Archive for December, 2010
31st December 10
Posted in BBH Labs
For 11 months and 30 days of the year at Labs we force ourselves to face forward. A relentless, 24/7, barely-stop-for-a-sandwich, is-the-singularity-here-yet? pursuit of the future. Okay, you know what we mean. On the last day of the year, however, it seems like a good moment to look back briefly, draw breath and say thank you.
The ten posts here that we’ve pulled from several times that number in 2010 are a representation, versus an exhaustive analysis, of the themes that coloured our year. Nonetheless, there are some common threads that emerge along the way to help paint a picture. This year, five particularly large threads dominate: collaborative creativity, social ideas, new agency models, ‘new school’ learning and sustainable marketing.
As we said when we did this in 2009, this post also gives us the opportunity to say thanks. Thank you for reading this blog and for inviting us to contribute to yours, for debating with us, asking and answering great questions, sharing your wisdom and making us smarter.
If the past few years have taught us anything at all, it is this: the more insanely steep the curve on change, the stronger our need for the talent and generosity of the people around us.
This was also a year of hellos and goodbyes at Labs. Hello to Saneel who joined us in NYC and Jeremy who joined us in London, and goodbye to Pats and to Labs co-founder Ben, who landed awesome jobs at CHI in London and Google respectively. We miss our partners in crime, but we’re as excited as ever about what’s coming next, both for them and all of us.
Which brings us neatly full circle, facing forward again. . .
Happy New Year Everyone.
Saneel, Jeremy, Mel
So here they are, the ten posts we most enjoyed and which triggered a conversation from which we learned a lot. Posts are in chronological order, with links (via titles) to the original posts.
We argued here that creative agencies need to move towards becoming permeable organizations. Those in networks need to be reconfigured as networked organizations versus simply organizations within networks. Creative business must be able to draw on not just the talent within the building, but the many skills and areas of expertise that lie beyond those walls. Written pre the launch of Co: and in the very early days of Victors & Spoils, this post provoked an interesting debate around two interesting questions we posed – what impact does this approach have on agency culture and how do you incentivise people in this framework?
Using the dip in trust of friends and peers cited in the latest Edelman Trust Barameter, we took a look at the factors in play: examining the implications and challenges thrown up for social media (as Mike Arauz summed up in a comment: “the management, navigation, and filtering capabilities we need haven’t kept up with our exploding networks..”). We put forward some thoughts for consideration on how to move forward, two of which I find myself returning to, time and time again: 1. Learn how to marry authority and inclusiveness, 2. Ask yourself if you’re offering something genuinely useful.
This post challenges just about everything we’ve ever learned about loyalty and customer relationships, but does so from the perspective of media efficiency and a shedload of humanity. We argue brands need to let go; concentrate instead on when the context and time is right to initiate a relationship with someone, then move on. The relationship is no less real or valuable, just because it may be fleeting. In doing so, we note, brands demand less depth of information from users, supporting their privacy on the web.
As remixes and spoofs go, we liked Opera’s take on BBH NY / Google Creative Labs’ work for Google Chrome. It also gave us an excuse share the current (awesome, though we say so ourselves) work that was live at the time, as well as go behind the scenes with the Making of.
Prompted to give a talk at our friends’ Power to the Pixel’s Pixel Lab, we examined how brands are telling stories on the web, what entertainment brands have to teach non-entertainment brands about transmedia storytelling and proposed a framework for how brands and producers may work together beyond straightforward product placement or promotions.
In a tour de force of five separate posts spanning the second half of the year by BBH Chairmen, Jim Carroll and Charles Wigley, we railed against the “Wind Tunnel” approach to marketing that uses identical methodologies to deliver insight, ironing out difference. The argument began with Wind Tunnel Politics at the time of the UK election. In the post we’ve chosen here, Jim focuses on a series of solutions looking at how we achieve divergent insight and deliver better value for brands. This in turn was followed up by a workshop Chaz held in Asia: The Anti-Wind Tunnel Marketing Movement. For the full series, please just put ‘wind tunnel marketing’ into the search box of our blog.
A lot more than a farewell post, a considered, entertaining and brilliant bit of writing that sums up 5 years’ worth of learning** on the inside of agency life. Justifiably our most popular post this year in terms of tweet love.
**Note: we’re talking about Ben here, who fits seven days’ work into one on a good day. So the time frame is misleading, better think in terms of dog years instead.
Griffin Farley’s post which does exactly what it says on the tin. An incredibly useful, generous post and a slideshare to boot (co-authored by Campfire’s Mike Monello), examining the hows and whys of “planning not for the people you reach, but the people that they reach.” And a great observation answering Edward Boches’s question: why give content away?
As we say in the post, we like nothing more than great creativity and innovation put to great use. BBH London’s work for St John Ambulance showed a clearly defined communication problem and managed to combine surprise and emotion beautifully.
Inspired by Rachel Botsman’s TED talk, our argument takes the line that marketers so far have focused largely on collaborative production, vs consumption. In this post we examine what the implications might be for brands to exploit this potential shift in focus. As with all these posts, the comments add immense value to the thinking.
