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Archive for December, 2010

  • A Quick Glance Back – 10 of Our Favourite Posts from 2010

    31st December 10

    Posted by Mel Exon

    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.

    1. Where Does the Agency End, And The Crowd Begin?

    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?

    2. Will Social Media Eat Itself?

    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.

    3. Screw Relationships, Let’s Have A Fling; On Brands & The Privacy Debate

    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.

    4. We Know Chrome is Fast, But…(Google Chrome Speed Tests)

    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.

    5. A Perfect Storm: the social web, storytellers and brands

    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.

    6. Raging Against the Machine: A Manifesto For Challenging Wind Tunnel Marketing

    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.

    7. Ben’s Last Post: Some Things I’ve Learned At BBH

    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.

    8. How To Do Propagation Planning

    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?

    9. St John Ambulance: The Difference

    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.

    10. What Collaborative Consumption Means For Marketers

    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 VideosSuperbowl, super social: The story of Yeo ValleyBurberry’s Global 3D Live Shows + SocialDigital 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 PromiseTIE – 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.

  • What Collaborative Consumption Means For Marketers

    28th December 10

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in collaboration

    Source: "What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption," Botsman & Rogers

    I recently watched Rachel Botsman’s TEDxSydney talk on collaborative consumption (below) and realized how little most marketers are thinking about the impact of crowds on the future of consumption. Instead, they’re focused on the impact of crowds on production (crowdsourcing! co-creation! predictive markets!).

    For an in-depth overview of the landscape as Rachel defines it, I recommend her guest post on the Swiss Miss blog (or her book). In the interim, here are her three systems, which she uses as a framework for collaborative consumption:

    1. Product Service Systems: Pay for the benefit, not the product (think paying for the hole, not the power drill that makes it)

    Example: ZipCar

    2. Redistribution Markets: Exchanges that move used goods to where there’s new need (think the stretching of product life cycles for things like DVD’s)

    Example: SwapTreasures

    3. Collaborative Lifestyles: People with similar interests band together (think co-working)

    Example: AirB&B

    If you’re in the business of selling goods or services, you should likely spend at least some time thinking about the consequences of such a trend. The following are some initial thoughts on what marketers may want to consider in a world of collaborative consumption. We’d love it to be the beginning of a dialogue on the matter, so please feel free to comment or email us with your thoughts.

    Focus less on “influence” and more on “reputation.”

    Marketers are obsessed with influencers in the hope they’ll help others make purchase decisions. Yet, if more people are doing business with each other, it’s the commercial reputation of a stranger, not their “influence” that becomes incredibly important. Whether marketers like it or not, these sellers are a part of the product experience (think about that bad online purchase experience you had and the impact on the oblivious product company). Perhaps then they should account for those in their target audience that are likely to be the foundation of the secondary market of their products. It may just open up an entirely new branch of propagation planning (“plan not just for those that buy your products, but for those that will eventually buy your products from them”). The economics just got trickier, but finding a way to make money in secondary markets will be essential, and the best way to create demand is to make sure those re-selling your product are representative of the brand.

    Squeeze more dollars out of early adopters

    The true value of early adopters is always hard to determine for a brand. However, as collaborative consumption takes off, they’ll become more important across a range of product categories. In those instances that marketers simply cannot monetize re-sale markets (what brands can feasibly make money from people buying each other’s used goods on Craigslist?), they’ll have to find a way to sell more to the same people, even when those people aren’t brand loyal. Those that buy products upon release may need to be catered to in unprecedented ways. Brands could feasibly help them re-sell, conceding the cannibalization such an effort could have on mass audience sales. In fact, it may be in some brand’s best interest to speed up the cycle between sales to an elite few. It’s not dissimilar to how content publishers think about participation platforms and those very elite community members that are incredibly valuable.

    Help people loan to help yourself sell

    As strangers loan goods to one another, they’re may be an opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves in that regard. Imagine apps that work concurrently with products to help you monetize them when you loan them out. If I loaned my car to strangers for money, I’d prefer one that helps me monitor how much gas that stranger actually cost me in today’s dollars. Or if I lent expensive products like technology, I’d pay a bit more for those that could be located via GPS like the MobileMe “Find My iPhone” feature to deter theft. Such features would be an investment because they would help me monetize my product purchase via collaborative consumption channels, and help such products pay for themselves.

