2005 … the different frame-of-reference for marketing between Australians and Asians … the shift that occurred in 2008 when digital reached a critical mass in China and how it affected how the post-90’s generation started to communicate with it.

It also talks about the 3 fundamental cultural and contextual differences that wholeheartedly influence how Chinese youth behave [especially in terms of how they use the net] and that this manifests itself into them living in the ‘grey area’ between ‘being seen to live by societal expectations’ and achieving personal fulfillment … which is obviously very different to how many in the West live, which is almost self-contained, double lives – free from the worry of being constantly watched by Government and society.

In essence, this is setting up the view that if you take China on face value, you lose but if you understand the complexities and hypocrisies [ie: how they live in the ‘grey’] you find what’s really going on in their hearts, minds and soul.

Slides 31-46: These talk about how a lot of technology has been ‘repurposed’ by Chinese youth so that they appear to be acting in the manner that they are expected to live, but actually are using it to fulfill their personal wants and desires. Of which one example is getting laid. And the other is wanting a long term relationship.

To be honest, the fact people go on a messenger app in the hope of finding love or a shag is quite sad and reflects the conflict and issues many Chinese youth feel they can’t discuss in everyday life. Which, to be fair, is probably like the average teenager in Sussex.

And yes, that is my wife on slide 38. The reason I show her is because the following pages present a number of Chinese women looking for love & sex and I want people to know that she was perfectly aware what I was doing while doing the ‘research’ for this section of the presentation.

For the record, the reason I only show women is because there were few men on the site who were so blatant in their photography or request for love or sex. That said, when I did speak to some of the ladies, they did say there was an awful lot of men who replied to a request for a photo with a picture of their penis … so please don’t think I am taking sides, a lot of men were totally pathetic.

Slides 47-59: This section explains that for all the confidence and exuberance this Post-90’s generation appear to have, they are actually a generation that are instilled with the traditional values of China – especially group acceptance. It also talks about what you have to do to create behaviour change [using our ‘Love Noise’ Converse work as an example] and how the key is about creating and validating a new frame of reference for them, rather than trying to do it through advertising.

[PLEASE NOTE: In the presentation, the TV that appears on slide 58 actually shows a video, so even though it say’s ‘The End’ in this version, please don’t think I am suggesting the role of television is over because that’s absolutely not the case – especially in China – it is simply how the slide appears without the video file embedded in it]

Slides 60-69: This is about breaking down the myth that people in China only care about luxury. While there is a lot of people that do – the reality is it’s less about price point and more about the social value at that particular time.

It also explains how this social value can be gained by pushing – in the appropriate way – social and cultural values and I use our NIKE China Olympic campaign – ‘Greatness’ – to demonstrate this … a campaign that apparently is China’s most successful social media campaign of all time.

[You can see some of the user generated content on slide 67]

Slide 70: Is my wrap up, which is basically [1] Respect the culture [2] Continually experiment and investigate [which I sum up by stealing Northern’s awesome phrase, “Play in the jungle, not in the zoo”] and [3] Stop judging before you’ve tried it.

Slide 71: Just reminds people that there are a minimum of 3 sides to most Chinese societies attitude and behavior – their personal/private, peer and public/society sides – and unless you explore and investigate all 3, you’re never going to get close to understanding what’s really going on in their hearts and minds.

In short, forget thinking life is black & white and start embracing the maddeningly frustrating and revealing, grey.

46 Comments so far
Leave a comment

The content might be different but you’re using the same erection slide as usual. Is it a photo of Paul the horse cock?

Comment by DH

its always a big cock. when he worked with us it was that bird with the massive tits. wieden has turned the fucker gay.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Rob. Your presentation was fascinating and inspiring. Really made me want to go to china. Awesome work.

Comment by Ian

I really liked this and not just because there are some new slides.
This should be a guide to all ad folk, not just the ones thinking about China.
Simply wonderful.
I’ll blatantly steal the last slide

Comment by northern

You were the only speaker who spoke their mind and had real passion. It was powerful stuff. Come back next year.

Comment by imam

You know a presentation is good when it is 71 slides long but you wish it went on for longer. Excellent stuff Robert. You reveal unique yet usable insights about Chinese society and do it in a way that is fresh and memorable.

You would have been exceptional today. I am disappointed I didn’t see it. Was it videoed and will it be available online?

Comment by Lee Hill

Different words. Different fonts. Different pictures. Who are you?

Comment by Bazza

It’s really good Robert. I love the reason for featuring Jill. She must feel so proud.

