Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Next Chapter in Interactive Storytelling: interview with Jeremy Ettinghausen

“There are always at least two ways to tell a story”
Mohsin Hamid

Launched last month under their Puffin label, We Make Stories is the latest in a long line of digital publishing innovations masterminded by Jeremy Ettinghausen (@jeremyet), Penguin’s Digital Publisher.  This is the second piece we’ve done in recent months looking at the publishing industry as a whole.  Back in May we wrote about the transformational change going on at TMG in the UK (also check out the ever brilliant Nieman Lab for a far deeper examination of journalism in this respect).  Why are we so interested in what’s going on here? In short, we’re witnessing a radical re-shaping of an industry we believe we can learn a lot from. An industry which – aside from its sheer cultural importance in the first place – has been experimenting with new creative & organisational solutions for some time now.

The launch of the new service from Penguin was a good excuse to catch up with Jeremy and find out what he’s learned from this and other past projects, as well as ask him to share his thoughts on the future of digital publishing, the struggle to monetise content & services online, the impact of the web on storytelling and finally, what role he sees for brands in this space.  So just a couple of meaty topics then…

We Make Stories homepage


Plugging into Reality: APIs to connect the physical world

Author: Richard Schatzberger, Director of Creative Technology, BBH New York

This weekend saw the first Town Holler, a meeting (and pub crawl) of foursquare Mayors in New York City. From the photos, it may just look like another fun Saturday evening, but what’s special about Town Holler is that it’s whole reason for being is to create a direct physical world connection using digital platform. Organized by Conrad Lisco (@conradlisco) and myself (@schatz), our goal was to use an existing digital platform to facilitate and enhance a physical world experience, in real time, which, to be frank, should be the goal of any great digital creation.

With so many checkins we had to bring our own power supply

With so many checkins we had to bring our own power supply

Imagine five years ago, where a party organizer would, perhaps, illegally take over a warehouse in Brooklyn and throw a rave. Well, using foursquare, we (playfully) squatted on a social platform and threw the party on top of their digital service. We didn’t have to build any software, spend any money, ask permission (the foursquare creators did come along for the journey), or risk being arrested! We hooked into a passionate group of people who had the tools to connect in their pockets–on their iPhones–leveraging someone else’s software and data to curate an event which blended the digital and physical worlds.


The Big Idea: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

'Idea' by brunkfordbraun, via Flickr

'Idea' by brunkfordbraun, via Flickr

For a good while now we’ve been hearing about the death of the big idea (put that phrase into Google and see what you get back), but before the coffin gets nailed down once and for all, I’d like to check for life signs.  Not so that we can limp on, clinging to an old familiar industry cliché, but to make sure we’re not systematically talking ourselves into killing off something that still has the power to bring tangible and intangible value to the brands we serve. (more…)

i.Saw – the USB gadget the whole world has been waiting for (no, really…)

iSaw: the USB-powered chainsaw ‘measuring no larger than the size of a regular computer keyboard’The USB-powered chainsaw ‘measuring no larger than the size of a regular computer keyboard’

The i.Saw in, er, action

How many marketing campaigns can you name that are properly innovative, laudable in their intent (cheap to produce & for a good cause), blindingly simple to interact with and delivered with laugh out loud wit? Here at Labs at any rate we reckoned we would be pushed to name one. Then along comes something that completely blows us away, the brilliant i.Saw and its sister product, Papercut.

We first heard about the whole idea when our friends from BBH Asia Pacific got in touch. Inspired by mountains of uncollected pages on the printers in the office, they’d developed a unique, downloadable sound effect application of a chainsaw, designed to drive home a straightforward message: printing unnecessarily = killing trees.

Peter Callaghan, CD on the project, explains the brilliantly simple idea: “Papercut is a simple reminder of where paper comes from. When you press ‘print’, you’ll hear the roar of a chain saw. It is not to make you stop printing, just print less, using only what you need. Reminding people that printers run on trees.”

The next step was to orchestrate a campaign to encourage people to download the app. The team given that task, Noel Yeo and Shawn Loo, explained they were intrigued by the idea of creating a product, rather than a classic viral. And with that, the i.Saw was born. An entirely spoof creation, the i.Saw is a USB-powered chainsaw (the answer to all your office needs, natch) complete with its own lovingly created product page.

‘Pre-ordering’ the i.Saw on the site initially generated a classic, automated email response thanking you for your order. Now a banner informs us that pre-ordering is closed, click here to find out why… which takes you to some brief copy revealing the spoof and offering you the entirely free, downloadable sound effect app. Genius. (more…)

Disruption versus Usability: has UXD become TOO good?

Mulling over the various excellent posts springing up on why there isn’t more great work in the digital space it struck me that one area rarely discussed is the fundamentally different definitions of what constitutes “great”.