    Become an active participant in passion areas

    We’ve been discussing how brands need to embrace social media flings, in which they have brief but meaningful relationships with consumers. Brands can bond with people over a shared passion (if the brand can credibly contribute to the dialogue). Rachel’s “collaborative lifestyles” system is full of potential for such flings. If a site like Landshare connects growers with those who have land, the entire community feels ripe (sorry, couldn’t help it) for relevant brands to play a role. Imagine a company like DeWit gardening tools facilitating connections in such a community. Not only does that potentially grow business (ok, I’ll stop), but it also offers a “boring” product category a chance to be human and engage people on a topic they’re passionate about. Social media flings aren’t just for the Red Bulls and Nikes of the world. They can happen in small, but highly passionate communities—even if those communities are circumventing buying more of the brand’s product by sharing. Regardless of flings, passionate communities are doors to social engagement of any kind for a brand, and collaborative consumption may just be a master key.

    We’re huge believers in collaboration (it’s perhaps the future of agency business). If consumers are going to collaborate anyway, the bigger impact of crowds on marketer business may be in how products are bought and used, rather than how they’re made or developed (or the growing space in between led by Groupon). Given how many brands are struggling to benefit from crowds, the fact that consumers have taken matters into their own hands (of course) may be a windfall. The economics of how brands make money will certainly become more complicated, but collaborative consumption actually makes things simpler for marketers on some levels. They can stop dealing with crowd dynamics in the production process and instead focus on understanding how crowds change what they know quite well: how they’re products are actually used and valued.

  • Super Bowl, Super Social: The Story Of Yeo Valley

    24th December 10

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in creativity, Cross-platform

    YeoTube, the brand's YouTube channel (never knowingly afraid of a pun).

    It seems every food brand on the planet wants to be “100% natural” these days. In the face of rising ethical consumption, even the unlikeliest of brands – McDonald’s, Muller and Walkers crisps to name a few – are responding and staking a claim. Always outspent in marketing terms, organic food producers – just at the point they should be claiming their day in the sun – face being outpositioned too. If you care about it enough, you only have to Google the term to find out that there are real and significant benefits to sustainably produced organic food, but why bother when even a celebrity chef tells us conventional foods are good enough?

    Ask a mainstream UK audience in a recession-hit early 2010 what they had to say about organic food and the impact of all this showed: top responses included increased scores against “expensive”, “worthy” and “a bit dull”.

    By contrast, when a team of us met Tim Mead (whose family started making dairy products under the Yeo Valley name in 1974) in March this year, two things were striking:

    1. His approach: an unapologetic marriage of entrepreneurialism and down-to-earth common sense. An organic farmer for the 21st century if there ever was one.

    2. Their vision: Tim and his mother, Mary Mead, believe organic, sustainably produced food should be accessible to everyone.  Philosophically and practically it’s a virtuous circle: the more people eat sustainably produced food, the better it is for all of us and the planet. But “accessible to everyone” demands prices that are competitive to conventional products and that in turn makes a volume-based strategy for Yeo Valley both an economic possibility AND an absolute necessity, if the company is to prosper.

    Which was where they saw a role for marketing: to drive demand amongst a necessarily broader, more mainstream audience, along the way helping people to remember Yeo Valley’s name and what it stands for – not least the fact it’s a real place in the West Country.

    Our strategy was simple: tackle the perception issue head-on by reversing the expectations of how an organic brand should behave amongst a mainstream UK audience. Goodbye: worthy and earnest. Hello: open and social, populist and proud.

    For more on the anatomy of our approach take a look below. First up, some results and what we’ve learned so far. It’s still very early days and we’ve resisted writing about this until we had some (hot off the press) commercial data. We’ll have more substantive conclusions once we’re further in, but here’s what we know for now:

    - Furthermore, Yeo Valley spontaneous awareness as a dairy brand had more than doubled just 2 weekends in to the campaign (7% to 15%). Source: Nursery brand tracker

    - Of the online mentions since launch in October an average week records a 94.9% favourable sentiment score – fuelled no doubt by over 550 blogposts and the odd celebrity tweetSource: Sysomos sentiment analysis


    10 THINGS WE’VE LEARNT

    Perhaps few surprises here, but at the very least a strong reinforcement of some evolutionary truths about modern fmcg marketing:

    1. Be true to the people who live the brand, not the perception. In this case, organic brands don’t have to wear sandals.
    2. Broadcast can still play a crucial role. If you want to reach a discrete audience (cf Marmarati or Stella Artois Black’s Night Chauffeur) it may be far from necessary, however if your task is mass appeal and you deliberately want to make a public statement about your brand, then broadcast is hard to beat. The trick for Yeo Valley in this respect was three-fold (points 3, 4 and 5 below):
    3. Strategy is the art of sacrifice. There wasn’t a huge marketing budget to blow. In terms of bought media, instead of attempting to be everywhere, we brokered an exclusive deal with ITV and Fremantle around X Factor and went big with it. One 2 minute spot, first ad in the first break of the UK’s TV biggest show would, we hoped, act as a rocket launcher for the brand. Subsequently, an on-pack promotion and a mix of shorter time length ads appeared, only ever in X Factor on ITV1, ITV2 and itv.com.
    4. Super bowl, super social: we began the process believing the answer did not lie in choosing between social and broadcast, but in committing to both wholeheartedly. To borrow @willsh’s analogy, ‘fireworks bring you to the brand, you stay for the warming fire’. In Yeo Valley’s case, this meant live event TV every weekend, with an ongoing bedrock of conversation and additional content on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube which extends, deepens and personalizes the brand’s relationship with new customers.
    5. As we’ve said before, it’s not about now, it’s about the trajectory. The basics of the brand’s behaviour and presence online were laid down months before the TV ad launch and will continue long after; amongst other things getting to know like-minded bloggers, who came to Yeo Valley over the summer to see for themselves how a sustainable dairy farm is run.
    6. Reward the fans – by recognising the very best remixes and spotting what they like and giving them more (in our case, letting Ted the owl take over @yeovalley for a day on Twitter and produce his own edit).
    7. If you can, change the rules of a category. Quite simply, the conversation around Yeo Valley was fuelled by content and behaviour that caught people’s imagination in a surprising way. A brand trending on Twitter a few days in a row may not be a result in itself, but since the sentiment stayed largely favourable, it gave us a useful indicator of early impact and most importantly where earned media could come from.
    8. Haters gonna hate? Maybe, maybe not. Sure, some criticism should be ignored, but we’ve gained a lot more by listening, taking a deep breath and responding.
    9. Have an organising thought that can cross platforms and time. “Live in Harmony” sums up Yeo Valley’s world view and also gives the brand and its audience the licence to have some fun with music over time, even playing with the sounds of the farm itself: YouTube Preview Image
    10. Brands that get better under scrutiny, not worse, will win in social environments online. With Yeo Valley this was never a problem. But it’s worth thinking beyond your carefully planned editorial calendar: what are the issues and opportunities that just *might* arise?

    THE ANATOMY OF ‘LIVE IN HARMONY’ TO DATE

    The engagement plan set out to splice bought, earned and owned media. It was necessarily quite complex – this is the simple version:


    If you’d like to find out more drop us a comment here, check out the brand’s website or YeoTube for more Yeo Valley videos. These include a Making Of together with a series of films featuring Tim & Mary Mead, each offering a window on Yeo Valley as a real place in the West Country (one example below):

    YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

    Finally, look out for “Farmony“, our Yeo Valley online game teaching kids how to run a sustainable farm, launching in early 2011.

    CREDITS

    Yeo Valley:
    Tim Mead, Managing Director
    Adrian Carne, Commercial Director
    Ben Cull, Head of Brands
    Alison Sudbury, Marketing Manager
    Niki Martini, Assistant Brand Manager
    Sally Laurie, Customer Services Manager

    BBH:
    Rosie Arnold, Deputy Exec Creative Director
    Kevin Brown, Director of Engagement Planning
    Mel Exon, Strategic Business Lead

    Simon Pearse and Emmanuel Saint M’Leux, creative team
    Eric Chia, Digital Creative Lead
    Glenn Paton, Producer

    Mark Whiteside, Team Director
    Simeon Adams, Strategist
    Lawrence Kao, Strategist
    Jim Hunt, Head of Technology
    Craig Dodd, Tech Lead
    Ebla Salvi, Digital Team Manager
    Josie Robinson, Team Manager
    Sarah Barclay, Digital Project Manager
    Daniele Orner-Ginor, Digital Intelligence
    Emile Doxey, Data Analyst
    David Pandit, Head of Data
    Richard Helyar, Knowledge & Insight
    Rebecca Levy, Team Assistant

    PR: Bell Pottinger
    Richard Moss, Director (PR Planning)
    Kate Griffiths, Account Director
    Jacquelyn Redpath, Account Manager

    Brand identity redesign: Pearl Fisher
    Tess Wickstead, Planning Director
    Natalie Chung, Creative Director
    Matt Small, Client Services Director
    Michael Dye, Senior Account Manager
    Henry Leeson, Head of Realisation

    TV Production Company: Flynn
    Julien Lutz, Director
    Emma Butterworth, Producer
    Alex Barber, DoP

    Post Production: Framestore
    Editing: Steve Ackroyd at Final Cut
    Sound: 750mph
    Exposure: TV, UK

  • Digital, can we kill this word for good?

    16th December 10

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in creativity, digital

    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.

  • Tree of Codes and the Web It Left Behind

    8th December 10

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    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:

    1. It creates a new story by tearing apart and piecing together an old one—Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.
    2. 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.

    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?