14th October 14
Posted in culture
Last week we were lucky enough to be invited to speak at Belgrade Design Week – a fabulous event in an exciting city to visit.
Finally getting the opportunity to use William Gibson‘s great passage on bohemias (‘where industrial civilisation went to dream’) from All Tomorrow’s Parties in this most bohemian of cities, we compared physical and digital enclaves to see whether digital bohemians could learn anything from the decline of alternative subcultures in the real world.
As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.
14th September 14
Illustration for Griffin Farley’s Beautiful Minds, by Kate Moross, Breed.
Recently I’ve been perplexed why a debate still rages in the marketing ether around whether code can truly be creative, so I’m going to try to put a simple point of view down here and see how it goes.
Clue: if you’re already convinced the answer is yes, you can stop reading now.
One of the reasons I work in a creative agency is our shared ambition to, well, create. That word is loaded with meaning: to give birth to, to produce, to make, to originate something new. How that gets done inevitably changes over time, as tools and methods rise and fall. But mankind has been drawing pictures, writing and making music for millennia, and, it’s fair to say, we’ve got pretty damn good at doing all of the above. What’s more, art, copy and audio are so highly valued we don’t question them: all are taught in schools, with music, art and books sold in galleries, shops and gigs the world over.
In purely creative terms, of course code is in its infancy by comparison. And with the notable exception of gaming, what we’ve been able to create for mass consumption with code has lent itself first to utility: for example, allowing us to invent new forms of message transmission, news sharing sites and, indeed, provided us with new ways to distribute all that delightful art, copy and sound.
Yet I’m certain that the best new expressions of creativity are born of art, copy, sound and code, together.
Why? Because at the root of all creativity is a burning desire to create something original, to offer something better than the thing that came before. With code added to the creative canvas, we can achieve this in ways we have never experienced before. In other words, the opportunities to be original and different have exploded, whether you’re in film, fashion or fmcg.
So you may be reading this and thinking, ‘ah yes, more opportunities for originality, sure, but will it be any good?’. Can code move people to feel something, to make them laugh or cry, or suddenly to see a situation differently? Or is code still just about new ways to distribute the photography, writing, music and film we know and love?
I was a member of the Cannes Lions Cyber jury this summer where, sure enough, some of the best work showed a strong grasp of how to use digital to drive performance (where the definition of performance goes beyond ‘effectiveness’ to the pro-active planning, deployment and optimisation of brand activity – all enabled by technology).
By way of illustration, Volvo Trucks’ “Live Test Series” understood that YouTube’s algorithm rewards ‘total watched time with a channel’ and this helped the brand build a relationship with its audience over time. ‘Epic Split’ was a phenomenal piece of film content, but it was also the sixth in a series. Millions had watched other live tests and clicked to watch more, creating a virtuous circle where the brand earned the right to show up in more related videos. As Matt Locke puts it so succinctly some years ago now: “design for circulation, not distribution”.
However, the very best interactive work won this year because of something else in addition to well-drilled performance.
The likes of 24hoursofhappy.com for Pharrell, ‘Sound of Honda/Ayrton Senna 1989’ ‘Scarecrow’ for Chipotle and BBH New York’s own ‘Greatness’ for Playstation are simply great ideas, crafted with immaculate and loving care. Other examples include the creation of a credible, artificial child (‘Sweetie’) by Terre des Hommes Netherlands as part of its campaign to track down webcam paedophiles, and ‘Killing Kennedy’ for The National Geographic Channel which interweaves the stories of both Kennedy and his killer as one seamless and immersive online piece.
All break new ground in technological terms, all are ideas where code plays an essential part. But, above all, they evoke a powerful emotional reaction which creates a relationship with the brand. That, I would wager, is the very definition of creativity.
Three more examples of this in action if you’re looking for inspiration:
1. Digital Revolution exhibition @ Barbican in London, 3 July – 14 September 2o14
Includes astonishing displays like Umbrellium’s interactive 3D laser light field, ‘The Treachery of Sanctity’ by Chris Milk, as well as DevArt which incorporates four brand new installations commissioned by Google and Barbican to explore creative uses of code. If you’re in London, go see it before it closes in September.
