Monthly Archives: September 2011

Google #Firestarters 3: Building A New Agency OS

For the third event in the Google #Firestarters series its curator extraordinaire, Neil Perkin, chose to tackle the issues of “legacy structures, processes and thinking” head-on with the question: “what might the operating system for the agency of the future look like?“.

It’s a hairy, humbling monster of a question, not least because talk of new agency structures and ways of working so often teeters precariously on the edge of empty buzzword bingo (check out Tim Malbon’s post last year on Agile as a cargo cult).

On Tuesday night, Martin Bailie, James Caig and I were given 20 minutes to share a response. I attempted to avoid painting a picture of an agency built of silicon, and instead set out to describe something rather more prosaic. These days, perhaps more than ever, agencies are almost ALL about culture; their operating system a set of programs designed to encourage creativity and responsive behaviour, not codify inflexible structures and processes. Get the culture right and the rest follows. So the question becomes: what sort of agency culture do you want to create or be a part of? And what about all the contextual stuff we perhaps need to consider first?

[slideshare id=9473564&doc=melexonfirestarters3-110929094559-phpapp01]

A simple take on the impact of technology

We’ve known for years that the opportunities to buy mass attention are shrinking by the day, just as the opportunities to earn and measure attention become ever more enticingly available. If today Google’s Panda algorithm places ever more pressure on businesses to boost the signal not increase the noise and Facebook’s EdgeRank reduces the visibility of brands that send users to sleep, imagine what this will be like in future. At its simplest, it adds up to the same thing: ALL marketing – not just the rare handful of brands that regularly win awards – needs to be *genuinely* useful or entertaining. If  not, marketing will become that thing that marketers and agencies fear the most: unseen and unheard.

If we can just wake up to this fact, this is a show-stoppingly great moment in time for our industry. There simply isn’t room for me-too, clutter-up-your-life, half-baked ideas, or one way messages dumped on the web dressed up to look “interactive”. However, there is lots of room for marketing done with skill and purpose, that people want to share, remix and make their own.

I’m calling this Marketing Singularity – an absurd title, which I’ll explain it in a second. For now, I just want to restate how it feels that we’re at a tipping point in our industry’s life cycle. If we can just set ourselves straight, it’s going to be epic. Let me explain why and how…

Is the pace of change exponential or logarithmic?

Let’s start with a question that’s at the root of why we’re having this conversation in the first place: the oft-discussed pace of change. Jeremy pointed me to a speech made earlier this month by Ben Hammersley, who spoke with provocative eloquence about an incumbent generation of leaders losing ground on a ‘Internet era’ revolution racing away from them. Around the same time, Matt Edgar wrote a spirited rebuttal to the common assumption that the pace of change is accelerating.. It feels important to decide where you sit on this debate, because if the pace of change is exponential, then it follows we need to have systems in place that encourage us to plan a lot further ahead – or react more nimbly – than we have currently. Or perhaps that isn’t the point. The pace of change may or may not be accelerating, but the pace of life is de facto faster than it was, say, five years ago. And whilst Matt questions whether technology’s exponential rate of change actually impacts on our lives to the same degree, I find that a peculiar assumption. Technology doesn’t sit on the sidelines of our lives these days: it’s embedded, root and branch. What’s more, the technology companies themselves regard speed as a competitive advantage (“Better products, faster” – Larry Page, Google shareholders’ meeting, 2011). Last week’s avalanche of tech news (again) is a case in point.

Marketing Singularity?

In fact you could argue we’re approaching Marketing Singularity: the point at which marketing is forced to become exponentially better, until it is so useful or entertaining it ceases to be a separate, stand-alone, one-way message and instead becomes indistinguishable from the product or service it promotes.

It might be content, it might be a framework or a game that invites participation; or even participation that gets displayed as a game. Platforms are brand operating systems, campaigns are applications. As Ben pointed out earlier this year, these are not binary.

Marketing as a profit centre, not a cost

Taking this to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t we aim to create marketing products and services that are so good, people are prepared to pay for them? Even if this approach isn’t what’s required (perhaps a Freemium model is the way to begin), I like the responsibility it places upon our shoulders: make marketing valuable to people. Looking further out, we may look back on the days we spent millions of dollars just paying for the privilege to reach people as a little odd. Brands like Audi and Red Bull are early experimenters in the guise of brands as committed media owners / publishers.

