Monthly Archives: September 2010

My Last Post – Some Things I’ve Learned at BBH

Me in the Googleplex ball pool, September 2010.


I stumbled through the door of BBH London on March 29 2005. I was terrified. Despite coming from arguably the best & most famous planning agency of all time (BMP in London), I was (as we say in the UK) ‘sh*tting my pants’. Everything that felt charming yet amateur about BMP had been brutally and suddenly replaced by a new world of complete professionalism, extraordinary process and unrelenting focus. It was, quite literally, Day 1 at the Big School. Even Lotus Notes felt awesome.

Three moments defined my first few months there. I thought I might share them, as I disappear, because I think they’re still relevant.

Like every new hire I had a brief meet & greet with Nigel Bogle in week one. Of course, he was scary and brilliant in equal measure, but what he said to me in our first meeting stayed with me. Perhaps, looking back now, it was the one moment that defined my time at BBH more than anything else. While welcoming me, he heavily stressed the importance of not fitting in, of not becoming a BBHer, of not doing things the ‘BBH way’, but instead, of being the disruptor, the challenger, the thorn. For better or for worse, I took him at his word; if nothing else, it’s true to say I’ve never really fitted in at BBH.

Anyway, in week one (literally Day 2, if I recall correctly) I found myself pitching for Google. An extraordinary experience, partly because of the ace people I was pitching with (Robson, Exon, Stainer) and partly because of the crazy clients. They had no idea what they wanted, but they didn’t want an ad agency. And so we didn’t give them one (the title slide of our pitch said simply ‘WE DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR AD AGENCY’). We gave them an ideas engine that was an extension of their own company, but which operated outside the (even back then) stifling constraints of their own insane business. We didn’t make much money for the agency but we made important contacts (our client back then is now the global CMO of Google) which we’ve nurtured over that five-year period, and we developed a way of approaching creativity that was quite different to anything any of us had experienced before. No hierarchy, no titles, no departments, no egos, virtually no rules. Fun, frantic, fruitful. Three things stuck: I knew that was the model for me going forward, that Google was the most extraordinary company I’d come near, and that the Internet was the most disruptive & magical thing ever.

Third, just weeks after BBH won the Google pitch, I was on the British Airways pitch. I had no idea at the time just how much baggage (no pun intended) this pitch would arrive with. Having been narrowly beaten to the business by M&C Saatchi ten years before, for Nigel & John in particular, but for BBH more widely, this was an opportunity to right the wrongs of a decade previously. In addition it was a huge and highly prestigious piece of global business. I worked with some phenomenal people – my future BBH Labs partner in crime, Mel Exon, Derek Robson (who also pitched Google with me), Guy Murphy, and I had my first taste of the overwhelming firepower of the fully operational battle station that is BBH at it’s best. We worked with Gwyn Jones & team in NYC, and with Ben Fennell & team in Singapore; pure BBH. Together, these people re-calibrated my benchmark for what an agency could do, and how it might do it. It was the best pitch experience I’ve ever had; it was also the hardest three months of my life. But I took away from it an utter conviction around two beliefs; that (a) literally nothing was impossible at BBH, and (b) there was probably no better agency on the planet at that time.

Anyway, all rather dull historical context. It’s five-and-a-half years later. Here I am about to leave. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount at BBH. Perhaps more than anything, if I learned how to not be an academic at my first agency (Duckworth Finn), and I learned how to be an ok account planner at BMP, at BBH I learned how to apply strategic thinking to a much broader canvas. I was liberated by BBH; the disciplinary shackles were removed. Much of this learning was beaten into me by truly world-class people, at all levels, not just the scary senior legends you might imagine. And a tiny proportion of it was the product of my own stumbling invention and experimentation (a fair chunk of that with Mel Exon, to whom I owe particular thanks).


In any case, here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way, from BBH London days (Google & BA), through Head of Account Planning & ZAG leadership in NY, BBH Labs start-up and (once again) to Google days over here in NYC, & my most recent Innovation role. As ever, many people will disagree with some of them; some people will disagree with all of them. They’re in no way intended to be definitive. But they are what I think is the right approach.

Only people matter
They matter more than clients, more than teams, more than fancy buildings, smart suits or posh titles; they matter even more than the ideas. Great ideas are just what happen when the right people are put together and organized (or not) in the right way. The only role of agency management is to find, retain, organize and inspire others. If management is not doing this, they’re part of the problem.

None of us is as good as all of us
This is a classic Bogle-ism, one of his very best, and it’s never been more true than today. Avoid the Prima donna at all costs; as Calle Sjoenell (our ECD on Google at BBH) notes, ‘no egos, no drama’.