Closer to home and mentioned before on this blog, Google’s ‘series of experiments to reimagine advertising’ including Burberry Kisses and most recently Nike Phenomenal Shot. The initiative’s inspiration comes from the creative revolution of the 1960s when art directors and copy writers were paired up together, having previously sat on separate floors of the print agencies where they worked. As they put it: “Today, we’re in the midst of a second creative revolution, driven by technology. Code is being added to the core creative process.”
3. New Revolutionaries (Decoded & BBH London event)
In late June this year we co-hosted with the good folks at Decoded an evening event at BBH London that we hope to repeat in future. It was designed to bring together and celebrate the polymaths and collaborators who are transforming their industries through creative uses of technology and vice versa; featuring installations and talks from the likes of Brooke Roberts, Yuri Suzuki, Framestore, Onedotzero and more.
Jeremy Langmead (newly appointed Chief Content Officer at Christie’s, ex-Mr Porter) opened the evening in conversation with Wired UK Publisher, Rupert Turnbull. Jeremy spoke openly about category naivety allowing you to break new ground, noting that any new leader has to be able to invite people with radically different skillsets into a room and to have the flair to multiply technical and creative skills together.
Framestore’s Mike McGee then told the backstories to their work on Gravity and Audrey Hepburn for Galaxy chocolate (the fact actors can now be essentially re-created led him to muse how it may become the norm in future to ‘licence’ their image for films created long after they’re dead…), as well as their astonishing ‘Ascend the Wall‘ work for Oculus Rift for Game of Thrones.
Above all, both speakers were interesting and interested. Whether you’re a creative-tech polymath or a collaborator capable of pulling different skills together, in many ways, it struck me, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.
Jeremy Langmead (Christie’s) & Rupert Turnbull (Wired UK) in conversation at New Revolutionaries
Mike McGee talking through the creative technology involved in creating ‘Gravity’
28th August 14
Posted in Rants
I am happy that I’m not going to indadvertedly click a link on twitter and find myself watching a video of the beheading of James Foley. But the removal of this video and other content from Google, Twitter and Facebook raises important questions about media, freedom of expression and control of information.
In the digital age, we are nearing the point where an idea banished by Twitter, Facebook and Google all but vanishes from public discourse entirely, and that is only going to become more true as those companies grow even further.
As is pointed out here, this is not a question of censorship. Rather it is an editorial decision, made on perfectly reasonable moral and taste grounds and at the request of the family of James Foley. And while we might completely agree with the decision in this instance, are we happy for Facebook to delete content created by Syrian dissidents? Or not remove videos of other gruesome actions that do not involve Western journalists. Or allow the publication of live tweets of IDF military actions against Hamas? These complex religious and geopolitical issues are throwing up new moral, social and editorial challenges for technology companies. But as these companies morph into not just media companies, but media itself, it is becoming important to ask what precedents are being set? What actual policies are at work?
We have no rights beyond what the companies give us in their terms of service, where quaint ideas like the First Amendment have no application.
The huge centralized web services such as facebook and google, the Stacks as Bruce Sterling calls them, are making these editorial decisions because we’ve both asked and allowed them to. They are incredibly useful services and incredibly convenient services and incredibly free services to use. We might not pay with our wallets, but instead we pay with our views, our content, our shares, likes, retweets and our profiles. If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold. We know this. Facebook and Google and Twitter ultimately can decide what goes through their pipes – if we don’t like their decisions we can take our cat photos elsewhere, however inconvenient that might be.
So, if we’re the product, who are the customers? Brands, obviously, who love the convenience and the scale and the data and metrics they get from their paid-for relationships with The Stacks. And brands too, make sacrifices when they embark on these relationships. The world of brand microsites was one of variable quality, but vast variety. Today’s uniformity of branded voice and imagery, the identikit, out-of-the-box formatting solutions provided by tumblr and facebook and youtube can almost induce nostalgia for the visual assault of the World Wild Web. Again, google and twitter and facebook have the right to design their pipes their way – if brands don’t like the formats on offer they can take their content elsewhere, however inconvenient that might be.
