Archive for March, 2013
28th March 13
Posted in reads
(Massive Printer, film by Newspaper Club)
Yes, we snack, we graze, we nibble, we heartily partake of the morsels, the canapés of content offered our way on the trays of twitter, google reader (sob) and flipboard. But sometimes it’s nice to loosen our belts, turn off the stream and get stuck into a something a little more filling. So, here are some of the longer reads that have sated our appetites recently, instapapered for your mobile reading pleasure.
““I felt a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of geeks were shocked in an instant,” tweeted one ecstatic fan boy the day the news broke. It was a common refrain. The fans, too, had watched what happened when Disney bought Pixar and Marvel and many felt that the company could be trusted with R2-D2 and Princess Leia. “Their handling of the Marvel properties has given them a lot of geek cred,” says Swank, the RebelForce Radio co-host.”
“Cities, he [Geoffrey West] points out, are physical manifestations of human interactions. The data reveal those social dynamics, but do not necessarily shape them. From Lagos to Los Angeles to Mumbai, the physical world is experiencing a great rushing tide of urbanization, which creates huge environmental problems and at the same time concentrates the creativity needed to solve them. In the Sims’ world, though, the masses migrate and settle, then file passively through their lives. SimCity’s engineers have repeated the same mistake made by countless potentates, forgetting that cities are forged both by master builders and the people who hack their grand plans.”
“At the beginning of a sunny Monday morning earlier this month, I had never cracked a password. By the end of the day, I had cracked 8,000. Even though I knew password cracking was easy, I didn’t know it was ridiculously easy—well, ridiculously easy once I overcame the urge to bash my laptop with a sledgehammer and finally figured out what I was doing.”
“The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.“
“Google Glass is a snazzy set of specs that will part the Red Sea if you tap it from the right angle. It aims to fuse smartphones and computers into a hands-free user experience more pleasurable than sex, religion, and world domination combined.“
And finally, a transcript of a story conference between Lawrence Kadsan, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, on Raiders of the Lost Ark!
“At some point in the movie he must use it [a bullwhip] to get a girl back who’s walking out of the room. Wrap her up and she twirls as he pulls her back. She spins into his arms. You have to use it for more things than just saving himself.“
Let us know in the comments if there are any other choice meals to add to the menu. Bon Appetit.
28th March 13
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Why assign your own name to a brand? What drives the founders of eponymous brands? What lies behind the success of the successful?
These are questions addressed by Branded Gentry, an engaging new book by Charles Vallance and David Hopper. The book comprises a series of interviews with people who ‘made their name by making their name into a brand’. The likes of Johnnie Boden, the founder of the casual clothing company, James Dyson of the innovative household appliance brand, Jonathan Warburton of the baking dynasty, and our own John Hegarty.
I found it a refreshing read. Conventional business books encourage us to think of commercial success in terms akin to scientific case studies. We isolate key learnings, critical success factors, best demonstrated practice. We are introduced to models, mantras and metaphors. We are given a picture of achievement which is ordered, constructed,
Branded Gentry invites us to consider the psychology of the founders of successful brands. Their relationship with their parents, the view from their childhood bedroom, the emotional milestones that mark out their career. Each chapter is a character study, an elegant pen portrait of often charismatic, compelling individuals. Consequently it paints a picture of success that is disordered, spontaneous,
instinctive. And of business that is personal, passionate, human.
The decision to give one’s own name to a brand is significant. If brands are fundamentally about trust, then a brand that carries a founder’s name has a particular sense of integrity. The tag-line of Warburton’s bread is: ‘We care because our name’s on it.’ And as Boden puts it, ‘If you don’t believe in your name, how can you expect other people to give you money?’
Inevitably perhaps, there is a consistent theme of ‘failing forwards’. Tripping up on the way to success, maybe being humbled by mistakes, but also seeing in them learning and experience. The eponymous brand owners come across as enthusiasts. They’re often breezily confident and positive about life. Many of them seem more emotional than you might expect, more active listeners.
