Goodbye Shanghai: Wieden+Kennedy’s Rob Campbell looks back on seven years in China

Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai’s head of planning Rob Campbell is off to a new life in Los Angeles, but before he departs the popular blogger has a few things to get off his chest about China’s ad industry

I’m a cliché. I have succumbed to the classic ‘seven-year itch’ except instead of walking away from a wonderful wife and son, I’m walking away from a wonderful company and country.

Yep, I’m leaving my beloved Wieden+Kennedy and China. So if they’re so wonderful, why am I leaving?

Well, it’s not because I’m having a midlife crisis – where my head has been turned by something that is ultimately going to lead me to destruction – it’s for a whole host of painfully sensible reasons.

But that’s not what this article is about because Mumbrella Asia asked me to write about my time in China –a kind-of ‘what I’ve learnt and what are the implications for the industry moving forward’ type-of-thing.

The trouble is, I know those things tend to ignite the same sense of dread as hearing a colleague ask: “Do you want to hear about my dream?” So I’ve decided to ignore the brief and write a love letter instead.

I’ve absolutely loved my seven years in China. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it has been one of the best times of my life – both personally and professionally. Being able to see the huge shifts that have gone on first-hand feels like a total privilege. The creativity, cultural diversity and technology.

Few things will ever make me as happy as being able to tell people in the West there are areas where China is literally miles ahead of them. Areas those in the West were convinced they were dominant in.

Of course there were challenges along the way. Like brands who prefer convenient answers over doing the right thing and a general attitude of ‘good enough is good enough’ to name but two.

But I’ve worked on projects with brands I will forever be proud to be a part of. I’ve re-learnt almost everything I thought I knew.

And on top of all that, the industry in China has started to realise what it is capable of being on it’s own terms, not the terms of others.

Now, anyone who knows me is probably freaking out how positive this article is, so I’ll leave you with seven things [one for each year I’ve been in China] that I hope the industry will stop doing.

This is not because I want to my cultivate a grumpy-bastard image, but because as much as things have improved over the years, the industry is in a fragile state and if we don’t keep pushing forward we could start slipping backwards.

So no more decks saying: ‘China is big’. Everyone knows that. Even a myopic Donald Trump supporter living in Idaho knows that. And can Westerners stop throwing the word ‘Confucius’ on every third slide please?

The clichés of casting. Seriously, if an alien landed here and watched the ads, they’d never know this is a country with incredible diversity and nuance.

And please, please, please no more toilet paper ads acting like it’s a symbol of status and sophistication. It’s not. It’s something you clean your arse with.

You might not believe it, but there are more ways to connect to culture than HTML5. Honestly.

To the planners who act like they’re academic intellectuals – juststop. You’re not fooling anyone and you’re undermining a discipline that needs to be recognised for uncovering exciting creative opportunities, not spouting shit read from a business magazine.

Stop with the scam. It’s embarrassing and it is killing the industry. We all know who does it and people don’t give a shit if they’ve paid for a small store in Wuhan to run their ‘idea’, it’s still bullshit.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it isn’t. It’s lazy and sells the industry short – not just financially, but creatively. There’s a bunch of incredibly talented people here in China who given the space and time, will reward us with something new and great. I am going to bloody miss you China.


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