I am relieved that my kids can watch youtube without clicking on a thumbnail and seeing James Foley’s horrific murder. But I am also telling them that if they want a place on the internet where they are not the product, a place where they are the editor, where they set the precedents and make the policies, a place that is theirs, then they will have to own it and pay for it and make it. They’ll have to buy a domain and manage some hosting and create some content and establish their own digital identity. And they’ll have to deal with the inconvenience and freedom that comes with it.
28th July 14
Posted in leadership
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman BBH London
I am not a leader.
It took me many years to realise it. Indeed I was in a position of some responsibility when the truth dawned. I finally understood that I am in a relationship business, but I’m uncomfortable with relationships; that I shrink from delivering bad news, when I should be characterising it as good; that I am emotionally squeamish, when leadership requires psychological strength. I was a disappointment to myself.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this revelation, I have remained interested in the art of leadership. What defines a great leader? How do you spot leadership potential? Can you train it, learn it, define it? I’m aware that a wealth of airport management books endeavour to answer these questions, but I confess I’ve never felt compelled to read them. Let me offer my own, admittedly simple, perspective on the subject.
In the course of my career I’ve been fortunate to have worked with quite a few great leaders. And I have to say that, on the face of it, they have little in common. Some were passionate and visionary, others were practical and pragmatic; some were sensitive and personal, others were pugnacious and combative. None was in any way a perfect paradigm. Indeed all have been flawed, often in very engaging ways.
But there was one particular thing they all shared. Their leadership style was consistently an extension of their own strong personalities. They were authentic, but they were also larger than life. Their very real virtues had found a louder voice, a bigger stage. They were hyperboles of themselves if you like.
Leadership in my experience is The Amplified Self.
This analysis has led me to a relatively straightforward piece of advice for the aspirant leader: establish what you’re good at and do it in a bigger, bolder way.
And yet this is easier said than done. ‘Know thyself’ was inscribed above the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It was a resonant maxim precisely because self knowledge is so difficult to achieve.
I probably spent the first ten years of my career working out what I had to offer professionally. However much my appraisals identified the occasional virtue, I couldn’t help concentrating on the cited shortcomings. Because they were the same shortcomings year after year: a sluggishness with spreadsheets and Harvard Graphics, a lack of commercial rigour in my arguments, a failure to make eye contact in meetings. Like a diligent student I would concentrate on addressing my weaknesses. But however hard I tried, with every passing year my appraisal changed very little. And I never did win that IPA Effectiveness Award…
I think there comes a point in everyone’s career when we give up addressing the faults we cannot correct, the blemishes we cannot wipe clean. The point in one’s career when one focuses on building on strengths and virtues, accentuating the positives rather than eliminating the negatives. And I think that’s the point that one finally gets to discover one’s true leadership potential.
If you think you have the charisma, stamina, vision and appetite to lead, don’t spend your time reading the text books, mimicking your predecessor, emulating your hero. Don’t be someone else’s shadow, their pale imitation. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Look in the mirror. Isolate your truest strengths, the ones that set you apart, that make you unique. And turn those strengths up to eleven.
Be your own Amplified Self.
27th July 14
Posted in technology
Another in our occasional repostings of our monthly tech column written for Marketing Magazine. This one on wearables and why Nike’s decision to ditch development of Fuelband is a course correction, not a category bail-out. The original article appeared here on 02.06.14.
The news in April that Nike may be discontinuing their wearable personal fitness tracker Nike+ Fuelband was met with a mixed wave of reaction spanning shock to schadenfreude. As more and more marketers consider offering utility and added-value services it seems worth giving a few minutes’ consideration here to its rise and purported fall.
Launched at South By South West in 2012 amongst much neon-lit fanfare, Fuelband felt like an inexorable, natural next step for Nike+. The nerdish joy of being an early adopter made the fact mine needed replacing three times in the subsequent year easier to bear.