But there’s also a dark undertow. A wariness of good fortune, a suspicion that bad times may be round the corner, a fear of debt (which many of them have experienced). The Branded Gentry are restless souls. Listen to James Dyson: ‘I’m not satisfied; I’m still not satisfied. The moment you’ve done something, then you’re onto the next thing, which is full of new problems you’ve got to solve …It’s a life of failure and dissatisfaction whatever your private wealth’. Or as the potter, Emma Bridgewater, puts it: ‘The trouble with being an entrepreneur is that you never think you’ve finished. You’re always thinking of things you haven’t done… I’ve got a lot of parallel lives unlived, but you suddenly realise it’s probably not going to happen. It’s the inherent sadness of ageing.’
I guess I had imagined that success came easily to the successful; that they had had a leg-up from life, a helping hand to get them started. In fact I was rather struck by the fact that, whilst some of these entrepreneurs were born into material wealth, most of them had rather tough childhoods.The broken home, the unsympathetic father, the parents that passed away before their time. Illness and ill fortune seem never too far away. (Dyson points out that over 80% of British Prime Ministers lost a parent before the age of 10, compared to only 1.5% of the general population.)
I grew up committed to a clear separation between work and life beyond it. Of course in the modern age it’s increasingly difficult to sustain the divide. For these Branded Gentry life is work and the eponymous business is fundamentally an expression of self. According to Dyson, ‘I had developed a latent desire to make things around me better and that desire was the very part of whom I was.’ The authors conclude that their subjects ‘didn’t go out into the world to fit in with it. One way or another, they set out to make the world fit them.’
Branded Gentry is very well written. There is a commendable amount of descriptive detail and direct speech. One often feels one is in the room with the interviewee, observing his or her furniture, inflections,
physiognomy. I welcome the book’s commitment that business is about people not just processes, passions not just practices. For Vallance and Hopper the personal is professional.
26th March 13
Author: Alex Matthews, Head of Creative Technology, BBH London
As a tech boy I am always less interested in marketing per se than I am in marketing through services – solving problems and creating something useful – and this is what I was hoping to find on my first visit to SXSW. Initially though I found myself in a Comedy in Technology talk where the little fella above did five minutes of standup – he’s been created as part of the drive to make robots more human, using comedy as a barometer for their humanness – pretty impressive, but still some work to do.
The Beyond Mobile talk was a great example of what I hope is a trend towards a “less is more” mentality, suggesting we need to stop making everything ‘smart’ and instead have one or two smart devices and create many interfaces into them. Also suggesting that devices need to get ‘dumber’ is right up my street. The best solutions are not always the ones that add a million buttons and an Android OS to your microwave – instead just make your microwave remember the time after a power outage (after all, for 99% of the time we only use out microwaves as a clock).
In the same vein was a talk by Golden Krishna (who recently joined Samsung) about his premise that The best interface is no interface. In his paper he discusses the 13 steps that are demanded by car-door unlocking apps now coming to market. Is this really a more efficient system than a key? Or a better system than the non-app solution developed by Mercedes ten years ago?
The Robot in your pocket: AI powered applications talk from Gravity‘s Amit Kapur and Xobni‘s Jeff Bonforte also ran on a similar theme (and is well worth listening to here). Phones have 14 sensors typically – all of this data is available to us and to developers and yet we are still not using it to its full potential. For example, asking Siri to “call Chris” pulls up a list of the Chris’s in your address book. With your behavioural data at its disposal, surely Apple should know that most evenings at 6pm the Chris I call is Chris Smith as I try and organise a quick beer after work?
Although there were quite a few relatively pointless apps on the trade stands I must big up one app that I found – Speakerfy – it allows you to simultaneously and synchronously play a song from your phone or laptop to multiple devices that also have the app. Basically, it creates a multi-speaker system on your and your friend’s phones. It’s going to make bus journeys with school kids even more noisy I’m sure.