The kind of agency OS this demands

A few programs for starters:

Reductive thinking everywhere

At Labs, we admire the ruthless economy, flex and energy of a great start up as much as the next person. Kickstarter and Instagram are two of the better known examples of Minimum Viable Product thinking. For any agency worth their salt, the fundamental principles of MVP should not feel new. Great brand strategy and creative have *always* been about the art of sacrifice. The task now is to apply that mindset throughout agency departments: reduce to MVP, then listen (data) and pivot as required. This becomes all the more important when we look at shifts in business stability: from long periods of stability and short periods of disruption, to the reverse. This is a model for marketing too – let’s get comfortable with an environment that needs to flex and morph.

Silicon vs carbon

As Rishad Tobaccowala said a few days ago, ‘the world may be digital, but people are analog.” Any agency OS needs to be built around people, not technology.

‘Big is a collection of smalls’

People habitually join agencies like BBH from colleges and smaller agencies because they want to do something at SCALE. Accordingly, the very last thing we need to do is shy away from growth. Instead, the best agencies are increasingly breaking into nimbler, cross-functional teams, often with hybrid skills and collaborative in mindset. As Nigel Bogle puts it, ‘big is a collection of smalls’. Teams with autonomy, but access to shared services.

Whilst we should cast for the client or task in question (don’t take the team structure I sketched too literally), it’s worth drawing attention to the ‘broker’ role. If you’re interested in non-traditional media partnerships and thinking, you need a deal maker in your team.

Networked, versus in a network

We cannot do everything ourselves. With every layer of complexity, comes a deeper requirement to nurture and build strong external partnerships. Labs is a product of its network, plain and simple.

Foster Renaissance (wo)men

We’ve said this before, but we’re living through a Renaissance period. To be successful, we need fearless people who want to collaborate and learn from other industries. Deal makers, entrepreneurs, makers.. The people who never hold back from making the thing they dream of, just because the tools don’t exist today. Because they know they’ll exist tomorrow.

Make real things

You don’t need a 3D printer to make stuff or experience the benefits of making a proto-type of your idea. Making an early version of something – even if it’s rubbish (many years ago, I remember taking a mockup of a Boddingtons Tetra pak to a client meeting, to sell the idea of ‘Fresh Cream’. They hated it) – teaches you stuff you don’t find out if you stay in theory mode. So go buy a soldering iron and make something… There’s also a non-too-subtle shift going on between experiences that live entirely online (potentially interesting) and those that straddle the real world too (potentially fascinating). Check out Russell Davies’ piece for Campaign and the brilliant Marc Owens’ Avatar Machine if you want to read more.

Stay curious

Adopting and encouraging a culture of constant learning sounds exhausting, but it may well be the only way to stay sane. Learn to code, get comfortable in the wild, stay open, stay curious – I’m enjoying playing with my Weavr thanks to @zeroinfluencer – create your own here. A phrase used often at BBH and which turned up on our login screens this summer is perhaps an apt way to close: “Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you.”


We’d love to hear what you think – what are the other programs you’d want to include in an agency OS?

Check out Martin’s presentation here and James’s here.

Thank you to Neil, James, Martin and everyone who came and contributed… as always, the discussion got most interesting when the formal presentations stopped and everyone piled in. Aside from following the conversation here #Firestarters or nicely storified here, there have also been several thought provoking response posts (check out this one here from Simon Kendrick or this one here from Shea Warnes for starters). As always, Neil’s follow-up post will be one to look out for too.

Fuel for Little Gamers

Author: Pablo Marques (@pablo_marques), Creative Director, BBH London & BBH Labs


A few hours ago we introduced Weetakid to the world, together with his arch-enemy, Evil Eater. The game is a playful execution of Weetabix’s brand strategy and a great example of an idea as a direct solution to a clear business challenge.

Weetabix’s boxes are making into families’ cupboards in great numbers, but they are just not making it out of there often enough.

If we could increase the number of times the box makes it to the breakfast table we would be able to increase consumption and sales.

So Weetakid was born to do just that. It is a game targeted at kids, especially those from 7 to 11 years old, as they are the gravitational centre of the household during the busy hours of our morning rituals.