Taking a step back for a moment, I’m reminded of a phrase that comfortingly comes up occasionally when you’re a new parent: ‘everything is just a phase…this too shall pass’. Indeed, take a look at Gartner’s 2013 edition of their Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies and, sure enough, wearable user interfaces are placed at that most infamous of positions, the Peak Of Inflated Expectations. This is where cracks start to appear before a technology descends into the Trough of Disillusionment.
So is this just a stage? Or a sign of something else? Certainly in Fuelband’s case, its competitor Fitbit simply has had more traction and success, capturing 67% of the market in 2013, though not without a recent furore over a product recall.
The specific issues with wearables currently seem to centre around maintaining user engagement. To illustrate this, research by Endeavour Partners found that one third of American consumers who owned a wearable product stopped using it within six months.
Strong technologies with decent long term prospects habitually haul themselves out of the trough and go on to be successful. It strikes me for wearables to resolve the engagement issue and do the same in the months and years to come, two things need to happen:
1. Device consolidation
Fuelband’s minimal data collection and feedback loop already seems quaint. Nor does any smartwatch on the market offer a fully integrated solution. Instead we should expect a single, beautifully designed wearable device, capable of doing everything a smartphone already does and more – including capturing and reporting full body data – without draining battery life or weighing a ton. An Apple-led eco-system inevitably gets cited as the answer here, which does seem most likely when you add up the stories of a sophisticated Healthbook app and an iWatch on the near horizon, together with patents granted for earbud and/or headphone sensors. Nike pulling back from a hardware battle it can’t win makes more sense when a partner like Apple looks set to move centre stage.
2. Currency systems like NikeFuel need to have real world relevance and meaning.
Most likely to be brought about by stronger connections to product, tangible goals and other services. Certainly in Nike’s case their commitment looks to be to the software, not the hardware, with the launch of Fuel Labs in San Francisco, which will, they claim, “continue to leverage partnerships to expand our ecosystem of digital products and services, using NikeFuel as the universal currency for measuring, motivating and improving.” Make no mistake, for Nike, stepping back from Fuelband represents a course correction, not a category bale-out.
And the tech and activity industries as a whole will continue to run with wearables regardless. Witness the fact Facebook are buying things again, with their purchase of the activity app, Moves. The app doesn’t require another external device to work: it runs in the background, sensing motion and making assumptions on your activity and calories burned. And Google is working on wearables too, with the announcement of Android Wear, an OS for wearable tech.
Fuelband and its detractors, we may come to realise, represent just the baby steps down a long road for wearables.
24th June 14
Tonight we’re co-hosting an event with Decoded to celebrate the “New Revolutionaries”, the people transforming their industries through creativity and technology in glorious combination.
Kathryn Parsons, Lindsay Nuttall and I are lucky enough to be hosting a night of inspiring showcases and talks celebrating the people driving that creative revolution.
We’ve got two tickets to give away if you fancy it: please just tweet us @bbhlabs or @bbhlondon or leave us a comment below.
Alternatively, we’ll be live streaming the event via Twitter thanks to our friends at Streaming Tank and we’ll write up the event for this blog when we’re out the other side..
3rd June 14Author: Oliver Feldwick, Strategist, BBH London, @felderstonAnother year, another one of Mary Meeker’s ‘essential reading’ Internet Trends Reports has been published.We’re all getting used to the relentless pace of digital. Graphs pointing upwards and so on. It’s easy to take it for granted and get a bit numb to it all. But with a bit of perspective, there’s some really big stuff. Internet usage is still growing albeit at a slower rate, but the scale of stuff now being done globally on mobile is seismic.
Some edited highlights:
- Smartphone and tablet growth is on a trajectory where, instead of having 1b global PC’s, we’ll have 10b global mobile internet devices
- Mobile data traffic growth has accelerated 81%
- There are now 1.6b Smartphones and 439m Tablets globally
- Global internet traffic is now 25% mobile, up from 14% year on year
- 30% of global mobiles are now Smartphones
- Tablets are growing faster than PC’s ever did, at 52% growth in 2013
It’s not just that what we did on a PC is moving to a mobile. It’s a fundamental shift in the base of devices the world is using. It’s worth dwelling on the impact of some of this – of a world with this proliferation of geolocated, connected computing devices.
