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  • Archive for March, 2012

    • A day in the life of BBH

      29th March 12

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in BBH

      Every now and again, we get the chance to stop and draw breath, to reflect a little. Today is BBH’s 30th birthday and, to mark the moment, Nigel Bogle wrote to everyone who works here. It’s a personal perspective on the story of BBH, sure, but in reading it, it struck us this might be something of value beyond these four walls. A celebration of – and provocation to – our industry, not just this agency.

      We hope you enjoy it.
      http://www.vimeo.com/39397525
      Hi Everyone,

      Today BBH is 30 years old. Happy birthday to one and all.

      As this day approached I found myself reflecting on what the last 30 years has taught us about running an advertising agency. We have learned a lot, obviously. Thirty years is a long time. A lot about the importance of attracting and developing  the best people, creating the right environment, having clear beliefs and values. But for me, above all else we have learned one simple thing:

      It’s all about the work. Or, as John puts it: ‘All roads lead to the work.’

      I know this is a blindingly obvious thing to say. An advertising agency’s reason to be is to produce work. But the fact remains that when we singlemindedly put the quality of our work above anything else, then everything else falls into place. And when we say it’s all about the work, we are talking about the relentless pursuit of creative excellence. Game changing creativity that has the power to change the fortunes of brands and businesses. Ideas that break out of the confines of their category and enter popular culture.

      That is not easy to do. It not only requires talent, it requires trust. It is harder in some categories than in others. It requires an environment that inspires trust in the clients who entrust their brand communication to us. That is a responsibility every one of us shares, not just those directly involved in the creation of our product. It is why I have said many times that all of us are involved in the work. The way a client is greeted on entering the building, the efficiency with which we handle their financial affairs, even the quality of a cup of coffee, these things all help to create the environment where we can be the best we can be and our clients will trust us to take the calculated risks we need to take.

      Over the last 30 years we have been more consistent than many of our competitors both here in London and across our network. But on closer inspection you will see that we have had our ups and downs. The quality of our creative work has not always been top drawer by the high standards we judge ourselves against. And, reflecting upon the reasons for that, more often that not it has been because we got distracted. By obsessing about new ways of working, shipping in armies of consultants, (one of my bigger mistakes) too much introspection, coping with growth, dotcom madness, whatever. All well intentioned, but in their pursuit we took our eye off the ball that matters most and our product quality dropped. And then our confidence drops too and that is not good because the thing that you put in the fuel tank of an agency is confidence. And as the doubt creeps in you can start to question your belief.

      BBH was built upon a set of beliefs, many of which others did not believe in. 20 plus years of no creative pitching, a policy  the Financial Times called “suicidal.” The belief that we could build a strong global network that competed with the big boys, with a tiny number of offices. A holding company chief said “not in my lifetime” when I told him years ago that was our vision. He’s still alive.

      We have chosen to zag while the world zigs. We have nailed our colours to our first belief, “The Power of Creativity and the Primacy of the Idea”. It is not easy being BBH. We have chosen a demanding path. A path that relies on confidence and self belief. And  we have learned from those ups and downs that nothing reconfirms belief and builds confidence better than doing great work. Hence the lesson we have learned above all others. It’s all about the work.

      Consider BBH London’s work for The Guardian. (And I could reference many other fine examples of BBH work over the years). A brilliant piece of communication, rooted in a fundamental truth about the brand, created by a team of talented people working with a visionary client. It has spread like wildfire and the concept of open journalism is being talked about from here to Australia. It has become news in its own right and entered popular culture. It is game changing.

      But with all that come other good things. People want to know who created the film. People want to share it. Most people love it. Some hate it. That’s okay. Many of our clients admire it. It increases the interest people have in working at BBH anywhere in the world. It puts a spring in our step. It makes us proud. It makes us confident. It reaffirms our belief in ourselves. It makes the phone ring with calls from prospects wanting to meet us. And, perhaps most importantly, it inspires us to try even harder in all we do to reach for that level of excellence. So many other things fall into place when all we do is focus on the work.

      Thirty years. One simple lesson. Running an advertising agency is a very simple business that on occasions we can make complicated. As long as we remember all roads lead to the work then the next 30 years can be even better than the first 30.

      There is one other very important lesson that John, John and I learned before we started BBH. You cannot create a great agency or do great work without great people, working well together. We have been privileged over the last thirty years to have brilliant people join us all over the world and in many cases build their careers with us. Everything we have achieved as a business is down to all of them and all of you. Thank you to every single one of you for making BBH the very special company it is today.

      All the best.

      Nigel

    • ’tis the season to be truthy

      27th March 12

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in Uncategorized

      Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH & BBH Labs

      “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, and no heart.” – Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

      In 2006, Stephen Colbert promised (parodically) to “not tell the news to you, but feel the news, at you.” He coined the term truthiness, a quality applied to something that has a sense of truth, that is true enough to serve its purpose, without actually being factually accurate. It was just a swipe at lazy newscasting, but Colbert had it right – in modern culture the truths we tell ourselves are the ones that best make us feel something. Advertising has long known that, and has told actual truths about its products, wrapped in representational ‘life truths’ that spin off of it. These are narratives, and all parties in the situation know it. So far, so good.