Ask forgiveness, not permission
The people that make a difference tend to be the ones that don’t seek approval first. They are often not the most popular. They’re rarely the most rewarded. But they’re the most valuable. If you can bring yourself to put up with them, they will be your secret weapon. And they’re way better on your team than on someone else’s.

Awesome is always scary
The vast chasm between really good and extraordinary is filled with fear. If you push yourself to the extent that you’re deeply uncomfortable, you’ll be fine; if you’re comfortable, you’re not pushing hard enough.

Give *everything* away
Be generous with ideas, with credit, with opportunities, and most important of all, with time. Although it’s not the real point, be reassured that this generosity *always* comes back.

Do less, but do it better
We try and do too much because we’re not honest with ourselves about what we’re best at and we’re not honest with our clients about what we’re really capable of. One of the unheralded roles of planning is to distill, simplify and encourage focus; to eliminate nonsense, or the chance that nonsense might occur. Strategy is, indeed, the art of sacrifice.

We can’t be friends *all* the time
If we’re not passionate about what we do, we should pack up and leave. If you’re not upsetting someone, somewhere, most of the time, you’ll end up with ‘average’. This includes clients, but perhaps more importantly applies internally.

Build & love your network
You don’t have to share an office with the best people around to work with them, or learn from them. If you’re lucky, you’ll share an office with some of them (I’ve been lucky many times over). When Mel & I launched Labs we had no idea we’d develop such a strong group of supporters and advisors. We still have no idea how we have. But they – not us – have built Labs.

PowerPoint is the enemy of awesome
There’s an inverse relationship between the quantity of PowerPoint produced by a team and both the quality of work produced by that team, and their level of happiness.

Make sure it’s fun
It’s all just a gigantic game.

So, summing up this already tediously over-long account, this is the deal:

A Plan For Change, BBH, 2010 (a Made By Many / BBH Joint Production).


I was lucky enough to snowboard with John Winsor (@jtwinsor) this March, in Vail. As you might guess, he literally left me standing, and in some cases, climbing out. But we caught up on life on the ski lifts back to the top and talked about a lot of stuff. The next day he sent me this (below). It’s by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It blew me away.

Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will himself sound the depths of his own being. For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security.

And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence something helpless that needs our love.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, 1904

Massive thanks to all the completely ace BBH-ers I’ve worked with since 2005. You will continue to make BBH a magic place to be & to learn.

Bye. @malbonnington

Social media flings: the next affair

BBH facilitated a Social Media Week event in LA, where the agency has recently opened an office focused on content creation. The subject of the event was “Exploring UX, content, and brand strategy” and was run in the style of a design studio. Brainstorm topics were presented to groups, the participants of which concepted on the topic, then presented their ideas to one other seeking critique.

We were asked to elaborate upon social media flings, a topic written about in a previous Labs post. This is what we shared:

Or you can check out a video of the 15 minute presentation:

(Skip to 1h13m mark)

In summary, the proposed opportunity of ‘social media flings’ is in all of those social environments where people connect online around a subject they’re interested in. The point is simply that a significant gap exists between having no non-paid contact with a brand and committing to a relationship with them in digital environment. Think blog comments, video responses, hashed twitter conversations, and so-forth—a collection of places where a brand can engage if they talk about something other than themselves.

The purpose of the breakout session was to determine how brands can credibly have such flings. The hour discussion led to some great debate. Below are some of the key points we found most interesting:

  • The majority of the group felt any brand could have a fling. It wasn’t a matter of how interesting the brand was, but how much the brand stood for beyond itself. In other words, old school brand equity work was the key to opportunity. Although lifestyle brands do this well, there’s nothing keeping Raid (the group’s proxy for the antithesis of a lifestyle brand) from having flings about a subject they could credibly talk about, such as environmental issue, hygiene, etc.
  • Alternatively, many participants felt that brands could “buy” credibility on a given subject. By taking a calculated approach to sponsorships, brands with no correlation to a subject matter could earn a voice within it through financial support. For example, Taco Bell and Major League Baseball have no logical relationship, but the brand can discuss baseball credibly thanks to its ongoing sponsorship and use of MLB talent and resources. This opens the door to flings, and could even help brands prioritize sponsorship opportunities.
  • Brands can have flings across a number of subjects, not just those with direct ties to the product offering. Starbucks was cited as a brand that could have flings in music, news, technology, environmental issues, community, or even politics. The tangential relationship to coffee and “third space” wasn’t seen as a barrier.
  • The biggest difficulty in having flings is making the connection to the product (although even loose association was considered enough by most participants). As a result, if a brand invests in becoming credible in a space (as say, Red Bull has with extreme sports), it actually opens the door for a challenger brand to step in and capitalize on the investment. This is a major opportunity for challenger brands (generally limited by finances). In the case of the Red Bull example, most participants felt Monster or another competitor, could have flings in and around extreme sports thanks to Red Bull’s commitment.