Software is replacing a plethora of tools and tasks. Who needs a landline? A torch? A spirit level? A dictionary? A phonebook? A PC? Ultrasound machines? Calculators? Schoolbooks? Nike axing the Fuelband shows how specialised hardware is being threatened.
Anything that can be done by a smartphone or a tablet will.
This isn’t just a niche behaviour. ‘Over-the-top’ digital services like WhatsApp, Viber and Netflix have made complex tasks and behaviours completely mainstream. And it’s impacting all sorts of industries on a massive scale:
- Tinder gets 800m swipes and 11m matches every day
- 1.8b photos are taken and shared everyday
- 50b messages are sent by WhatsApp alone
- In many countries, Smartphones are now the primary screen in daily use
- In the UK, Tablets and Smartphones get 166 daily minutes viewing time vs 148 minutes on TV
We aren’t just living our lives through our mobiles, we are living our lives fundamentally differently through mobile devices.
If that’s not enough food for thought there, add in the fact that smartphones rely on rare earth elements that are in short supply, with no clear substitutes and some of them due to run out as early as 2020. Just as we get hooked on these devices they will soon start to run out.
Which makes for a cheery thought given just how damn indispensable they are now. So maybe you don’t just need a mobile strategy, you need a post-mobile strategy as well?
30th May 14
Posted in strategy
Author, Jim Carroll, Chairman BBH London
First published in Advertising Week Europe supplement
I knew a man who never blinked. It was quite discomfiting. I’d not considered blinking that important until confronted with its absence. This chap just seemed a bit odd, a little lacking in emotion. Was he perhaps an android? When talking to him I couldn’t avoid the impression that he was unnaturally certain of his own opinions. And that that blind certainty was what I was finding unattractive. I realised that, whilst I like the self-assured, absolute certainty can be troubling, alienating, disturbing.
I guess that’s why I’ve always responded better to leaders who, though boundlessly confident, exhibit a sensitivity to risk and doubt, a consciousness of paths not taken. I’m rarely convinced by absolute conviction.
For similar reasons I feel certainty in advertising has always been fool’s gold. Claude Hopkins wrote Advertising Science back in the 1920s. And science has given us analytical tools and techniques that have dramatically enhanced our understanding of consumers and our ability to communicate effectively. But, however much we may wish it, science has never given us certainty.
I recently attended a stage adaptation of the great Henry Fonda movie, 12 Angry Men. At its heart it’s a celebration of reasonable doubt, and an indictment of the unreasonable certainty that so many people carry around with them. I was struck by the idea that reasonable doubt is a force for good in society. Because life is an ongoing navigation of trade-offs, dilemmas and contrary preferences. Life isn’t about certainty.
In our business I’ve seen how, many a time and oft’, the quest for unreasonable certainty has actually fostered doubt and indecision. The pursuit of total proof can close windows of opportunity and analysis paralysis can inhibit bold leaps forward.
Recently we have all been redesigning the marketing model. We have embraced the vision of a customer engagement system that is more connected, more targeted, more knowing and less wasteful. Something that learns, creates, adapts and distributes in real time. But we should not imagine that any new model will deliver unreasonable certainty. All models need ideas to animate them. And the best ideas occur at the intersection of logic and magic, at the meeting point of rationality and emotion.
What is exciting about the modern age of marketing is the opportunity it affords us to explore this happy interaction between art and science. At BBH we’ve been talking a lot about High Performance Creativity. We believe that technology enables a more intimate relationship between creativity and performance, and that that intimacy will generate better, more effective work. We believe that data should not just be big; it should be strategically insightful and creatively inspiring. We believe that performance measures should not be backward looking proofs, but live, forward-facing guides. We believe that, while High Performance Creativity cannot promise certainty, it can deliver incredible potency.
I’m reasonably certain about this.