AND THE THEMES THAT WOULDN’T STAY DOWN THIS YEAR…
- The rise and rise of social and participatory ideas. Just a few examples of the work and the thinking here: A kind of magic: Myspace Music Fan Videos, Superbowl, super social: The story of Yeo Valley, Burberry’s Global 3D Live Shows + Social, Digital Communities Can Learn From “Leading Clever People“, The Powers and Perils of Participation (originally a guest post on the Likeminds blog).
- Proof that awesome creativity is alive and well, just emerging in new, exciting, tech-enabled forms: our favourites ranged from Ali Merry’s story behind BBH London’s game for Barclays, 56 Sage Street and their Status of Africa Facebook app to awesome light painting with an iPad from Dentsu London and Analogue Digital’s hotel light show for Target. We also love the iOscars and, perhaps most of all, yet more of BBH New York’s outstanding work for Google Chrome.
- The desire to challenge orthodoxy where needed, with some solutions along the way: in addition to the Wind Tunnel series, BBH NY’s Emma Cookson challenged short hand marketing rules whilst Calle Sjoenell with characteristic perspicacity and good humour threw down his Radical Proposal To Save Advertising on the Web. We also asked the questions Agency, Does Your Client Need You?, Where’s the Coke Bottle of the Online World? and later in the year debated whether the word “digital” should be killed for good.
- Sustainable living becomes sustainable marketing? If we make one prediction for 2011, it’s this: the social web will both encourage and enable businesses to behave more sustainably and win in the process. Give to receive. Think about it. If brands and agencies need any encouragement or provocation from others, here are just some of the show-stoppingly great initiatives and platforms that caught our eye this year: Pencils of Promise, TIE – Exchange for Good, A Developing Story, Six Items Or Less and Green Thing’s Saved.
- Collaboration and crowdsourcing in all its forms came of age. I tried to write that exact sentence at the end of 2009 and Ben (rightly) questioned it. But this year, no question, crowdsourcing and the overturning of old models kicked into the mainstream. The topic stretched between agency models (see the first post to make our top 10 this year above, it’s also examined in Agency, Does Your Client Need You?), skillsets and attitudes (Are You Ready To Form Voltron?), to hands-on experience via the brilliant Betacup Project, an interview with the founders Len and Daniel of The 3six5 Project and Rick Liebling, not to mention flipping the idea of crowdsourcing on its head and examining the magic that happens when creativity and crowdsourcing meet.
- How storytelling can have the power to move and surprise us, no matter what its form: what the book sensation Tree of Codes can teach digital, James Mitchell’s great #bobt speech The Value of A Good Story and Jeremy’s reevaluation of Long Form. And grateful thanks to our friend Dan Light, who happily subjected himself to a three part interview on brands and transmedia at the hands of Ben Shaw and Mel, whilst setting up his brand spanking new company.
- All back to the new school: the power of perpetual learning. A fitting theme to end on. This year we learned a huge amount from others and it’s only given us appetite to learn some more. We put a call out to join us for an Internet Week Europe event and attempted en masse to learn how to code with the help of the super smart and nice Tom Uglow and friends at Google; we spent time at SXSWi and TED Global (thank you to June Cohen and Ronda Carnegie); Zach Blank showed us what open source has to teach us about creativity; we got a life and a 20% project and learned from one in particular, The Knot Collective. Much respect also due to both Boulder Digital Works (we continue to learn more from the students than they from us) and, er, the CIA. . .as well as BBH NY’s amazing internship program, the BBH Barn, which goes from strength to strength.
16th December 10
The good people from the Cristal Festival (held in Crans, Switzerland.. not a bad place to be at this time of year) got in touch a few months ago, asking me to join a panel today with two very smart ladies, Fernanda Romano (Euro RSCG’s Global CD for Digital & Experiential Advertising) and Patou Nuytemans (Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy EMEA).
We were each asked to come with an answer to the question that’s the title of this post. My response – a super short presentation and what was said to accompany it – below.
When I first heard the question, the answer felt pretty obvious. An immediate YES. Let’s kill it stone dead, with fire, right here, right now. Both Fernanda and Patou argued with absolute certainty that this should be the case, letting a series of integrated award entries from a single telco in Bahrain (yes, that was the point…) do the talking.
Personally, my response was driven by the fact the word feels both outmoded AND it suggests unnecessary complexity; a separation between “digital” and “analogue” that’s vaporising before our eyes. Even before analogue TV channels are switched off forever (in the UK in 2012), we all know audiences flow freely between on and offline and expect to see coherency from brands, wherever they find them. This blurring is only going to get more extreme, until we don’t even notice the difference. In fact, I’m fairly convinced we’re the last generation to even care.
Continuing in this vein, I borrowed the oft-quoted Charlene Li’s statement at SXSW in 2009 that “[digital] social networks will be like air”. Businesses need to prepare themselves for a future where open, hyper-connected networks are the norm. Talking about “digital” vs everything else out there is arguably unhelpful, reminiscent of a past when digital was an after thought and treated as a channel (“okay, we’ve got our big idea, now let’s do some of that digital stuff!”). Now that digital underpins much of what we do, it becomes next to meaningless as a descriptor.