      In my second BBH interview in 2010, Planning Director Ed Booty asked me, “do you think people have had enough of the real?” The concensus we got to was that people could never have enough of the real, but that media forces have worked to inflate people’s expectations of what the real can deliver. Remember: this was at time when Endemol’s solution to the stagnation of ‘reality show’ Big Brother was to put ever more abrasive and conflicting characters into the mix, and people had begun to call it out as a circus. Since then, the response from entertainment has been a whole string of programmes with a new definition of truth: The Hills, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex. Watching them is like reading The National Enquirer; within their own ecosystem they are true, and they offer the most value when you read them as true. Deep down, you know them to be false, but the spectacle tacitly asks you to suspend that to get some value from them. They are truthy. The old masters of this form, the wrestling (“sports entertainment”) industry have a term for this – kayfabe. Successfully engaging with kayfabe can be a lot of fun.

      img credit: wwe.com
      Note: Not an actual undertaker
      The combination of the extremes of fiction and the rawness of reality have left us wanting the impossible – a fantastical truth. At the same time, ever since Cluetrain we’ve come to realise that our collective ability to dismantle a narrative is potent, and hungry. A tough gig for anyone who wants to tell their truth in the most engaging way possible. Remember when James Frey got ripped into A Million Little Pieces by Oprah? It turns out that parts of his story were just that, a story, and it was unforgivable.

      Even when the cause is ‘just’, the scent of manipulation is hard to deoderise. In the past month, we’ve seen KONY 2012 explode and be exploded – partly from speculation about the company’s finances, partly from questions about the appropriateness of the solutions they offered to the problem, but in equal part from the sheer slickness of the manipulation. It was too glossy for the message it was trying to put across, too much like an episode of MTV’s Made, rather than a call to action. The response to this criticism might be “that’s the format our target audience responds to, so that’s what we have to use,” but the savagery of the counterattack suggests that young people still respond to message as much as medium.

      Then there’s Apple. When public radio show This American Life chose to broadcast an excerpt of monologist Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in January, they got their highest-ever ratings in the show’s 17-year history. That’s because Mike’s monologue is the story of his experiences in Chinese tech factories, including Foxconn, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers. Because it describes the working practices that go into making the tech we use even as we consume blogs like this one. The narrative arc and the expertly crafted pathos could only come from a practiced storyteller – and therein came the problem, because Daisey used  a storyteller’s toolbox – deletion, distortion and assumption – to the point where the story just wasn’t true any more. It was a cobbling together of things that happened to Daisey, things that used to happen but don’t any more, things he’d heard about from others but had no proof of, and simple fabrication. And Daisey has been eviscerated by much of his audience. This American Life has never felt so mortally wounded – to the point where Ira Glass and his team produced an entire episode called simply Retraction, and pulled the original from the podcast feeds.

      Where does that leave the practice of marketing? Advertising deals in truthiness because it uses things that didn’t happen to get audiences to think of what could happen, and to feel the ‘truth’ of a brand’s world. And this was Mike Daisey’s defence on This American Life: “this isn’t about me lying to you or anyone else. This is about me doing everything I could to get the media to pay attention… Did I go too far in that effort? Maybe. That’s for others to judge.” The truth didn’t quite cut it, so he used made up facts in order to get to what he thought was a higher truth – the story of labour practice in other countries. And to be fair, it worked well enough to enchant the audiences on his tour, the normally journalistically rigorous This American Life, and everyone that listened to it – including the New York Times.

      But what these events teach us is the care we must use when we wield the power of story. That when you have an audience that wants life to be larger than life, they should know where and when the enlargements and the brightening of the colours is occurring. There have been calls for cosmetic adverts to have an “airbrushing watermark”. We don’t need to go that far for story: rather, we just have to watch where we’re putting the truthiness. We have to map the zones in the media space where absolute truth is expected – yes, spaces like facebook and twitter – and treat people with what they deserve there.

      But the biggest lesson of all lies further upstream. As marketers for brands, we’re usually telling stories about ourselves. So if we want to tell any story we can – all we have to do is make those facts be true by causing them to happen. If you’re Starbucks, don’t just talk about how friendly you are – get your employees to write customers’ names on their takeaway lattes. If you’re Johnnie Walker, don’t just talk about progress – put a real investment into the Keep Walking Project, and make progress happen.

      The people have spoken, and they’re not satisfied with truthiness. They don’t just want brands to tell them stories. They want brands to take part in the rewriting of reality, so that the stories they tell each other can be that much more amazing.

    • Homeless Hotspots: Where We Go From Here

      26th March 12

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in sxsw

      When we started planning for SXSW, we could not have anticipated that our idea for a four-day philanthropic project to update the street newspaper model would spark such a widespread debate.  The volume of the response to this program has reinforced our ongoing commitment to this issue, and the feedback has helped us explore the ways in which we can draw attention to it, support it, and effect change.

