Monday 31 March 2008

Electric Dreams Part II

I'm so revved up about my latest purchase that I'm quite giddy with excitement. Over the weekend I finally decided on an Electric Bike and opted for a second hand QUICK model with only one previous female owner from Iceland of all places. It did feel weird sending emails back and forth to the land that brought us the wonderful Bjork, and in some ways I think the exotic nature of the purchase sealed the deal. That and the freedom and independence I feel it gives.

Looks a bit girly doesn't it? Well I think it rocks. I've already taken it for a rather large spin around town from Xidan to Tiananmen Square and down to Jianguomen Wai. I have absolutely no idea why electric bikes haven't taken off around the planet although I do like that there is no need for a license, road tax or a helmet. Ladies and Gentlemen the future is here. It's just unevenly distributed.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Steamed Buns & Hip Kids (Past and Future)

There's no need to throw out the past to embrace the future. The past is part of our fabric and contributes to our future. If we hide from history and pretend it didn't happen, history disrupts our future happiness. Coming to terms with the past is part of growing up.

I've finally moved out of the dreadful serviced apartment environment to a 2000 year old (rebuilt) Courtyard House by the Forbidden city and I'm loving the sheer history of it all. The peace and quiet of the neighbourhood really appeals; particularly the birdsong in the morning. I only knew I'd missed real twitters once I'd heard it again. Anyway I've always wanted to live only a stone's throw from Tiananmen Square.

Close by is a traditional shop that sells the freshest steam buns and dumpling soup I've had since I've been here, in an environment that is proper Beijing. I much prefer this type of restaurant to the luxury ones so often preferred by the expat community over here.

Some old boy takes that hulking dough and kneads it old-school-stylee into the right consistency by hand. He looks like he's been doing it for decades.

It doesn't take much of an imagination with B&W photography to visualize being back in the past, to a time when secrets were whispered in darkened alley ways for fear of public humiliation from the Party during the naming and shaming episodes of the cultural revolution, or perhaps the rarely mentioned Great Leap Forward which people from the West will know more about than many under 30 who are local.

So to provide some contrast to my morning steamed buns and dumpling soup (cost: 1 1/2 Euros) We did a bit of a Xidan run again on Saturday and I'm starting to like the scruffier shopping mall with mad T Shirts that aren't always trying to be so hip, but because of the sheer volume and variety of output that China produces, sometimes score a Black Swan for creativity and luck on the most random of details such as words and spelling, or Kitsch design serendipity.

Again these Beijing youngster are terribly endearing and for me constitute the really nice side of the people in this wonderful city. There is a naivety there, but as you can see it's not always incongruous with having personality or their own style.

Maybe we should get some of these folk into the agency ASAP because I'm starting to feel the pain of not hearing about creativity or ideas in four months, while definitely seeing it constantly outside the confines of the agency walls. These kids are the future and China is going to be a wonderful place for it. That I'm confident of.

Uniqlo Beijing

I blogged about the Uniqlock digital idea back in June last year (click the speaker icon in the bottom right corner for full effect - it still rocks as it's regularly updated) and frankly I'm a big fan of the marketing communications of Uniqlo. They are hip, refreshing and quirky.

I only occasionally shop there as most of the stuff is too straight forward for my liking but if I was into that plain and simple, done-well thing that Gap had going a few years back I'd much prefer Uniqlo over Gap because of the way they communicate. In short I love their personality.

I anticipate that Uniqlo are going to be massive in China after seeing their latest shop open in Beijing at Joy Shopping Centre. I was ascending the subway escalators a few days back and caught site of Chloë Sevigny on some Uniqlo wall posters announcing a store opening. I was immediately hooked. Now I know this will look kind of dull to people in other parts of the world but locally this is about as standout as it gets in China/Beijing so I do feel the need to blog about it. These executions are cutting edge for this neck of the woods, and would normally be stamped all over with the "well in China we do things differently" creative meddling that results in most communications as lamentable marketing mediocrity if not downright spammy once it is fiddled with.

I heard Neil Christie of W&K in 'this podcast' refer to some parts of the world looking for the differences instead of commonalities of an idea, and I couldn't agree more. Once the dull marketing folk who should really be in product development get their mitts on a bit of communication that is handed to them by an agency without the balls to stand for anything other than spreadsheet profit and loss, it becomes evident that the cardinal rule of advertising gets lost in the communication theory quagmire of venn diagrams, brand visions, engagement planning and link testing.