In the game, kids take control of Weetakid, a creature who has just seen his little world robbed of all its energy by Evil Eater, the galaxy’s villain. The game involves a quest to retrieve the items stolen by the Evil Eater which can be found through playing a number of engaging mini games.

But Weetakid like any other kid, needs energy, especially if it is going to travel the galaxy to rebuild its world. So every morning kids will need to feed Weetakid to ensure that they both have a day full of fun and adventure.

To feed Weetakid, players will need a box of Weetabix. And that is what makes the idea so special.

To enable the interaction between the the product package and the game we’ve used a set of technologies more notoriously known as Augmented Reality.

That link between box and game is a special and symbiotic one. It doesn’t get in the way of the experience, but actually enhances it. And it does it in a way that not only helps us solve our business problem but also enables us to start driving consumer behaviour to a place closer to our brand messaging, Weetabix is your fuel for big days.

The pack has also become the place in which we are launching the game. With widespread distribution and wide readership (the back of pack is arguably one of the most read items in the household) it will be a perfect way to reach our audience and promote the game.

A multi layered production challenge

Weetakid, albeit a small game, was a big integrated production puzzle that involved many different disciplines. We had to create bespoke songs, write films, direct and record voice overs, create characters and animations, design a game and make a website, among other things. And we had two months to do everything.

We had two amazing integrated producers from BBH working on it and coordinating the whole joint effort.

As Dani Michelon (@danimichelon) our lead integrated producer on the project puts best:

“By the time we contacted our partners we had gone a long way into the game already, we had game flowcharts, schematics and storyboards. We had a good picture of it in our heads but there was still a lot to be done to make it reality and it was humbling to see how all the people involved collaborated so well. It was great fun to work on it and see it coming to life.”

Firstly we contacted Yum Yum London (@yumyumlondon) and worked with them to develop the characters and animations to bring our universe to life and to design the back of the Weetabix boxes.

Secondly came Radium audio (@radiumaudioltd) to create the amazing music that players will enjoy in the game and North Kingdom (@northkingdom) to actually put the game together and code all of that magic in.

We also engaged society46 (@society46) who designed our Weetakid website.

And finally The Mill (@millchannel) helped us produce our trailer.

So after many long weeks and nights we pulled the game together; an effort of epic proportions. It was a clear labour of love and the amount of fun myself and the creative team (Felipe Guimarães @think_felipe and Lambros Charalambous @creativelamb) felt borderline illegal.

We hope you and your kids can enjoy playing it as much we enjoyed making it. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Full project credits

Creative Direction: Pablo Marques (@pablo_marques) / Dominic Goldman

Art Direction: Felipe Guimarães / Pablo Marques / Yum Yum London

Writer: Lambros Charalambous

Game Design: Pablo Marques / Felipe Guimarães / Lambros Charalambous

Lead Producers: Daniela Michelon, Jo Osborne

Strategy Director: Nina Rahmatallah

Business Director: Nick Stringer

Team Manager: Luke Algar

Legal: Henry Rowan-Robinson

Character Design / Awesomeness: Yum Yum London

Music / Sound: Radium Audio

Sound Producer: Sam Brock

Game and interface programming: North Kingdom

Trailer edit: The Mill

Website design/production: Society 46

BBH London is looking for a UX Principal

Author: Adam Powers, Head of User Experience, BBH London

The User Experience (UX) Principal will have responsibility for delivering world-class UX for BBH London across a diverse, valuable portfolio of clients.

We are looking for someone with a tenacious, entrepreneurial spirit; someone who’s happiest rolling up their sleeves in the relentless pursuit of useful and beautiful solutions in an often dynamic and changing environment. They must also be nice. (more…)

ASOS Urban Tour: An Experiment In Shopping Culture

Author: Lucia Komljen, Strategist, BBH London

This week saw the launch of ASOS Urban Tour – a shoppable, cultural experience in the form of an interactive platform promoting ASOS A/W 2011 menswear collection.  It invites the audience to watch some of the world’s most skilled urban musicians, dancers, designers and artist in action across the world and to explore what – and where – inspires their craft and their style. The centerpiece is a dynamic, shoppable video set in London which can be paused and explored at any point, presenting the user with more information on the dancers and enabling the purchase of their looks.