Comment by Bazza

By the way, feel free to steal my soundbite, but the price for total buyout is either a picture of Morrisey in every presentation it’s usedpresentation, some free Nike Flyknits or another free holiday

Comment by northern

Did Rob get you a free holiday? From Lee? I’ve never had one and I worked on his business for 3 years.

Comment by Bazza

Just a free jolly in Korea. He told an awards organiser I know what I’m talking about (he can’t like them very much) No First Class travel involved I’m afraid (Lee?)

Comment by northern

“Just a free jolly in Korea” said northern 1% planner.

Comment by DH

You’re not doing yourself any favours with that comment Northern.

Comment by George

Oh give over. You know I’m very grateful and appreciative.
My working life is mostly going to meetings in Swindon, Slough or Newbury.
I’m actually doing a speech, which I’m already panicked about.
And to be honest, I’m just pleased to see Freddie again and meet Rob.

Comment by northern

you fucking gay. and who the fuck looks forward to meeting campbell. oh thats right, people who have never met the fucker. funny how they never make that bastard mistake again.

Comment by andy@cynic

Make sure you didn’t misunderstand what Rob got you. Are you sure it’s not a Planner’s holiday in Northern Korea?

Comment by Ian Gee

That’s exactly what it is.
The sad fact is that’s a holiday to me

Comment by northern

This is great Robert. Interesting insights that link to powerful and practical advice. Add in the fact it looks great and you have the blueprint for writing addictive presentations.

Comment by George

More on what you mean by creating new frame of reference and how it’s validated please.

Comment by John

stop showing interest doddsy, dont you fucking know what that could result in campbell fucking doing.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’m hoping he’ll reveal the “depth” of his thinking and face the consequences.

Comment by John

what John said..

Comment by niko

What do you mean, explain what I mean? I say it at the summary page of that section. OK … OK … it’s a bit ambiguous and without seeing the case study videos, it makes it even harder to comprehend.

Basically, given the cultural trait of group acceptance, you have to do – and commit – to something that allows others to see they would not look foolish or be alone if they embarked on something outside of traditional behaviour.

What this means for brands is that rather than doing ads that try to encourage others to take that first step, they have to actively do something (& openly support that thing) so that society can feel this behaviour/action is validated and can have the confidence to explore on their own.

You really need to see our Love Noise or Greatness China case studies but its not about doing advertising – nor one off experiential campaigns – but putting your neck out and showing you believe this viewpoint so others can believe it with you.

In other words, it’s being prepared to fuck up. Which few brands would ever dare do (hence their love of celebrity endorsement) even though if you do it right, it can change your business in amazing ways.

Comment by Rob

Oh that’s what you mean.

Comment by John

So, it’s not about reflecting culture, but about encouraging/prompting people to throw off the shackles of existing culture and think/behave differently (albeit not in an explcitly Chinese way if I’ve interpreted those case studies correctly)

Comment by John

Basically. Obviously you have to understand the cultural context so the gap between existing and new behaviour doesn’t seem so dangerous or big but at its heart – or should I say, in the most sumplistic way stated ever written – it’s about encouraging the emergence of a new culture rather than mirroring existing culture.

Comment by Rob

And in China, ensuring social momentum and validation is key hence it’s not about making ads but doing stuff that puts the brands skin in the game.

Comment by Rob

I hope that’s not aTaleb quote.

Comment by John

More likely to be a tellytubby quote …

Comment by Rob

And , as I’m sure you know, I wasn’t suggesting it was simple, I was just trying to ask my question in as few words as possible so as to minimise typos.

Comment by John

Oh, I knew that. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Now how do you ensure social momentum? Is that down to the social media gurus in the creative department?

Comment by John

Social momentum has nothing to do with social media. Nothing. It’s about the “hotness” of the brand at any given time. It’s about ensuring you are seen with a brand that’s über-relevant right now, not necessarily a good or expensive brand whose best days are maybe behind them. Or at least behind them at that moment.

Though I’m sure a social media guru will say they can do it all. Including solving world peace and poverty.

Comment by Rob

Calm down, I was being facetious.

Comment by John

That’s what 4 days of being in Australia does to me.

Comment by Rob

seems you did ok campbell. before you get too fucking full of yourself, remember pleasing australians is like pleasing a red fucking setter puppy. throw a fucking ball in the air and they think youre fucking god.

Comment by andy@cynic

Easier than the front row of a one direction audience.

Comment by DH

I miss the impact font days.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Thank you for all the nice comments. I’m as shocked as you are.

That said, I’m at the airport preparing to fly out of Australia on the off-chance the people wake up, realise what I said about their cultural attitude towards China (not to mention my hatred of the State of Origin) and try and hunt me down.