We’d welcome any further thinking around social media flings. Please let us know of brands taking advantage of this that you think are interesting, positive or negative.

We’d also like to thank Social Media Week for the opportunity, as well as all the wonderful participants that generously shared their thoughts.

From Broadcasters to Benefactors (Part II)

The second and final part of a pair of posts (read the first here). Today’s includes an interview with Darren Garrett at Littleloud.

Author: James Mitchell (@jamescmitchell), Strategist, BBH London

There is such a thing as an Art Gallery. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you’ve been to one before. An art gallery’s purpose is to house paintings and art so that they can be viewed… and yet today, it’s entirely possible for me that selfsame content – say, Guernica – for free, in a heartbeat. Indeed, thanks to the power of the internets, I could do what was previously impossible and view an annotated version which explains what on earth is going on in that painting. And yet millions of people choose to take the time to visit the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Or the National Portrait Gallery. Or the MoMA. And if you asked many of them what specifically they had come to visit, they wouldn’t be able to tell you. They’re not there specifically to clap eyes on one item. They are, in the old terminology, browsing.

MoMA, New York (source: eschipul on Flickr)

So how have Art Galleries – or Museums, or certain kinds of shops, managed to retain a sense of identity independent from their content? I believe the answer lies in a sense of purpose. Purpose is when you take a long, hard look at what you deliver, identify the root cause behind all that delivery, what you were trying to do in the first place, and actually make something out of that cause, and try to satisfy that, rather than just letting the momentum of “same method, same content” pull you along until you become like everyone else.

So if we were to apply this thought process to a channel, what would we find? Channels talk to people en masse. They impart information. They excite the emotions to get their point across. They tell stories with the aim of making us feel something, and through the aggregation of their content they build up a certain vision of the world we live in. All the same essential qualities of Public Service. Public Service activities try and impart thoughts and feelings with people, that ideally lead to action. And they do so to people en masse, in a way that tries to galvanise people together. And And if it happens to entertain, all the better for perceptions of the TV channel. This was the thinking behind Channel 4’s new interactive adventure game blockbuster, The Curfew.

I caught up with game developer Littleloud’s Creative Director, Darren Garrett. (more…)

From Broadcasters to Benefactors (Part I)

This is Part I of a two-parter. In tomorrow’s post, James takes a look at what’s already being done to address the provocation he makes here – with an interview with one of the men who’s behind the TV turnaround.

Author: James Mitchell, Planner, BBH London (@jamescmitchell)

Imagine a bath with four very discrete taps: each tap is your access to a very particular supply of water; they cannot be mixed, and you may only turn one tap at a time. This was TV in the twentieth century. In this situation, the pipe and what it carries are basically interchangeable, and your view of a TV channel could be largely made up of the programmes it transmitted. And so, people watched channels – but this idea is crumbling. The perfect storm of several forces is occurring: the multiplication of channels (and the resultant drop in general programming standards), on-demand media via the net, time-shifting and recorded viewing.. they all mean when I go home tonight I’ll be watching nothing but Channel James. If you’re interested, tonight Channel James is probably showing a marathon of streamed Peep Show, a Radio 4 documentary on Russian spying, and my housemate’s bootleg of The Human Centipede. And if any of these things bore me at any point, I can sack the station’s controller and rewrite the schedule. I’m not watching channels, I’m watching programmes.

TV, yesterday. I like to think that the slightly menacing one bottom-right is Fox News.


Old Record Player + Stop Motion + Lights + Tron Legacy Soundtrack = Awesome

This is great. Almost too great to be true. But take a look and see what you think. Hot on the heels of Dentsu London’s clever use of the iPad to paint pictures, something altogether more lofi but equally excellent.

Light Drive from Kim Pimmel on Vimeo.

Stop motion form and colour, using light painting techniques.
Lighting: Kim Pimmel
Sound: Tron Legacy trailers

From Kim Pimmel’s Vimeo site, more detail:

I’ve been interested in taking my Light Study photo series and evolving them into motion pieces. I shot a lot of footage for a VJ gig for FITC San Francisco. So I edited together those stop motion sequences, mashed up some audio from the Tron Legacy trailers, and out came Light Drive.