      Homeless Hotspots has connected us with representatives of some of the nation’s leading advocacy groups and street newspaper organizations with whom we are beginning to have conversations about the challenges facing the current street newspaper model and ideas for overcoming these challenges with technology and innovation.  In many ways, we owe these connections and the future of this program to those at front lines of this issue, like Mitchell Gibbs at Front Steps in Austin, Mark Horvath of invisiblepeople.tv, and writer Becky Blanton who spoke at TED about her time being homeless.

      Where we go from here is directly tied to how we wrestle with some complicated issues that any street newspaper attempting to deploy change will have to answer for themselves – issues we’ve come to sharply appreciate amidst all the debate. Our aim is to partner closely with these groups to utilize the lessons and best practices learned from this experience. Based on conversations to date, our shared goal is a sustainable model that continues to bring homeless people entrepreneurial opportunities that challenge stereotypes, derive purpose and create meaningful interactions with society.

      While street newspapers are facing the same challenges as many other traditional media outlets, there are a number of more complicated issues that need to be addressed.  We’ve outlined the salient ones below.

      1. Quantifying an acceptable level of provocation in the name of the cause. One of the big discussion points from Homeless Hotspots was the line “I’m a hotspot” on the t-shirts, a line we too debated internally before and during the program.  The goal of the t-shirt was to create a marketing material that was provocative enough to get message-bombarded festival attendees to actually stop and speak with a homeless person – to spark a human connection and a conversation with a person who is often treated as invisible.  Thus, the humanity of the project lived in the actual conversation between the Hotspot Manager and their customer. But what about the potentially negative reaction to that message by some that didn’t stop (or who simply weighed in from afar via the web)? It was many in this group that created a wave of negative sentiment online. While the participants in the program saw the shirts as an ideal social lubricant on the streets, the message took on new meaning when it spread online.

      Any entrepreneurial sales venture for the homeless must be carefully designed.  The newspaper organization basically works like a franchisor responsible for distributing materials to franchisees, but it must also work like a social service. This balance varies widely from organization to organization and is a complicated role for social enterprise. You want to help homeless participants (i.e., the franchisees), but you don’t want to do so at the expense of the cause itself.

      2. Understanding the potential for partnership with a profit-driven company or brand. Because BBH is in the business of marketing and advertising, it was assumed early on that Homeless Hotspots was endorsed by a marketer. We fully funded the initiative and purchased the pocket-sized MiFi devices from Verizon just as any customer would, yet the reaction to the false reports of brand endorsement is an important one to explore.  Many found the idea that a brand would employ homeless individuals to be offensive, while others said they’d support a brand initiative if it provided an employment opportunity. Of course, when people realized the partner was actually a local homeless shelter and that proceeds went directly to the individual Hotspot Manager, the sentiment was widely positive.

      Before SXSW, we talked about how the long-term viability of a program like Homeless Hotspots would require bringing on a partner that could help financially support it. The costs of the technology and data usage for a program of this nature are significant, making the model difficult to scale beyond a short festival.  A brand partner would have the resources to underwrite the costs of an ongoing effort, incentivized by the promotion of its technology; meanwhile, a social enterprise would have stronger public endorsement, but would be challenged to fund such a venture. The potential problem we saw was that when a social enterprise brings on a corporate partner, perceptions change. Emotionally, the social enterprise simply becomes enterprise for some. For others, the opposite is true.  Street newspapers and homeless entrepreneurial efforts looking to share costs will have to decide where they fall on that spectrum and choose any partners wisely.

      3. Determining the importance of content creation by participants. Where Homeless Hotspots differed most from an actual street paper is that the participants were not selling content they created (although it’s commonly misunderstood just how few of the homeless individuals that sell the papers actually create the content). Serving original content to a user upon log-in to a MiFi device is surprisingly complicated if you don’t manufacture the device yourself (thus we directed users to homelesshotspots.org for further information upon activating a connection).

      There is an opportunity to create a more content-rich model for street newspapers and homeless entrepreneurs moving forward, especially as it relates to drawing attention to the causes of homelessness and prevailing stereotypes.  For example, Hotspot Manager Jonathan is a talented musician, and there could be an opportunity to use the personal and web connectivity to draw attention to his talent, such as directing customers to a site promoting his music.  The Hotspot Managers were also full of local expertise that could add more value to their conversations and connections (John Bird sees this as the future of street newspapers, which he invented when he founded The Big Issue). The absence of such content leaves a void.

      The question remains whether or not consumers of the product value that content though. Looking at our own data (difficult to extrapolate from due to the extraordinarily large number of media impressions Homeless Hotspots received, which led to a disproportionate number of donations from non-users), it’s unclear how much the utility of the service vs. philanthropic impulse drove purchase. This is hard to come to terms with if you are a commercial enterprise. How can a business be a degree removed from its product? That sounds potentially negative, but we’ve left with mixed opinions on the matter. After all, the Hotspot Managers were still able to raise almost $4,000, even though the first 2 days of sales were extremely depressed by rain. If purchases were only about actual connectivity, the rain would have made Homeless Hotspots a financial failure for the participants.