The first rule of advertising is to be NOTICED and that by its very nature means putting a few noses out of joint - It means having the courage to stand for something. Time and again I see an approach to Chinese advertising that is so timid it begs the question why aren't the suits in charge working in banks or actuarial cubicles instead of the (cough) creative industries?

Anyway in short the Uniqlo stuff is a breath of fresh air and hasn't been watered down. It's not Chinese, it's not Japanese, it's not American but it will be successful. The point of focus groups was never to let the 'consumer' (ugh) tell us what the creative direction should be it was about creative development and disaster checking. Those who hang on the focus groups' every word are destined to be followers not leaders. It takes leadership to be a brand, not the correctional marketing, and insipid rear view mirror copycat mimicry that is endemic in what should be the most exciting and new emerging market on the planet. There's a reason why China doesn't have a real global brand yet and I've talked about it more extensively in the comments over here. There's deeper socio-historical reasons too but I will go into that more fully when I write the post that suggests if you're over 25 and in advertising in China - You are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Uniqlo - We salute you for being the nail that sticks out, for having a personality and being interesting. Rant over.

Marketing Mediocrity

It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks, but really I wouldn't have it any other way. There's always one bad apple right to deal with right? ;)

Saturday 29 March 2008

Bearbricks and Banal

There's a genre of Youtube video uploads with young, specifically doe eyed Asian girls staring into the camera or miming to Karaoke which I come across a few months back and then saw subverted over at Asi's, with a youthful American guy doing a very funny parody. You can check out the definitive curator of these Youtube uploads called mingming19, although I don't feel inclined to post the latest development which is a eurotechnopop (annoying nosebleed) variant that makes me feel a wee bit ill.

But what I do find interesting is the crossover of the Youtube visual to T Shirts pictured above which Gustavo and I came across last week at Xidan. I like this and I think its more interesting that the inspiration is citizen generated and shifts from digital first to the real world after. Note the
'BEARBRICK' in the young girls hand which is huge out here and across Asia at the moment.

Friday 28 March 2008


There, that got your attention didn't it?

Today is Friday and I know you're all just gagging to labour away on some spreadsheets to quantify the unquantifiable. So to ease the pain, we (note the use of the Royal we, which we invoke if only to mock the rapidly aging farts at Wallpaper) are giving away some stunning Chinese prizes including a genuine post cultural-revolution antique - OK so its only mid 80's but a lot of cultural stuff got wiped out during those times and so its the real deal.

First prize originates from a rare film import of a Charles Bronson Movie that escapes me for the time being pictured below.

Second prize is a Super XXL Chairman Mao T Shirt which is actually something we don't see too much of here in China. What with him being 70% good and 30% bad.

In order to win these fabulous prizes, shipped to any GPS position on the planet (including Nottingham) all you have to do is answer the following Olympic question in the cleverest or funniest way possible. The question is for the Olympic 'tag line' pictured below:

What is the dream?

Entries in the comments section please, with the winner and runner up to be chosen by next Monday 9.00 AM GMT. No use of the official explanation will be accepted. What with it being so profoundly unprofound.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Big Dog Beta (Early Big Dog Robot Testing)

If you haven't seen my post titled DARPA first, then I really recommend you go over here and watch this before checking out the video below. This is why the internet and citizen/indigenous content were made for each other.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Awareness Test

I know this one by WCRS, has been doing the rounds for a few weeks now, but this is rather cheeky creative and it still holds up after multiple viewings.


I've stayed well away from this subject apart from a nod to some of the themes that create this type of tension all round the world, including I might add the troubles in Ireland, which as it slowly heals itself, is surely a solid example of how only dialogue has a chance to ameliorate conflict. Anything else is a vacuum and/or the sort of binary polarisation that we are beginning to see played out in the theater of media. This morning however the front page of China Daily has a lead story headlined "Students rap media 'hegemony' " and I feel that it would be constructive to highlight the obvious, because pluarlism of opinion is not a default reporting in China.