Or does it? Before we draw the knife to kill the word, let’s just hold on a minute. If we stop using the word digital, what would replace it? How would we describe the creative canvas and media environment in which we operate? Note: ‘post-digital’ is not an option.
Taking a step back, there’s nearly always an answer somewhere in history – as Russell Davies’ reference to post-war England in his Post Digital apology perfectly encapsulates – or better still, given I was asked to talk about killing something, let’s learn from Mother Nature.
There’s a natural rhyme and reason to the flow of things in nature. Put incredibly simply, all living things experience at least two of the following during their lifetime: birth, sex, death.
Where are we *really* in the cycle of digital’s life? Actually, I’d argue we’re somewhere just after birth.
We’re certainly no-where near approaching maturity. Like virgins discussing sex, we’ve boasted about nearly doing it, thought we may have done it (not entirely sure) and excitedly talk about what it’ll be like when we’ve done it, you know, A LOT. There are people who are legitimately experienced, but most of us aren’t. Not in the “10,000 hours logged coding” sense of the word.
Sure, we don’t all need to know how to code brilliantly in order to qualify. Although I’d like to suggest we might want to learn a little. Ad agency creatives ten years ago didn’t need to be directors, editors or lighting cameramen to write great TV scripts. However, they’d lived with telly and newspapers their whole lives and learned the craft of writing, design and art direction before they ever dared set foot inside an agency. Likewise the UK’s IPA has stacks of papers which prove the effectiveness of advertising, yet would be the first to admit the real ROI of digital activity is still in its infancy.
Until the industry at large has a universal understanding of what it takes in terms of craft and intelligence to deliver *outstanding* digital work, suggesting we should ‘kill digital’ feels grossly premature.
In writing this, I’m reminded of Iain Tait’s last column for NMA just last month, in which he protested with good reason:
“Digital may be everyday, but it’s not effortless… It’s time to stop all the nonsense about trying to call this stuff this or that. Only thing that matters is whether it’s good or not. The only thing more stupid than all the word-monkeying is denying that technology, code and making things out of bits and bytes is important.”
I’ve got a lot of sympathy with this for a bunch of reasons (as I’ve said before here, a favourite post of mine is The Tragic Death of Practically Everything), but in the main I’d like us to show digital some respect. Yes, it informs everything like air, but that doesn’t make it easy to breathe.
In short, I’d like our industry to be allowed to reach its potential in terms of digital skill. Not recognising the particular craft skills and necessary time on the clock runs the risk of arresting our collective development. Let’s not let that happen.
8th December 10
Posted in storytelling
Author: Jessica Berta (@jeccaberta), Writer, BBH NYC
Certain artists are typecast, sometimes by choice. They capture a style so well that it comes to define them. Author Jonathan Safran Foer falls outside of that camp with a chameleonic thud. He keeps us curious.
In his new book, Tree of Codes, Foer does with a physical book what we often neglect in digital—he turns reading into an experience. In showing how a story’s environment affects its meaning, he gives digital storytellers a slap in the face.
Tree of Codes, breaks from the standard book format in two ways:
- It creates a new story by tearing apart and piecing together an old one—Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.
- Each page is die-cut to reveal just a handful of words and phrases.
I found the book annoying to read at first, despite its delicate beauty. I couldn’t decipher between the page I was reading and the ones beneath it. It was like a depth perception test following a mug of bourbon.
After sobering up and finding a better technique, I enjoyed the layout. Words hovered in a dream-ridden state. Thought went into each line, each phrase and how it was laid out. Such attention to the UX of reading is tough to find on the web. Foer’s analog approach would be easy enough to toy with in digital. So why aren’t we more playful with narratives online?
Brilliant writing isn’t enough to keep readers happy. Long blocks of copy, no matter how poetic, are begging for attention spans to scamper off elsewhere. In a design dominant field, it’s easy to neglect voice, tone, even punctuation. Or to forget about how each will figure into a broader environment.
Maybe that’s because we get swept up in technology. We use it to tell stories rather than to shape them. The following ideas and executions use technology to influence how stories are read. Bravo! The better ones put UX at the forefront. In doing so, they offer some lessons in communicating creatively.
- We Tell Stories: Bring physical location into the narrative.
- Telescopic Text: Let the reader decide what information to absorb.
- TextArc: Represent text visually.
- The Sweet Old Etcetera: Make static literature kinetic. There are lots more eLiterature examples here.
- Open Bookmarks: Consider the selfish benefits to social reading.
- Ben the Bodyguard: Communicate utility via a character.
- @RuthBourdain: Mix vinegar and oil. Hilarity ensues. (Perhaps a bit off the mark, but a good demo of re-imagining existing voices.)
These concepts and methods fool with language, narrative and technology to entertain. It’s humbling to think that a few pieces of paper and an X-Acto knife can do the same.
When we leave room for interpretation and delight, we can expand the playground for digital fiction. We can turn stories into experiences that are unique to each reader. So let’s stop neglecting the goddamn words. Pretty please?