      What’s important is that the model moving forward must balance entrepreneurial opportunity, with supporting meaningful content and fostering personal interactions.  Our data implies it was hearing an individual’s story (many times not even first-hand) that led to someone donating. This particular phenomenon in Underheard in NY already got us to rethink non-profits last year, and it’s especially important for social enterprise. Non-profits fighting homelessness don’t just want to help homeless populations, they want to stop homelessness altogether.  But in many cases, customers of street newspapers seem solely focused on helping the individual in front of them. In a world where a homeless person sells a product without content, the one-on-one social interactions are their only opportunities for expression. Luckily, those conversations help overcome stereotypes (the 13 Homeless Hotspots participants had hundreds of conversations in just four days), but only if someone is provoked to stop and listen. Which brings us right back to issue #1.

      We’ll keep everyone updated once we’ve identified which partner(s) we’ll be working with in future developments. We’re genuinely excited by the amount of interest from street papers around the world to collaborate on addressing the digitization of media. In the meantime, we can only hope the conversation around homelessness doesn’t step back into the darkness as the media circus winds down. You can certainly do your part by supporting organizations like our partner Front Steps. Even small donations can go a long way in helping them overcome their daily challenges long after conference attendees have left.

      UPDATE (April 30, 2012): We are working with StreetWise, the largest street paper in the US deal with numerous modernization issues, including many of those outlined above. For more details, you can read the follow-up post.

    • Dreams from the land of Geektopia

      23rd March 12

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in sxsw

      or

      How I went to Austin expecting to learn about browsers and came back wanting to change the world.

      Author: Agathe Guerrier, Strategy Director, BBH & BBH Labs


      I went to SXSW for the first time this year, with the firm intention to learn about UX, data visualization trends, and new, exciting browser features. As I landed in Austin, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the native vs. web-based apps debate.

      In reality, although clearly there WAS a lot of talk of browsers and coding languages and apps, I  found myself confronted with a much more fundamental subject: that of meaning and purpose. More than acquire new knowledge, I was filled with new enthusiasm (and a little bit of concern) about the task that lies at hand – basically, redefining the rules of our economic, political and societal framework. Rethinking the world. Yup. Something that we need (the creative and tech community) need to take part in for two reasons: because the last 10 years have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, and because the growing importance of technology in our world, means it now intersects significantly with world views, beliefs, and ethics.

      Take the “Skynet vs. Mad Max: Battle for the Future” dual session (by our very own Mel and Jeremy). It drew a parallel between the small, apparently benign technology choices we make today as consumers, and the future of the human species. Who imagined that buying an iPhone represented a leap towards a world where individual identity would be reduced to one login, one identity, one self, the scary simplicity of this system ultimately leading to totalitarianism? It’s removed, but not far-fetched.

      Tim O’Reilly, in his fantastic “Create More Value than you Capture” discussion with Andrew Mcafee, made a powerful case for embedding social good and genuine value(s) in all businesses. He pointed to a brilliantly obvious truth: it’s enthusiasm and passion that fuel creativity, not greed. For the sake of the social equilibrium that it depends upon, the objective of a business can not simply be profit, it has to create value for society at large, as well as for itself.

      Ben Silbermann (CEO and co-founder of Pinterest) took part in a Q&A session with Christopher Dixon and kept surprising us with disarmingly candid answers to “hard-nosed” questions. When asked what product feature he was most excited about developing, he answered it was his team, because “your team should be the most interesting product you’re building”. A few minutes later, brushing away a question about whether he was concerned by the various attempts to copy or rip off Pinterest, he explained that their effort went into improving the product and making it the best it could be, not preventing others to imitate it. In his eyes, success comes from putting all your efforts into making your product and experience brilliant, and if others copy you, it probably means you’ve got it right.

      And finally, against a backdrop of high risk, economic worries and general breakdown, I was surprised at how optimistically confused Bruce Sterling’s Ultimate talk left us all.  He forecasted a move away from the chaotic “internet” and towards vertical stacks or platforms like Google, Amazon, or Facebook (more organized, less messy – an echo to the Skynet vs. Mad Max talk and its crowd-sourced prediction of Skynet’s victory)… but also the ulterior demise of stacks.

      He didn’t say what they would be replaced with, but this legendary cynic seemed pretty optimistic about the ability of the interactive community to make sense of the “augmented, ubiquitous, post-stack future”.

      In building this uncertain “new world”, we might find inspiration in community-based, generous value creation models like Kickstarter, Airbnb, or Task Rabbit (which were unanimously praised as the most inspirational things to have happened in the last 5 years).