I should point out that I'm not strictly speaking in favour of China's withdrawal from Tibet. It's way too far down the line for that to be a constructive move. Tibet was a piss poor theocracy before the Chinese Communist party annexed it over 1949-51 and it will be a dirt poor theocracy if the impossible happened and the Dalai Lama was invited in for a red-carpet-run to the throne in Lhasa.

We all now know very well that failed states are extremely hard to prop up. There's is possibly nothing more we would like to do in Afghanistan and Iraq than wrap up and call it a day if we weren't all so guilty of being compliant in the biggest media con job since say
Kristallnacht with it's skillfully orchestrated violence or the more contemporary Weapons for Mass Delusion hunt. No it's better to let people stand on their own two feet and that can only come about with the maturity that maybe a few hundred years of participatory democracy gives such as the recent devolution we have seen with the Scottish and Welsh parliaments in the United Kingdom. Even then the discourse can be heated and confrontational.

The point is that bias in the media is always going to be evident. The notion that news media don't have bias is just plain stupid. Guardian readers like their daily dose of Liberalism and Telegraph readers like their daily dose of Conservatism. CNN despite it's left leaning bias couldn't provide the perspective that the Arab States needed and thus Al Jazeera was born. If you're looking for objectivity in your news I suggest you read both sides of an opinion and form your own. That's as good as its going to get.

But here's the point for writing this post. China is already emerging as a world power, if not the psychological de facto world-power already. This requires from the peoples of the world a change in mindset as to how the old order is perceived. As the United States staggers under a mountain of debt built by rich folk selling bad loans to poor folk with the poor folk picking up the tab it's time to reassess the shape of the world. There's a new kid on the block and if you feel uncomfortable with that then I guess its worth reminding you that the obsession with wealth creation known as Neo Liberal Capitalism is the reason why China is on the rise. Didn't we teach them this way? Didn't we say it's all about who owns the dollars? About the money and the power?

That doesn't mean though that the obvious shouldn't be pointed out. For as those Chinese students abroad petition Gordon Brown with their "29 Pence Action" Campaign, (notably missing from the blogosphere), a mature civilization's response should welcome pluralism of opinion and that they are indeed highlighting a bias in the Western Media's reporting on Tibet, for the Western Media have mistakenly taken to reporting history for reporting news. What happened in 1949 is history what happened in Tibet this month is news.

Finally I should end on the most obvious point for those Chinese overseas who are blessed with the ability to take their grievances to the Western Media. Good luck to you, but surely the irony of being able to do this while here I am, several hundred yards from The National People's Congress, blogging away on yet another banned blogging platform by the net nanny, in the heart of Beijing with absolutely no chance of writing a letter to caution the leaders pictured below, and now on the internet, that an eye for an eye only leaves the world blind.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Beijing Advertising

Media literacy isn't high generally speaking in China and more so in Beijing which is why some folk are content to lower their expectations - and that's not just the clients who are in need of inspiration. I'm not... but in the meantime I see some pics I uploaded to Facebook of some poster advertising for The Steak Factory that actually stood out (heaven forbid that advertising should stand out) were picked up on by the delightful Fiona in London so I guess I'm allowed to post them here too. I took the pictures not because they are incredibly good ads (we've all seen the food porn idea) but in a sea of mediocrity they stood out for having an idea and a standpoint. Fiona has done some great posts on China recently which you should check out.

Lastly I think who ever scouted the talent on this poster for a Bank in Beijing must have been tres local or is it just me that thinks the 'nurse' looks like a)Herman Munster b)a fella? Easy on the eye shadow luv!

Monday 24 March 2008

Does my RSS look big in this?

Beijing Art

I recieved an invite from Joy Island to see her band play at a Shopping Mall (coincidentally called Joy Shopping Mall) on Saturday and I went along to check out her band Two Oranges' music. I discovered that it was also an art and environment combo (is that the original word for mashup?) sponsored by Arrtco who seem quite clued up.

I wanted to share some snaps of the art for the time being because it was rather good and seemingly transcended the language barrier. I particularly like the feces theme on the video installation below. I think we'd all be a bit more careful about our electricity use if our notebooks or TV's took an occasional crap. Anyway here ya go it was on sale for 1200 Euros in case you are curious of the prices.

I quite like that pick up your phone and get your money ready line. QVC couldn't have put it any better could they?

The bike below looked like the frame had grown out of the trees or vice versa.