The video is stop motion, so every frame is an individually shot photograph. Each photograph is a long exposure photo, with exposures reaching up to 20 seconds in some cases. To control the lights, I used an Arduino controlled via bluetooth to drive a stepper motor. The stepper motor controls the movements of the lights remotely from Processing.

The light sources include cold cathode case lights, EL wire, lasers and more.

via @finnbarrw (the constant source of the most magical films and special effects)

The Power And Perils Of Participation

This post was originally written for the Likeminds blog. More about them here, and check out their Creativity and Curation event down in Exeter, UK, 28/29th October.

Ulysses & The Sirens by Herbert Draper

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve argued long and hard here in favour of brands embracing new behaviours if they’re to drive real cultural and commercial impact. To invite participation; to get out there and allow their customers in. And in terms of audience appetite for this, we’ve even gone as far as to question whether Jakob Nielsen’s 90:9:1 rule – that states the vast majority of visitors to any website are only there to lurk – will hold water for much longer in this post last year.

We’re going to continue arguing the case for new behaviour, not against. Nonetheless, there have been a couple of instances that have given us pause for thought recently. (more…)

Raging Against The Machine: A Manifesto For Challenging Wind Tunnel Marketing

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

This is the second of a two-parter by Jim. For the introduction to Wind Tunnel Marketing, check out his earlier post here or read both pieces in today’s Campaign magazine (available on next week). As always, we’d like to know what you think – please share any thoughts in the comments.


1. Seek Difference In Everything We Do

“Is it different?” has been relegated to the last question, the afterthought, the bonus ball.  But the last should be first.

We should tirelessly seek difference in the people we talk to, the questions we ask, the processes we follow. “Is it different?” should be the first question we ask when we look at work  – both in terms of content and form.

2. Kick Out the Norms

We’ve become addicted to backward looking averages. But norms create a magnetic pull towards the conventional. Norms produce normal.  The new frontier doesn’t have norms, but it does have endless supplies of data, and a rich diversity of tools with which to mine it.

We should create a data-inspired future, not a norm-constrained past.

3. Only Talk to Consumers who are Predisposed to Change

Where there is change, there are people that lead and people that follow.  In research we mostly talk to followers, because there are more of them and they’re cheaper. But ultimately they are less valuable.

If we’re seeking to change markets, shouldn’t we talk exclusively to change makers?

4. Embrace Insights From Anywhere

We’ve lived for too long under the tyranny of consumer insight. Of course consumer insight can be engaging, but it can also be familiar.

Surely insights can come from anywhere and we’re just as likely to find different insights from an analysis of the brand, the category, the competition, the channel, and, above all, the task. (more…)

Wind Tunnel Marketing (in today’s Campaign)

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

Jim wrote a post here a few months back which we’re happy to say Campaign magazine ( asked him to expand on further for today’s issue. We’re sharing the article in full here now, so anyone outside the UK can see it simultaneously. This is one of two posts – we particularly like his solution to the issue: Raging Against the Machine: A Manifesto for Challenging Wind Tunnel Marketing, which you can read here.


Have you noticed that all the ads are looking the same?

Perfectly pleasant, mildly amusing, gently aspirational.

The insightful reflection of real life, the pivotal role of the product, the celebration of branded benefit.

Advertising seems so very reasonable now.  Categories that were once adorned with sublime creativity are now characterised by joyless mundanity.

Some of you will recall the day in 1983 when we woke up and noticed that the cars all looked the same.  There was a simple explanation.  They’d all been through the same wind tunnel.  We nodded assent at the evident improvement in fuel efficiency, but we could not escape a weary sigh of disappointment.  Modern life is rubbish…

Are we not subjecting our communications to something equivalent: Wind Tunnel Marketing? (more…)

Painting with Light, using an iPad. An ace film from Dentsu, London

The team at Dentsu in London collaborated with a team of geeks at Berg London, and, using all sorts of crazy computer modeling and animation techniques, created 3D light-paintings by playing a “CAT-scan” style animation on the iPad while sweeping the iPad through the air. Then, by repeatedly sweeping through the air with various 3D models, they were able to create 3D light painting stop-motion animations.

Words don’t do it justice, take a look.

Making Future Magic: iPad light painting from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

There are far more details and some good insights around the technology behind the project on the rather good Dentsu blog, written by old BBH Labs collaborator (Google Chrome) & ex-Glue London head of strategy, Beeker Northam. We look forward to seeing a ton more experimentation in this space.

We came across this on PetaPixel, again via @finnbarrw.