      But there is still a lot of work at hand, especially for our industry, in translating the inspiration from Geektopia  into actionable ethics for the world of brands…

      In the spirit of starting small, here are three things I’m going to start or do more of:

      1. 1. Get rid of any obsession with single-mindedness, and make sure to respect people’s intelligence by recognizing that “There is not one You”, as Christopher Poole pointed out
      2. 2. Broaden the definition  of “Business objective” to entail the creation of value and values for consumers and society at large, not just profit for the company
      3. 3. Behave more generously everyday, by building great teams and empowering them to create and make even greater things
    • Skynet vs Mad Max: Battle For The Future

      19th March 12

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in sxsw

      Thanks to everyone who came to our talk at SXSWi last week. For anyone interested, you can find our slides and our speech below (we talk fast, so there’s plenty of it!) and please check out #sxbattle on Twitter to follow the commentary on the day. As the hashtag suggests, we pitched the benefits of two alternate futures as a battle, along the way inviting the audience to vote for the one they thought most likely to become a reality. We had a lot of fun doing it, thanks again to everyone who joined us.



      Let’s start by stating the obvious, a disclaimer if you will.

      We’re not really here to talk about Skynet and Mad Max. They’re both works of fiction, each film set after an apocalyptic event. We thought about trying to re-title this talk – “how an apocalypse might affect your business…” but we settled for this disclaimer instead.

      They’re just an analogy. One we’d like to use to tell a story. Everyone in this room is a storyteller,  it’s what we do. We tell stories to effect results. Here, it’s fair to say, both films paint insanely dystopian, radically different visions of the future, yet they are also classic narratives. Control vs chaos. A totalitarian state vs total anarchy. A closed network vs an open network. Read full post

    • Homeless Hotspots: Clarifying inaccuracies of payments & participants.

      15th March 12

      Posted by timnolan

      Posted in Uncategorized

      Amidst all the passionate comment and debate about Homeless Hotspots, there’s also been some inaccurate information flying around – especially about payment of the participants in this program. Since this is such an important and sensitive issue, we want to be 100% clear on the facts.

      How much were Homeless Hotspots participants paid?
      This was NOT a daily amount of just $20 as has sometimes been reported.

      Based on expert recommendations from our partner Front Steps, it was agreed at the outset that all participants in the Homeless Hotspots program would be guaranteed a minimum payment of $50 per day for a maximum of 5-6 hours’ work, an amount that exceeds Texas minimum wage. In addition, every single dollar donated to the program also goes to the participants, and supporters can continue to donate at homelesshotspots.org. The participants were paid a $20 cash stipend upfront for each day worked during the four-day program, but this was not their total pay. We haven’t yet calculated the totals as donations continue to come in, but we do know it will work out to be significantly more than $50 per day for each participant.

      Did the program end early?
      No, Homeless Hotspots was always intended to be a short pilot program that would run throughout the weekend of the SXSW Interactive Festival, beginning Friday, March 9 and ending on Monday, March 12. Even as heated debate built on Sunday night, it was the homeless volunteers themselves — with support from our partners at Front Steps — who insisted on seeing it through to the last day as an opportunity to set the record straight and share their personal perspectives on the program. As they took their passion and commitment to the streets, we were deeply inspired to see the program through its entirety, as planned.

      Are there future plans for Homeless Hotspot? Will it be in other cities?
      Not yet. We’ve been listening carefully to the widespread response to Homeless Hotspots, and taking this into consideration as we discuss the next phase of this program and what that could be. We have been approached by multiple, respected homeless advocacy groups that are looking to partner and discuss potential plans.

      We remain committed to supporting this global issue and will continue applying creativity and innovation to potential solutions. There will be future BBH work and initiatives in this area, but we do not yet know precisely the nature or location of these, or with whom we will be partnering

      How do the homeless participants and homeless advocates feel about this program?
      We’re pleased that a passionate debate has ensued regarding the program, as it’s bringing to light a number of key issues relating to how homeless populations can benefit from employment and entrepreneurial services. Most importantly, this debate helps ensure these individuals do not remain invisible and ignored. The topics debated include: the importance of creating opportunities for self-expression in homeless employment activities; the role of practicality and principles; the name and wording of the Homeless Hotspots program and t-shirts – as well as great discussion on what (and who) should define ‘empowerment’ for the people who need it most. What’s been interesting to see is the role stereotypes play across all of these issues, one of the underlying themes we hoped to bring to the surface.

      We also encourage everyone to read the perspectives of the homeless participants themselves:

      Clarence:
      http://www.facebook.com/frontsteps
      Dusty:
      http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/homeless-hotspots-ground-level
      Jonathan:
      http://www.good.is/post/the-critics-of-south-by-southwest-s-homeless-hotspots-haven-t-met-jonathan-hill/
      The Wall Street Journal:
      http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/03/13/the-homeless-defend-becoming-hotspots/

    • Would Anyone Miss You: A Transmedia SXSW Experience

      9th March 12

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in sxsw

      As our herd of black sheep makes its way to Austin from various BBH offices in anticipation of some great events, it’s the other experiences we’re discovering that are especially interesting. When we heard about a particular transmedia experience that the folks at Hide & Seek created, we asked the founder of the UK games design studio to tell us a bit more about it. As it happens, engaging in the experience and utilizing Homeless Hotspots go hand-in-hand, one of many unexpected uses for our charitable innovation experiment.

