Ad exec Rob Campbell: What New Zealand feels like after a year of Covid hell in the UK


Not many get to travel to another universe … but I have.

A month ago, my family and I boarded a rocket ship in England and flew through time and space to reach a new planet called New Zealand.

You may think England and NZ are part of the same World, but NZ feels light years ahead
from where we’ve come from.

But this is much more than just being in a new country.

We’ve spent the last few decades living everywhere from China to California, so we’re used to that. Nor is it about ‘new and unique challenges’ because my job has seen me deal with everyone from Nike to Metallica so I’m very comfortable with uncomfortable.

No, the reason NZ feels like another planet is because it’s let us rediscover something we thought had been lost.


On March 13th 2020, everything changed.

The reality is everything changed for everyone in the UK. There are 60 million different
stories to be told – painful, lonely and occasionally funny stories – but this one is mine.
On Friday 13th March, I was told “we’d be working from home for a couple of weeks”.

Little did I realise what this was the beginning of.

I could talk about the physical impact. How my 6-year-old, Otis, basically didn’t go to school or play with his friends for a year. Or how my wife didn’t know when she’d next see her family. Or how overnight, I stopped travelling or ever going to an office.
And while those were all hard adjustments, the real impact was emotional.

Life had taken on a slightly menacing air.

There was an undercurrent of danger in every interaction.

It could be something as simple as picking up a letter or receiving a food delivery from a
brilliant key worker … but there was this sense anything and anyone could turn you into
another statistic for a disease hiding in plain sight.

That might not seem too bad … but underpinning it was an endless wave of news informing us of the ever-increasing daily infections and death rates that were happening all around us. Sometimes, next door to us.

No one should feel relief that daily deaths have fallen below 1000 … but compared to the
1820 people who lost their life on the 12th Jan 2021, that’s where we were at. Looking
desperately for signs that suggested things were improving, despite it meaning hundreds of families would be mourning another day of terrible, devastating loss.

Some days we genuinely had hope.

There’d be talk of lower infection rates and removing restrictions, but then there’d be another U-Turn in numbers and government policy, leaving you feeling as vulnerable as before. But compared to so many, we had it good.

We had work.
We were together.
We could hug each other
We could have conversations.
We had a garden to walk in outside.

Hundreds of thousands didn’t – and still don’t – have these things. And many then had to
deal with even greater loss.

Loss of family and friends.
Loss of jobs, careers and homes.
Loss of hope for themselves and their children.

To make it worse, many learnt this through a video call. Staring at a computer screen as
someone destroyed their world. I can’t imagine how that must feel. The closest I got was
being told via Zoom that my job was ‘being made redundant,’ and that definitely didn’t feel good.

And yet, despite this, there was humour.

We’d talk about how post-apocalyptic movies felt like documentaries, or how that other
disaster – Brexit – felt like light relief. Or how everyone smelt of hand sanitiser.

And while that was welcome, it never took away the feeling that this situation had no end.

So, you’ll understand the joy we felt when New Zealand ad agency ColensoBBDO, asked if we wanted to move to Auckland.

The decision was easy. Getting here was the hard part.

And now we’re here, trying to adjust to a normality we thought was history.

From the moment we landed, everything felt like an alternate universe. In fact, it was only
when we arrived – with its incredible organisation, clarity and consistency – that we realised how much stress we had taken on.

I cannot adequately put into words what life feels like right now.

The best way to describe it is it feels like sunglasses have been removed and the blunted,
restricted life we lived for over a year has suddenly and dramatically been replaced with an abundance of vibrant colour, sound, taste, smell and humanity.

I appreciate that’s the sort of flowery bullshit you’d expect from someone in the creative
industry, but I assure you, there’s not a word of exaggeration in there.

And while we’re slowly getting used to living again (for example, we can now go to a
restaurant and not stare in amazement at people eating food, which is something
McDonald’s in Hamilton will testify we weren’t able to do when we first got out of MIQ), we feel a debt of gratitude towards Colenso, the NZ government and the people of NZ for not just letting us experience this special place, but for reminding us how life should be.

If anyone doubts the contrast I’m describing, please take a look at my Insta and witness the endless insults I receive from friends around the World as I overshare yet another photo of this wonderful country with its wonderful life.

We’re excited to learn, discover and travel this special place. And for as long as we’re here, we’ll work hard to ensure we understand and respect the culture and the people.

We’ll make sure we add to the community rather than just take from it. And – from a personal perspective – I’ll work hard to make ColensoBBDO an even more enviable force for creativity here and back on planet earth.

It is the least I can do.

– Rob Campbell is the newly appointed chief strategy officer at Auckland-based creative agency Colenso BBDO.

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