Traditional agencies are instinctively drawn to disruptive work-work that stops the consumer in their tracks and forces them to pay attention. Digital specialists on the other hand are focussed on a smooth and seamless user experience. Ideas that disrupt this experience risk increasing bounce rates from a site for designers working to the 10 second stay-or-go “rule” . This tension between disruption and usability is so profound it’s hardly surprising that we struggle to find a common understanding of what great looks like, much less deliver it.

Traditional agencies in the digital space (and indeed traditional digital agencies) are easily seduced by the power of Flash and the wonders of animation; we want attention and spectacle but what happens next? Why should the user stay, what are we asking them to do and where should they go next?  The campaign microsite is perhaps the prime expression of this tendency-as Iain Tate puts it, impressively punchily, in Campaign:

“No one cares about your bloody microsite. In 2009 the flashy high production value microsite is finally starting to feel irrelevant. Sites that seem to do everything, but deliver nothing.”


London underground in the palm of your hand

Wow, we’ve all become over-exposed to the hype around augmented reality, but we’re starting to see applications emerging which genuinely seem to add value and utility, rather than just make you go “cool!”

We spotted this simple, still slightly rough-looking, but potentially amazing app for the iPhone, which works off the phone’s video function. Currently only available for the London Underground, and for those lucky enough to have a 3GS, but follow-up apps across broader geographies and platforms can’t be far behind.


When you load the app, holding it flat, all 13 lines of the London underground are displayed in coloured arrows. By tilting the phone upwards, you will see the nearest stations: what direction they are in relation to your location, how many kilometres and miles away they are and what tube lines they are on. If you continue to tilt the phone upwards, you will see stations further away, as stacked icons.

Geo applications and brand experience-based applications seem to be emerging as two of the most interesting playgrounds for AR – we’ve certainly started putting our heads together on a couple of the brands we work with. Watch this space.

(For some existing BBH work that uses AR, see BBH Asia-Pacific’s work for WWF).

Thanks to Tim Bradshaw (@Tim) for bringing this to our attention this morning.

Lo-fi magic – the video for Sour’s ‘Hibi No Neiro’

It’s turning into an unexpected week of musical delights here at BBH Labs. After the success of BBH New York’s work on the new Oasis LP launch, awarded Titanium at Cannes last weekend, comes something equally close to home.

Just launched today is some work for the band Sour, directed and produced by Hal Kirkland, Masa Kawamura (BBH New York), & their buddies Magico Nakamura & Masayoshi Nakamura.


We caught up with Hal & Masa (in between all their awesome work on paying client briefs) & they explained how the project came together. We we’re particularly struck by the challenge of starting with a budget of $0. Makes you think differently.

The project initially had a few challenges. The first was the nonexistent budget. The second involved the inability of the directors to film the band members LIVE, due to the band living in Tokyo and the Directors living in New York. On top of this they had their day jobs at BBH to contend with.

Rather than hinder the ideas, this ironically provided the framework from which the idea was born. Webcams as a medium were chosen because these days everyone has seems to have one. Sour also had a relatively strong fan base that paid constant visits to their fan site.

A message was sent out from there to ask fans to volunteer for the new music video. The production was inundated with responses from people all over the world the most surprising being a fan from a small town in Portugal.

The next few months were spent choreographing the performance. This was primarily done by the directors literally acting out and filming every part themselves so as to a detailed animatic, that in-turn would make it easier for their friends online to follow.

Once that was buttoned down the filming of over 80 people began. The directors wanted the action to be created from timed choreography to give it a more realistic feel and to make it more human. Relying on editing alone would have taken away the charm and from the spectacle of the coordination of so many individuals.

In case you’re curious, the song is about discovering your own color or voice in this world. It speaks of embracing your individuality in order to embrace what the rest of the world has to offer. So the use of the webcam and the idea of capturing people’s individual expressions as they collaborate to make a greater whole, made a lot of sense. We love it – the perfect way to start a long, sunny Independence Day weekend.

About Sour

Sour is a Japanese post-rock band formed in spring 2002 by hoshijima (gut guitar/voice), Sohey (eub/bass), KENNNNN (drums/toys). They have released 3 albums to date, and the track used in this video is called ‘Hibi no Neiro (Tone of Everyday)’ which is the lead single to their first mini album ‘Water Flavor EP’ released on July 24 2009. For more information about the band, please visit their website:

Here are some previous music videos that Hal & Masa have done for them:
‘Hangetsu (Half Moon)’:
‘Omokage no Saki (Beyond your memory)’:

Masa Kawamura –
Hal Kirkland –
Magico Nakamura –
Masayoshi Nakamura