      Emotional transmedia at SXSW Interactive (image: Lottie Davies)

      Author: Alex Fleetwood, Founder & Director, Hide & Seek

      This year at SXSW, we launch Would Anyone Miss You, a new live game we’ve developed to ensure that festival goers have conversations they’ve never had before, with people they’ve never met before.

      The game begins when a stranger, somewhere in Austin, presses a sheet of stickers into your hand. You’ll be asked to seek out people of special and particular kinds – Your Newest Friend, maybe, or someone Tall Dark and Handsome – and ask them a question. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll interact with the game online and receive a personal reward. For those that play all the way to the end, there’s something a bit special.

      We’re doing this to support Carol Morley’s incredible documentary, Dreams Of A Life, which receives its US premiere at SXSW on Saturday 10 March. Nobody noticed when thirty-eight year old Joyce Vincent died in her bedsit above a shopping mall in North London in 2003.  When her skeleton was discovered three years later, her heating and her television were still on.  Newspaper reports offered few details of Joyce’s life – not even a photograph.  Who was Joyce Vincent?  And how could this happen to someone in our day and age – the so-called age of communication?  Dreams of a Life is Carol Morley’s quest to discover who Joyce was and how she came to be so forgotten.

      So what’s the connection between our game and Carol’s film? My hope is that there’s an emotional one. Transmedia projects tend to extend the storyworld of a film – the characters, the history – into new platforms. With our work on this project (we also created a purely digital experience to accompany the UK release) we’ve taken the emotional impact of Joyce’s story as the starting point. Partly this is because Carol’s film is such a coherent, fully formed whole, and partly it’s because we wanted to do something with the feelings that Joyce’s story evokes – to make use of them.

      SXSW is a crowded marketplace of ideas, powered by entrepreneurial zeal and hot air. Dreams of A Life is a a film about urban lives, contemporary life, and how, like Joyce, we are all different things to different people. It’s our belief that, for all the buzz, festivals can be pretty lonely places sometimes. We hope that our game will provoke moments of connection and reflection, and that in those moments, you’ll want to seek out the film that inspired them.

    • That’s right, we’re not from Texas

      6th March 12

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in Uncategorized

      Three days to go until the geek world descends on Austin for SXSW Interactive which if the ‘super grid‘ is anything to go by, will be more overwhelming than anything that has gone before. With marketeers, developers and Googler’s pouring into Texas in unprecedented numbers, we can’t hope to give more than the briefest taste of what we’re looking forward to. Our mission, as in previous years, is to learn, to re-engage and to discover – Labs will be out in numbers speaking, interacting and seeking whatever edge SXSW has left to offer.

      SXSW is a great opportunity to connect with likeminded friends from around the world and meet other likeminds previously only known on twitter, google+ or blog comment threads. We’re excited to see Amber Case keynote an event of this scale, looking forward seeing old friends consider intent and the social web and we’ll be be queuing in the corridors to make sure we get a front seat at a stellar curation panel featuring Percolate, Longform and Maria Popova.

      The great thing about SXSW is that there is something for everyone – whether your appetite is for The New Aesthetic, architecture or even Nick Denton, you’re covered. The Panel Committee were strict on submissions from Labs this year, but we’re thrilled with what slipped through their net of rigour. We’d humbly suggest that Mad Max Vs Skynet: The Battle for the Future, presented by our very own Mel Exon and Google Creative Lab’s Tom Uglow, is a must see. Labs will also be represented in Austin with the launch of our on-the-ground project, Homeless Hotspots.

      As for Austin nights, it’s hard to know what level of blagging skills or extreme patience will be necessary to crash the numerous SXSW parties this year. This nice survival guide from GSD&M gives plenty of good tips, while we’ve enjoyed nights out at the Fray Cafe in years gone by. Great nights have been spent chewing the fat at a table next to one of Austin’s plentiful taco vans, and if things get weird, you can always head for the hills.

      So whatever your thing, you’ll find it in Austin and we’re looking forward to seeing you there. Let us know where you’ll be, what time to meet up at Lego Corner, what you’re looking forward to and, most importantly, where we can find the best breakfast burrito.

    • Homeless Hotspots: a charitable experiment at SXSWi

      6th March 12

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in sxsw

      A charitable innovation experiment at SXSWi 2012

      UPDATE & CLARIFICATIONS
      There has been an enormous amount of coverage of this project, and unfortunately there has been a good deal of inaccuracies around the payment system and objectives of the program in general. Please follow this link that clarifies these points.

      UPDATE: Obviously, there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villianizes us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we’re trying to help: homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible. It’s unfortunate how much information being shared is incorrect (an unresearched story by ReadWriteWeb, which has now been updated is the epicenter of that misinformation). So, without being defensive (we welcome the educated critiques), we wanted to share a few key facts:

      + We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever.