The print poster below was called something like 'Bath together, Save water'. Which reminded me of an old campaign I think from when the UK suffered a very memorable drought in 1976. Beijing is almost rain free and needs to pump its water in from further and further afield each year as its next to a desert. I can't help thinking about Frank Herbert's SF book Dune that I was into as a lad and where water is so scarce on the desert planet Arrakis that it is considered an honour to be spat upon.

Lastly I really like this piece which with a bit of typography help and a couple of word tweaks would have got a full 10 out of 10 for its 25 mini frames. Each contained a line that built up a narrative of human development from nature to robot and one particularly poignant frame on the bottom left with a jet plane and the planet earth, and the line; "They began to see the world as a plaything" which is kind of true when I think about say the time I took a plane to the airport and jumped on the next random flight out - I ended up in Phnom Penh. Imagine when most people in China can afford to do that. I'm guessing it's not too far off.

Update: Today's China Daily reports today that 97 airports are to open in China within 12 years. Naturally this is seen as only a good thing because the West taught China that the only benchmark worth knowing is the economic growth that we are all seemingly choking on.

Beijing Yoof

Beijing is much more restrained than Shanghai when it comes to self expression but there are pockets of the cool kids, particularly in the Xidan area which I've taken to exploring to see if there's anything interesting.

I guess that Harajuku thing is beginning to emerge more confidently here and it makes a welcome break from the monotony of monotone or overkill on the colour red. I really like these folk because they have that spark of life which frankly takes a bit of courage. Some people like to invoke the 'nail that sticks out, gets hammered in' rule of thumb for Asia but I say bollocks to that. The nail that sticks out gets noticed.

....unlike most ego driven marketing communications that sadly pass for 'creative'. Few people are willing to champion these folk and yet they are just as valid a part of modern China as the migrant workers who build the endlessly emerging skyline. I also find them refreshingly modest and unchippy.

Sunday 23 March 2008


With thanks from Gustavo who is shaping up as a very hip and talented creative planner. (Picture taken last night at LAN club where the Ministry of Sound were playing)

Friday 21 March 2008


From DARPA - The people from the U.S. defense research agency that invented the internet way back in 1969 Via Dygicynic

Magnetic Strip

Richard has posted this excellent piece of work coming out of the Saatchi & Saatchi stable where he works in London. The music is impeccable.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Money From The Environment

Some of us have talked a fair bit in the past on the environment blogs including John Grant's Greenormal that going green is actually a massive business waiting to go ballistic. I guess I should have remembered this while meeting a twenty something in a Beijing bar who repeated three times that she was making amazing money from 'wind energy' farms in China... I thought it was a bit crass at the time but with the U.S. economy tanking on debt that only the consumer society could have created, it's probably good timing given that the banks are now being propped up by the Fed with our money).

Anyway, Amy from Terrarossa asked me to see what you think of this clip. I'd be grateful if you could let her know your reactions to any of it in the comments below. I've already given my feedback.

Sunday 16 March 2008



This is the only poem I've got into since I've been in China. On reading it for the first time I put down my mobile and stared out the taxi for a while. I think its more about power than a specific country or its officials, but what do I know?.... It was written in Chinese and perhaps the translation may have skipped some nuance? Or even a localised version of iambic pentameter. Either way I'm planet before country when it comes to nationalism. It's a logic thing really; entirely selfish I guess.

Here's the translation

Sketch of Officials

The body grows fat and fatter, the heart narrower and narrower
The titles accumulate more and more, the knowledge shallower and shallower,
The speeches longer and longer, the truths fewer and fewer,
The power greater and greater, the authority lower and lower,
The age older and older, the mistresses younger and younger.

Saturday 8 March 2008

China's Backbone

Here in China there's a large group of people that are only recently becoming recognised and represented in The People's Congress. They are the migrant worker population.

Sure there are lots more Herds as top thinker Mark Earls correctly espouses, but I think these people are the unsung heroes of China.
I have wanted to take photographs of them since last year but felt that my presence would be intrusive and unwelcome. Just another white boy indulging his pampered ass in pseudo blue collar sympathies but tonight I took the plunge and asked if I could take a picture. A few got up straight away and ran out of range but the rest were happy enough and now I'm inspired to go further afield and get stuck into the rural areas and rust belts of China to learn more. Here are the pictures and they are a scene that is typical across all major cities late into the night across China. Nervous to get a shot as quick as possible I failed to do the settings on the camera correctly and so they are not good. But I wont make that mistake again. Expect more of this stuff.