Finally, I have to mention the Google Glass presentation in which they live-demoed Glass and launched their Mirror API. The API seems quite open, simple and developer friendly using all the usual standard technologies, though they’re not sure yet how people are going to subscribe to apps for their Glass headset. Aside from the big question which is “will any normal person actually want to wear these?” and the fact that we’re all already entrenched in a behaviour pattern of checking updates on our phones, the demos they gave (New York Times, email, photo, sharing etc) were not all that amazing.
Personally, I think Google is in a limbo state with Glass at the moment – they’re getting people interested, providing APIs but there’s no way for the masses to try out Glass, which does leave that “will anyone really do this” question rather open. There’s a lot of talk and hype from futurology types about Glass, but I’m not convinced they’re going to change the world overnight – going back to my original points, you have to ask the question “what is the business or user problem that Glass is trying to solve?”.
19th March 13
The second of series of reports from Austin, by a few lucky BBH SXSW survivors.
Author: Helen Lawrence, Strategist, BBH Labs & BBH London
The most recurring topic of conversation in Austin during SXSW isn’t the future of technology, it isn’t the principles of responsive design and it certainly isn’t what makes something viral. It’s meat. What meat to have in your breakfast taco, what meat to choose for your lunchtime ribs and what meat should top your dinnertime hot dog (I can’t believe Tim didn’t mention this in his SXSW reflections!). This is a town dominated by BBQ joints and smoking shacks. I fear that after five days there I may have the incredibly sexy combination of scurvy and gout:
However, we have a problem. One hundred thousand years ago humans still needed 2000 calories a day to function. Back then, to produce that 2000 calories we’d get through 1800 to find and produce something to nibble on. Fast forward to today’s brisket loving era and it takes 200,000 calories to produce those same 2000 calories. Our food production habits are screwed up. We waste everything: energy, resources and it even the food itself once we’ve got it to that juicy, edible point. It’s not at all sustainable. We’re messing it up, and we’re doing it quickly.
So – who is the obvious person to turn to in order to solve this problem? An astronaut of course. Nothing beats an astronaut. Ahem.
The 100 Year Starship project is using the question of interstellar space travel to get to an answer:
“We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. We unreservedly dedicate ourselves to identifying and pushing the radical leaps in knowledge and technology needed to achieve interstellar flight, while pioneering and transforming breakthrough applications that enhance the quality of life for all on Earth.”
If we’re going to have to consider exploration outside of our solar system we’re going to have think a little beyond a simply bigger rocket. One self sustaining pod hurtling through the sky; it has to keep a bunch of humans alive for a century, stop them killing each other and prevent them from getting hungry.
The space race in the 60s was a tangible one: getting to the moon is a challenge that could be imagined and solved. The 100 Year Starship Project wants to set a challenge that trickles down solutions into our own fuzzy planet in the same way. The space race has given us some of the biggest everyday technologies we use now: scratch resistant lenses, GPS and water filters for example. By posing some of the biggest societal and sustainability questions out there and considering how we’d achieve them to last 100 years in space, we can hope for properly realistic solutions to the things we’re messing up at the moment.
Meat is a big one, clothes are another. It’s a terribly energy intensive hobby. We make too many, we own too many, we wash too many and we don’t recycle nearly enough. 100 years at our current clothing rates would need a lot of wardrobes up on our space ship, not to mention cotton fields, plastics factories and silk worms. We can’t take clothes to space, despite them being such a core part of our creative identity as humans – one solution put forward by the 100 Year Starship project includes reusable sheets that we project clothes onto, allowing us to change them whenever we like.
Back to the bovines. As much as I love the idea of cows in space, wearing little cow shaped astronaut helmets, it just can’t happen. ‘Fake meat’ companies are popping up all over the place, even Twitter co founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams are investing. That’s one possible solution for our 100 Year Spaceship. What else is there?