Comment by Rob

Nice piece, Rob. The outsider’s perspective reveals the nature of the ‘water’ we’re all swimming in here.

However, much of what you say is more relevant to ‘youth’ brands, – and to international brands – rather than Chinese brands in general. (And fair enough, as that’s what you;re working on).

Try that with a JV though, and it’s a lot harder going …

One client I’m familiar with here is an SOE, one of those Leninist mega-corporations which control much of China’s economy on behalf of the Party. It thinks and behaves more like a government department than a company – a ‘Ministry’ which simply happens to be in the business of making and selling ‘stuff’ rather than ‘rules’. Their internalised model for ‘how communications work’ is the Party Propaganda Dept. It’s all about ‘putting messages out’ rather than ‘putting meaning in’. So they have an obsession with ‘slogans’ – i.e. taglines that can sit comfortably on one of those red banners that festoon their factories to exhort the workers on to greater things. The notion that ‘to change culture you have to create culture’ would be pure heresy to them.

Then combine this rigid orthodoxy with a risk-averse, German JV partner. Ironically, the brand itself is based on the idea of ‘progressiveness’. One side doesn’t understand what this means at all, (and wouldn’t like the implications at all, if the penny ever dropped for them) and the other is strictly conservative. It’s a marriage made in hell …

I’ve seen the same sort of issues at work in others, too – including the world’s biggest white goods maker. They don’t have a JV partner, but they too function more as an instrument of government (party) policy than as the multi-national corporation they aspire to be. Their understanding of the nature of brands and communications is decades behind their global competitors – again, it’s a ‘propaganda’ model that owes more to Party sloganeering than to consumer response-led creativity.

For the benefit of overseas readers of your fine blog who don’t know much about China, I’d argue that this model is far more representative of how Chinese business generally operates than what you’re talking about. So, despite the frustrations it causes me on a daily basis, I find it strangely reassuring, as it means the Chinese won’t be taking over the world for while yet. The contradictions between their world view and the outside reality are simply too great.

Comment by Ian Gee

Absolutely Ian … though to be fair to me, the preso was based less on brands and more on how to understand Chinese youth, something I’m alarmed at how bad agencies here do.

That said, your point about JV’s in China is bang on. I have to deal with some of them and the tension between “international brand standards” and local “revenue maximisation” creates a committee that never achieves a perfect solution.

That said, with China often ensuring double digit growth for international brands, standards of audience understanding and brand value is overlooked.

While I see why companies would do that (even if I disagree with it) when the economy in China does eventually start to stumble, the brands who have sacrificed brand value for profit will – in my mind – suffer most because Chinese society will prefer to spend their money on brands that enhance their standing not just have a name that once ago, meant something.

Comment by Rob

Very interesting presentation (and comments).

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Hi Rob.
I enjoyed your preso
It made me feel not so alone in a sea of Sydney advertising greyness. It was reassuring to see one lonely ray of passion at the conference.

To de-construct your presentation it would be, cult is king
and how to respectfully introduce a cult to over 1 billion people.
Your winged fonts however disrupted my cosy power point trance (a good thing).

At Thursdays question time did you hear John Mescall of McCANN comment that inclusive advertising advertising was none of their business? This representation that only a monocultural Australia is valid endorses the xenophobia your taxi-driver so eloquently expressed.


Comment by Gerard Hosier

Hello Gerard, nice to have you pop by and comment. I’m also very glad you liked my presentation – that is very kind of you.

That said, I don’t know if I agree with your use of the term ‘cult’ … that sounds too much like I’m encouraging ‘brain washing’ and that’s not the case at all.

Creating culture and cult like behaviour are – in my mind – very different and while there may be some that go on to develop an almost myopic view on what they should think and do, the reality is most people have way too many things to think about to be so absorbed they can’t see the wood for the trees.

As for the McCann guy, well sadly that comment is representative of far too many people in Australian adland. There are some amazing people there – but the overall experience I had, was that they wanted to be exclusive to ‘Australia’ than inclusive to the World which is possibly why so few campaigns have been able to break beyond the boundaries of that wonderful nation, despite being blessed with some incredible talent.

I wrote about it – sort of – ages ago here:

Comment by Rob

[…] know for a fact, all my years living in China/Asia made an astounding difference to how I think and who I am. Differences I still embrace and rely on to this […]

Pingback by I Love This Photo … | The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

[…] Campbell, in one of his presentation, wrote that you have to explore at least three sides of every topic to understand what goes on in […]

Pingback by Contextual thinking – Seventy-Magazine

Leave a Reply