Overall, we hope Urban Tour is an example of what can be achieved when you push technology and design in an attempt to seamlessly combine entertainment and service for e-commerce brands. Furthermore, it’s another demonstration of just how powerful it can be when technology enables ambitious creativity throughout the customer journey.

Here’s the story behind the work so far, we’d love to hear what you think. (more…)

Revenge of the Microsite

Author: Calle Sjoenell, Deputy Chief Creative Officer, BBH NY

These are probably words that will haunt me forever, but I must write a tribute to the microsite, currently going through a Phoenix-like transformation known as the web app.

The microsite was originally created to capture a single minded idea in one destination. So sharp and elegant in its purpose, the concept spread and made everyone visit.

For me, it started with IKEA’s Dream Kitchen, one click and hold and I spun in a whirlwind of kitchen options. Minimal input, maximum output, the product at the dead center of the idea. And it sold truckloads if kitchens.

But as with all great ideas, there where thousands of bad executions, wasting clients’ money with little to show in scale or engagement as a result.

Then, of course, marketers had to make a rule about it. We can only build things where the audience is already hanging out. “Fish where the fish are,” and all that. This is in fact a worse sin: creating a blanket rule that microsites don’t work. It’s like saying investing in Internet companies doesn’t work.

This is why I’m musing over the next marketer and publisher obsession on the Internet: the web app. The functionality of HTML5 and its related technology brings us out of the tyranny of page to page style navigation on the web. We will probably laugh at our text and picture based catalogue websites in a few years, a world where each step took 10-15 seconds of mental processing to solve. The web app brings single minded functionality with new interactive capabilities. Just look at the web app versions of Tweetdeck, NY Times and Angry Birds and you see the potential. Eerily like a microsite.

But we can never forget the cardinal rule of communication that now rules all media channels, even TV.

If you make something great, they will come (or watch). Otherwise, they won’t.

Damn, did I just make a blanket rule?

Long live the microsite.

500 Startups NYC Demo Day

Photo taken by Griffin Farley

The BBH Labs team had a chance to attend Dave McClure’s 500 Startups NYC Demo at General Assembly this week. Dave is a Super Angel who has invested in startups like and Twilio. The room was packed with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, inventors, geeks, developers, cooks, fashion hounds, drunks, Bloggers and investors waiting to get a glimpse into the freshly born companies.

During the course of the evening we learned some new lingo that 500 Startups seems to use for all ventures:

Advisory Round – All the startups had an advisory round of funding. These rounds were typically under $150k

Double Down – This is a focus on a target audience, occasion or time of year when the startup will win

Angelist – The website that houses all startups and makes it easy for angel investors to get information on founders and concepts

Cobra High-Five – A celebratory hand gesture between two people simultaneously that mixes a normal high-five and moving your arm and hand in cobra-like motion

Every idea was impressive in its own right. At BBH Labs we tend to like ideas that fix fundamental human problems in innovate ways. Venture Beat did a great write up on all the ideas but here are a few that we would like to highlight:

DailyAisle: Reinvent the wedding planning process

The DailyAisle is the Kayak of wedding planning. You can search for venues, photographers, DJ’s for a wedding by budget, dates and the like. Daily Aisle takes a 10 percent reservation fee for each wedding venue booked through the site. They currently only serve the San Francisco area but we expect to see them in towns across the States soon.

Ovia: Reinvent the interview process

Ovia is an online video interviewing service. Job candidates record un-rehearsed answers to questions using their webcam and then ship the video over to a human resources provider. The candidates are all asked the same questions in the same manner. Recruiters can then watch and evaluate candidate responses. OVIA Presentation

Skipola: Reinvent the restaurant phone order

Skipola is a service that calls a restaurant for you when you want to order something. Less than 10% of restaurants have online ordering. Restaurants can also use the iPad app to retrieve the orders in a “ticket” like manner. Skipola Presentation

StoryTree: Reinvent the family bible

StoryTree is an online site that keeps track of a family’s significant moments — like a baby’s first steps or the death of a loved one. You record videos and add photos to build out a “tree.” Social Networks are in the moment and StoryTree makes the moment last. Storytree Presentation

Which of these startups do you like most? What other startups are you following? We want to hear from you.