I like the 100 Year Starship project. It frames a problem into a great story. Mae Jemison, a brilliant astronaut, told the SXSW audience that we should tell better stories, ones that inspire and ones that can bring about social change. The project neatly frames sustainability into something we can picture. There are no cheats when you’re somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. So many of our so called sustainable solutions aren’t that at all. We feel we’re doing well when actually the problem is just popping up somewhere else. You can’t do that on a spaceship.
This makes me ruminate a bit on brand strategy – we talk a lot here about strategy being the art of sacrifice. What would you sacrifice in your brand armoury if forced to focus on the essentials? And would your brand get a spot on the starship in the first place? Is it ducking and diving, pushing superfluous issues elsewhere? Perhaps not being quite as sustainable or transparent as it could be? Whack it in a bubble and put it in space: it’s a good way to test it.
I’m excited about the 100 Year Spaceship. The hippies and the astronauts are getting it on. And damn, it’s even sexier than gout.
15th March 13
Having spent nearly a decade as a judge, panelist, or an attendee at SXSW I have witnessed massive sweeping changes in the size, scope, and tone of this festival.
My earliest experiences at South by Southwest were fueled by conversations with futurists, digital pioneers, and creative folks exploring a new medium. The festival was small, unknown, and very personal. It stayed that way, and became the annual vehicle for meeting up with the community in real life. It was where we could hear what everyone was thinking, doing, and more importantly what they were feeling. It was about those people and how they were helping shape the Web.
A few short years later the advertising agencies began to take note of SXSW and began attending in force. The first wave was of course the recruiters, hungry for “Digital Talent”. The next wave was comprised of creative, planners, strategists, and account people. There were agency parties, panels, and booths. The festival became too large to curate by a group of people who for the last few years were all on a first name basis. Enter the “Panel Picker”.
There is of course something admirable to be said about allowing the public to decide upon the content of next year’s festival, however the “public” had shifted from this group of connected people helping to shape the Web to a network of agencies, corporations, top-tier brands, and holding corps. This without doubt, was going to impact the tone of the festival. And it did.
SXSW panel content began to drift away from personal reflections of the past year and projections of the years to come. They became a platform for agencies and brands to build a presence within the interactive community. A large percentage of the conversations became pitches and the passionate thinking about the future went silent.
This year felt different. There was a visible shift. This year there was another generation emerging from within the festival. The maker’s movement had arrived and they took on many forms. Elon Musk gave an extremely illuminating talk. There were 3D scanners and printers that created our century’s first glimpse at the idea of teleportation. There were also production shops like Deep Local best know for Nike’s Chalk bot talking about the path of his company from Punk Rock to CEO. There was definitely a something new in the air. The festival subconsciously rebooted and began focusing on the future again.
“No one wants PCs” – Bruce Sterling
This year during Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks, he made clear the circle of life in technology. For every innovation and advancement we embrace, the previous piece of technology it replaces dies. He explained the importance of recognizing and owning that. Bruce also went on to talk about focusing on the people behind the tech, and the importance of the thinkers and makers vs. the end product. It was during this talk that made the turning point evident. We need to embrace the idea of making, but making in such a way that we were aware of what we are replacing. The only constants in the equation are the individuals behind the advancements.
The festival left me thinking that next year would mark a return to that original “futurist spirit”. Sure there will be a huge brand presence, but the content, the core of the SXSW will once again be about the future through the lens of technology and more importantly through the voices of those leading the charge.
11th March 13
Posted in Start ups
Author: Saneel Radia, Founder Finch15
When Ben and Mel set up BBH Labs long before I was ever given the keys here in NYC, one of its core ambitions was to birth new offerings. Well, I’m lucky to say this certainly panned out, which is exactly why I had to say goodbye.