      + This is a test program that was always scheduled to end today (there’s no 2-week payment cycle)

      + Each of the Hotspot Managers keeps all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make (it’s not a collected pot to be shared unless people choose to donate generally).

      + Underheard in NY is NOT becoming a reality TV show. The confidential plans are much more akin to an interactive documentary. Regardless of what happens, it will stay true to the original idea: to give homeless people an unedited voice so people can understand their lives.

      + The biggest criticism (which we agree with actually) is that Street Newspapers allow for content creation by the homeless (we encourage those to research this a bit more as it certainly does not work exactly as you would assume). This is definitely a part of the vision of the program but alas we could not afford to create a custom log-in page because it’s through a device we didn’t make. However, we’d really like to see iterations of the program in which this media channel of hotspots is owned by the homeless organizations and used as a platform for them to create content. We are doing this because we believe in the model of street newspapers.

      UPDATE 2: Thank you to everyone here for your comments, criticism, feedback and support. We can’t respond to every comment here, but we will be responding in the coming days.

      Update 3: Another bit of information being reported inaccurately relates to the finances of the homeless individuals participating. To clarify: These volunteers were guaranteed make at least $50/day, for a maximum of 6 hours work. This amount equates to more than the Texas state minimum wage of $7.25/hr for the same number hours. Based on donations already received, we know their earnings will be higher than $50 for each of them – as was our intention. What’s been misunderstood is the break-out of money in cash per day vs. what’s received after the program ends. BBH provides a $20 cash ”stipend” to the volunteers each day regardless of their own sales. This is the cash amount that was handed to them each day while the program was live (it ended yesterday) and was advised specifically by our friends at Front Steps shelter, who are conscious of the responsibility that comes with handing cash to someone facing financial challenges daily, but who still needs to work toward a long-term solution for housing and employment. The additional money raised by each Hotspot Manager will be delivered via money order from the shelter where they have a program in place that helps the participants save about 2/3′s toward their employment and housing goals. Again, this has all been built based on input from the shelter and the participants’ case managers in a way that’s best for the participants.

      UPDATE 4: This isn’t quite an update as it’s reflected in the post below, but we wanted to clarify the latest bit of misinformation. The program was not “canceled;” it was always intended as a 4 day program.  In fact, as the debate heated, it was the homeless volunteers themselves who insisted on seeing through the last day as an opportunity to share their side of the story.  Thus we saw the program through as planned. We’ll be reporting on success metrics shortly but can confirm our friends at Front Steps Shelter in Austin consider it a great success for themselves. Read their reactions at facebook.com/frontsteps (or any of the media coverage they’ve received globally), and please consider a donation to one of the Hotspot Managers as we wrap things up via homelesshotspots.org.

      UPDATE 5 (April 30, 2012): We are working with StreetWise, the largest street paper in the US deal with numerous modernization issues, including many of those outlined in our post of learning points from this program. For more details, you can read the follow-up post.

      ****Original Pre-SXSW Post Below****

      As always this time of year, we’re abuzz in anticipation of SXSW Interactive. Whether it’s talks we’re attending, or the talks we’re giving, SXSW is a consistent growth opportunity for the team. This year though, we’re also trying a bit of charitable innovation.

      As you may know, we created Underheard in NY last year via our Barn intern program. The premise was simple: give homeless individuals a voice via Twitter. The program was so successful that you’ll be seeing an update on its unexpected future at some point soon.

      Since then, we’ve stayed interested in the homeless issue. One particular aspect we find intriguing is Street Newspapers, which are print publications created and sold by homeless populations as a form of entrepreneurial employment. The model has proven successful enough to be adopted in cities spanning 30 countries. The issue however, is that like any print publication, these newspapers are under duress from the proliferation of digital media. How often do you see someone “buy” a paper, only to let the homeless individual keep it? This not only prevents the paper from serving as a tool for the individual to avoid begging, but it proves how little value people actually place on the publication itself. Yet the model isn’t inherently broken. It’s simply the output that’s archaic in the smartphone age.

      So we decided to modernize it.

      This year in Austin, as you wonder between locations murmuring to your coworker about how your connection sucks and you can’t download/stream/tweet/instagram/check-in, you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” t-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access. We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity.

      We’re using SXSW as our beta test. Hopefully you can help us optimize and validate this platform, which we hope to see adopted on a broader scale. Any and all support is appreciated (including donations from afar).

      Visit homelesshotspots.org for more details.

    • How The Guardian And The 3 Little Pigs Hope To Keep The Wolf From The Door

      2nd March 12

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in Brands, media

      Author: Jason Gonsalves, Head of Strategy, BBH London

      Our first ad for The Guardian broke on Wednesday night. It’s basically a product demo taken to epic proportions, re-telling and shedding new light on the classic story of the 3 Little Pigs. If you haven’t seen it already check it out and see what you think. Then below I’ve shared the thinking behind the work for anyone interested in hearing a little more.

