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

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.


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.


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.

26 Comments so far
Leave a comment

like fuck you didnt torture those poor fucks for your own evil satisfaction.

Comment by andy@cynic

Maybe a teensy.

Comment by Rob

i hate to say this campbell, but it looks fucking good. i approve of the game but i hope they made your fucking character weak and annoying. just like real life.
is wieden hiring any of them? do the kennedys even want to work there after 9 months with you? nice work campbell despite the fact you did nothing and just take all the praise from the sidelines. like fucking usual.

Comment by andy@cynic

We will discuss who we hire next week. There should be a good few of them who stand a good chance. And I’ve spoken to some other companies/agencies who are very interested in the guys … so hopefully they’ll all be in creative jobs very soon.

Comment by Rob

for a planner, youre not pretty decent fucking bloke. do they all want to be in the creative department or did you fool some in to being planners. you evil prick.

Comment by andy@cynic

They are interested in roles across the agency … creatives, designers, production, planners and account service. Given they all appreciate the importance of great creativity – and how to get it – they should all add great value to the work, wherever they end up. Even in planning. Ha.

Comment by Rob

and congratulations to me for reading this fucking war and peace length post. only did it for the kennedys in respect of the pain theyve suffered.

Comment by andy@cynic

This is inspiring… can’t say anything else

Comment by Miguel

Oh yes, I can… you’re evil

Comment by Miguel

In the interests of good. Honest. Ahem.

Comment by Rob

The game is fantastic, I would love to play it. Congratulations to everyone, for graduating and surviving Rob.

Comment by Pete

Wow Rob, this is brilliant. Well done everyone, what an amazing experience.

Comment by George

It was great to hear how rewarding you found the experience as well, Robert.

Comment by George

It was mate. It was fucking amazing. I’ll try and send you one of the end-of-year books, I am pretty sure you’ll love it. Some of it is up there with the best of our cynic days. Though a couple are down with the worst … hahaha.

Comment by Rob

Are there great swathes of game play when you just vanish from the screen or didn’t they incorporate your holidays into the narrative?

Comment by John

sometimes doddsy, i almost like you.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hahahaha … no, they included me in it [and Otis] … but my character is literally just my head and I’m sickeningly easy to beat. I guess revenge was sweet for them … which means I taught them well, ha!

Comment by Rob

Just reading this post is inspiring Robert, the course must have been something truly special. Focusing the school on creativity rather than advertising creativity is one of the most valuable lessons they could ever learn. I hope they appreciate that. Well done Kennedys.

Comment by Lee Hill

It was absolutely about creativity in the purest sense. Not just because I can’t teach them about craft, but because I believe creativity without limitation of ad format [but not ending up in shitty, self-serving scam work] is the only way our industry can truly regain its value and celebrate it’s ingenious to companies and culture.

Comment by Rob

That I would consider doing the kennedys, even though I would have to work with you again, is the best way to say how great this course looks. Congrats.

Comment by Bazza


Comment by Jemma King

Sounds fantastic.

Comment by Jonathan Rosenberg

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Hey Rob. Just crossed your blog for no good reason.

I worked with Matteo after you’ve gone. Partnering up with him on campaigns. God it felt so good to be with a guy that gave himself no boundaries and had the balls to present any ideas starting on the basis of « Hey, it works, let’s do it then! »
When most of creatives nowadays prefer to stuck their nose on what Pinterest and YouTube feeds them this week.

Thank you for having me meeting Matteo. I owe you one.

Comment by P

Oh this is lovely … thank you so much. He is a wonderful guy who gives his whole self to the creative opportunity. Watching him grow and evolve was one of the best things about The Kennedys. I really appreciate you writing and I hope you’ve told him this. Ha.

Comment by Rob

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