One thing that became clear after years of conversations with clients about innovation was that many big, mature brands look upon startups with joy (and a touch of envy) as they see the culture of innovation with which they are imbued. At the same time, there are plenty of very big companies innovating at a speed and scale that no startup could ever comprehend (P&G and AmEx are two companies I find myself applauding all the time, even if the awe isn’t mutual). That’s because web innovation and product innovation are not the same thing – unless your core product is on the web. For companies that primarily create analog products, this innovation landscape can seem like a foreign land with a different language and odd custom
At the same time, more and more of these big companies are talking about their marketing outputs as assets. Thus an idea was born. These assets could provide real commercial value if they were used to create a competitive advantage in the digital space. If a brand has strong brand equity, distribution, consumer data and other “brand assets” that can help create digital businesses, that’s a well-lit path to product innovation. We created Finch15 to identify this path and guide clients down it.
In a nutshell, Finch15 creates revenue-generating digital businesses for brands. We identify market opportunities, quantify their value and determine the best way a brand can stretch profitably into that space using those precious assets. It’s a form of lateral innovation. The client stays true to their business and brand, but we help move them into a new, digital category. We mitigate the risk of this effort by ensuring whatever we do is good for the brand. So, if things don’t pan out, they have a self-funded marketing effort. If they do, they have a completely new source of revenue in what is likely a fast-growth market.
We certainly aren’t the first to pursue this, and hope we aren’t the last. In our effort, we aspired to create a unique mix of marketing, investment banking and tech talent that gives us a chance to create innovative, successful businesses for our clients. Yes, we do have clients. And no, we aren’t telling yet (you’ll see them when the businesses launch).
It’s exciting to found a company birthed at BBH Labs and incubated at VivaKi. VivaKi’s network of tech, media and strategy talent is a huge resource for a small startup. We couldn’t be more excited. I’m especially honored they’re letting me serve the concurrent role of EVP, Product Innovation for them. I get to work with VivaKi clients across the globe and actually talk to those very innovative companies accomplishing things at a scale few others can imagine.
Wish us luck. Or just “ooo” and “ahhh” at the dynamic logo Tim, Victor, Lasse and other BBH Labs members created here.
5th March 13
Posted in culture
Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, Google Glass all of a sudden made all kinds of sense. Being able to record experiences in the moment unencumbered by a camera or phone, share them in the moment, navigate through a city without reference to a map (digital or paper), augment real live experience with the power of search – all these things seem to be requirements of living a frictionless digital duality. While I’m not sure that using a mobile to access the web is exactly ‘emasculating‘, I do think that Google are tapping into an important behavioural realisation – experiencing the world through the screen of a phone is not optimal living. As Sergey Brin says, “You want something that frees your eyes.”
But, inevitably, now that the application date to become a ‘Glass Explorer‘ has passed, some reasonable, inquisitive voices are raising questions about whether Google’s version of ‘documentary vision‘ is as desirable as it first appeared to be. Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computing, asks whether Google have learnt from his experiments in augmented vision – he raises important practical concerns about the design and safety, short and long-term, of Google’s solution. He also touches on important privacy issues, asking whether this technology will ‘turn us into so many Little Brothers’.
The privacy issue has huge implications, not just for societies already coming to terms with near-ubiquitous surveillance, but for individuals living in those societies. ‘Google Glass will live or die solely in the experience it creates for people,’ says Steve Hurst. But the people Hurst worries about are not the users, but ‘everyone other than the user‘, everyone viewed and potentially recorded, snapped, reverse image searched, Googled, by a Glass wearer. This is, obviously, a big deal. There are rules about how surveillance camera footage can be used. Google itself has had to modify streetview imagery according to national privacy laws. How are we going to legislate for Glass? Will social norms keep up with the march of technology? Who do I send a takedown notice to if I don’t know that I’ve been recorded and who that recording has been shared with? As Hurst says, ‘The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.’
Any new tech idea comes with caveats and warnings, sometimes reasonable, other times hysterical linkbait. At Labs we’re incurable optimists, and it feels, from here, that this is something big and important. Admittedly our excitement for the possibilities of Project Glass is tempered with plenty of unknowables, not least when we’re going to be getting our hands on a pair. The current $1500 pricetag and clunky design doesn’t change the fact that Project Glass, in some form, in some timeframe, is coming. As The Verge say in their positive ‘eyes-on’ review, ‘the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’.