      YouTube Preview Image

      Readers of this blog need little convincing of the merits of citizen journalism, crowd-sourcing and open platform collaboration. Nowadays eye witness accounts are shared instantly with the world through Twitter, whilst Google Alerts or new destinations like Gawker and Huffpo offer an alternative to traditional news brands. What’s more, we all know the broader Newspaper industry is struggling. Print circulations and revenues keep falling, and for most the business model simply isn’t working.  Add to that mass criminality and corruption, and the long-term diagnosis looks terminal.

      All this starts to beg the question, where does that leave a newspaper like The Guardian? It has to continue to be far more than simply an aggregator of opinion and comment. It’s an innovation business almost two centuries old, one looking to lead the global news agenda and set an example for how modern brands should behave.

      Our brief was to help cut through preconceptions, engage new readers by bringing to life The Guardian’s remarkable transformation over the last 10 years from a left-wing, British newspaper to a global digital news hub.

      This change has been driven by Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor and is built on a belief that in the modern world no single organisation can possibly claim to be sole arbiter of truth, with experts journalists working in isolation to pass down the day’s news to the masses. Instead, for The Guardian, modern news is a dynamic, participative and open dialogue in which the public and other news sources enrich and expand stories, inviting response and opinion. It’s open and mutual rather than closed and didactic. It’s iterative and alive rather than final and definitive. It’s multi-platform and digital first.

      • Whilst most newspapers jealously guard the stories they are planning to cover, The Guardian now publish their news lists online daily, encouraging both public and experts to get in touch with their journalists if they feel the have something to contribute, advise on or just to have their say.
      • When the MPs Expenses Scandal exploded, The Guardian swiftly built an app that enabled the public to get involved, sift through receipts and flag anything they decided was worthy of investigation.
      • During Arab Spring, in addition to providing content from its journalists in the field, The Guardian invited Arab commentators to share their views and blog, in Arabic, on the Guardian’s platform.
      • The Guardian’s open platform enables anyone to access data collected by the Guardian as well as providing a search tool so that users can search for government information from around the world. It also encourages readers to upload their own data visualisations or share their favourites.

      Whilst The Guardian represents open news, it remains a brand with a point of view, with a role and purpose that is more, not less, important in today’s world.  Rather than benefiting shareholders or a proprietor, the Guardian is owned by the Scott Trust which ensures that  profits are reinvested to sustain journalism that is free from commercial or political interference. The trust, which was formed in 1936, and is named after CP Scott (Editor between 1872 and 1929) protects the Guardian’s commitment to a set of values that can be summarised as honesty, cleanness (today interpreted as integrity) courage, fairness and a sense of duty to reader and the community.  Scott’s famous words  “Comment is free, but facts are sacred” remind us of the importance of accuracy and truth in a world where information and opinion is ubiquitous. Relentless inquiry is the responsibility of organisations that want to set the news agenda, they must stop at nothing to get the bottom of the stories that matter. Nick Davies did just this – he was the Guardian journalist who spent 5 years finding and checking evidence and withstanding threats to uncover the truth behind the  ’phone hacking at the News of the World.

      If you couldn’t tell already, I’ll admit personally to being a huge fan. But I believe as digital innovators, creative pioneers, and champions of civil liberty and reform The Guardian is a rare and precious thing that deserves support. The story of the newspaper industry as we know is unlikely to conclude with a fairy-tale ending, but the Guardian is definitely painting an exciting vision of things to come.


      Client Credits – The Guardian

      David Pemsel, Marketing Consultant
      Richard Furness, Head of Sales and Marketing, The Guardian
      Anna Hayman, Marketing Manager, The Guardian

      Media Buying Agency – PHD

      Toby Nettle, Media Planner

      Creative Agency – BBH

      TV Credits
      BBH Creative Director: David Kolbusz
      BBH Creative Team: Matt Fitch & Mark Lewis
      BBH Producer: Davud Karbassioun
      BBH Production Assistant: Genevieve Sheppard
      BBH Head of Strategy: Jason Gonsalves
      BBH Team Director: Ngaio Pardon
      BBH Team Manager: Alex Monger
      BBH Team Assistant: Katie Burkes

      Print credits
      BBH Creative Team (Print): Carl Broadhurst and Peter Reid
      BBH Head of Art: Mark Reddy
      BBH Designer: James Townsend
      BBH Print Producer: Sally Green
      BBH Creative Director: David Kolbusz
      BBH Head of Strategy: Jason Gonsalves
      BBH Team Director: Ngaio Pardon
      BBH Team Manager: Alex Monger
      BBH Team Assistant: Katie Burkes

      Production credits
      Production Company – Rattling Stick
      Director: Ringan Ledwidge
      Producer: Chris Harrison
      DoP: Franz Lustig
      Editor/Editing House: Richard Orrick (Work post)
      Post Production (Graphics + CGI effects):  The Mill London
      Sound Design: Will Cohen & Sam Brock
      Music: Phil Kay (Woodwork Music)