As I type this I can hear a circular saw buzzing away at 8.15 PM on a Saturday night while the Neo Georgian building opposite my window emerges piece by piece each and every unrelenting day.

Friday 7 March 2008

Twitter Explained with Schweppervescence

I was in some old fashioned groups last week for Beijing University students and I learnt some pretty neat stuff. Best of all, again was really how nice the folk in Beijing are in general - innocent almost, if that doesn't sound patronizing (that excludes advertising folk and clients btw). I was describing this to a colleague and concluded that it's not the worst place in the world for the balance of power to shift from D.C. to Beijing.

As I believe it already has from a global psychological power-perspective.

Even more so in a few months when more people will be looking at China than at any time in the entire history of the country
. But more practically I can share how most of the youngish respondents were pretty conversant with Lost, 24, Desperate housewives and Heroes through P2P file sharing.

I thought it was a brave and edgy way for the curious and young to find out a little more about the frankly amazing media culture of the U.S. but after a little bit of probing it seems that in China, content like this is seen as being from the outside world more so than the U.S. specifically. Which raises an interesting view that I haven't really thought of since I first learned German in the early 90's and discovered that foreigners are called 'Auslander'.

Anyway, completely unrelated to any of this is the Twitter explained video which is useful for those still scratching their heads over the whole thing. Unfortunately it doesn't even come close to explaining the Twitter Karate that Sam and I invented over the weekend (with a little subsequent Twitter Wrestling from Angus

Lastly I want to post about this Schweppes ad which is easily the best thing since Gorrilla although I'm loving Singing Dog and Moonwalking Gorrilla. It highlights what for me is a growing problem and one that can only deteriorate as clever brands move closer to achieving feelings and move further away from 20th century messaging model, which has it's place, but more in an Adsense/Google way than the last-years-of-TV as we know it should.

Incidentally I think this could be a Golden age for advertising because the clever brands will mark out territory for feelings while the clock ticks for interrupted attention media. It's just a matter of time.
The difference between describing an ad using storyboards (or even using them in research) to seeing the final piece is too wide for me because it doesn't come anywhere near close to conveying the emotion that I feel when I see a fantastic piece of work like this. I did read about some of this brand talked about over at Rob's but I had no idea if the Cynic gang were involved with this piece while writing this post. Either way it stands for itself. Bravo!

Wednesday 5 March 2008


The Kaiser has started causing trouble again and kicked off with a drinks contest. Now I remember the meat contest when it was a very close thing with Russell's bacon and Marcus' Sausage, and truthfully I should confess that I played really dirty on Russell's blog in the comments section pretending that I used to work in a sausage factory and that I sneezed into the meat vat so I guess the Karma is heading my way. Anyway I was originally selected for Red Bull but as we won that business in a pitch over Christmas I didn't want to leave a taste in the mouth of blue collar folk that use it to keep awake rather than passionate. So I opted for a Cocktail that personified the simplicity and naivety of the 70's with a tropical coconut flavour. That and because the lyrics to Rupert Holmes' 'Escape' makes a reference to this cheeky refreshment.

There's no way on earth I'm going to sell this drink to you folks because you its just tasty and retro hip. I like a Gin & Tonic too which is what I'm up against so sorry about the plurality of it all.

Anyway you gotta go and vote so nip over here and join in, if you are up for it. I'm hoping that my brother R gets his partner to vote because it was Pam's inspiration that got me all excited about this very cheeky and underrated snifter. Give that lady a drink ;)

Saturday 1 March 2008

We Live In Financial Times

I absolutely love this print and poster advertising. When I first saw a version of it near Liverpool Street Station on the way to a meeting at Poke and a later interview at Mother I stopped in my tracks and had a mind rush about the 30 different things that made me think that if the F.T. have the class to hire an agency involved with the intelligence to come up with a line that defines widely held third millennium principle values and then articulate it with some beautiful artwork, then it's a publication I'd reassess.

But I have one devious question for the advertising aficionados out there who think they know their stuff.

How are the two executions different and why?