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A Quick Glance Back – 10 of Our Favourite Posts From 2009

29th December 09

Posted by Ben Malbon

Posted in BBH Labs

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What a year. Here within the BBH Labs team we’ve had our ups and our downs. But we’ve been facing only forwards. We thought today might be the one day of the year we allow ourselves a sneaky peek backwards. In particular in regard to our little blog.

This blog’s grown from nothing, through embryonic to, well, at least something approaching pre-pubescence. Whilst we’ve not shared as much as we had hoped in these pages, since launching on April Fool’s Day 2009 we’ve managed around 70 posts.

Looking back through the content it’s reassuring (at least to us) that we’ve managed a fair degree of consistency in terms of the topics we’ve  posted on, with some key themes emerging as core areas of Labs’ interest. We didn’t plan this when we started, it just happened. (We outline these themes – with links to example posts – underneath this list of our Favourite 10 from 2009.)

What made most of the posts even remotely interesting to start with was the commenting and opinion shared on the blog in response to them. We’d like to thank all those who took time not just to read but to improve our thoughts. We massively value your contribution, and we always look forward to reading your input, however challenging or provocative.

More than anything, even more than the 900+ comments on these posts, what we’ve taken out of this first eight months of Labs blogging are some great new friends, partners & teachers. Long after the frothy excitement around this app or that platform recedes, and even after the buzz around great work might fade into Awards annuals, it’s this side of the blog that we will value most highly.

Happy New Year. See you in 2010. Mel, Pats, Ben

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So, we thought we’d fish out ten posts that we either particularly enjoyed putting together, or that triggered a debate from which we learned a lot (often, it was both). Here they are, with links (via titles) to the originals & original comments.

1. The Battle Between Art & The Algorithm

The onset of increasingly ‘perfect’ information would suggest that the content we are served is ever more relevant, the choices we make are ever easier, and our levels of satisfaction should never have been higher (think the ultra relevance of Netflix, Fresh Direct, SatNav, Amazon recommends, Facebook suggests, Google search). We argue here, however, that this rise in relevance amounts to nothing less than the ‘end of surprise’, and that comes with a cost (think The Truman Show meets Minority Report). We focus on the opportunity: a role for genuinely inventive, interactive and surprising content and experiences in an era where the rough edges are too often being smoothed away.

2. The Big Idea: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

We presented what amounted to a deliberately provocative defense of big ideas, at a time when many commentators (all much more esteemed than us) were suggesting they were dead, that we needed to break free from their ‘tyranny’ and that the future lay in many small ideas instead. We concluded with five reasons we’d be wise to re-consider the power and potential of big ideas in serving the needs of brands. The quality of the debate and commentary around the post was fantastic; we’re clearly only scratching the surface here.

3. Marketing Mashup

A rallying cry to break down the walls, take a step outside and embrace the new forms of creativity that lie waiting for us at the intersections with fields, disciplines & cultures different to our own. We suggest three ways this might be achieved: Cross-pollination, Mutation and Divergence. As Darwin noted: ‘In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.’

4. Why isn’t there more great work in the interactive space?

A quickfire, exploratory tour of debate around why we’re not all bowled over with the quality of work we’re seeing in interactive. We argue for bringing geeky technical know-how closer to what we currently call creativity. In fact, much of the argument, and particularly the ace commentary that followed in the comments section, dealt with an emerging discussion around what creativity is today. This has obvious implications for businesses have have as their output ‘creativity’ and that are structured to produce specific variants of this with relatively fixed approaches.

5. 10 Reasons Why There’s Not More Great Work in the Interactive Space

The follow-up to Number 4 that distills the debate and comment provoked by the first. Covering everything from speed, endurance, pride, passion, & risk. We identified factors that seemed to be within our control (attitude, collaboration, generosity) and those that seemed less easily fixed (especially skills gaps in key emerging areas). This was one of our most commented-upon posts of 2009.

6. The Storyteller’s Story

At a time when many had been suggesting the end of the road for storytelling, a strident defense of the relevance and power of storytelling. We argue that there is a real and significant opportunity for brands to excite and inspire again through storytelling. That it is possible to reinvent a lost art, rather than dismiss it. That storytelling can be a powerful tool to drive new creativity in the interactive space. That the storyteller’s story does not, after all, end here . . .

7. Twitter – the Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

Back in April, as the cacophony of noise around Twitter grew to deafening proportions, early adopters such as Steve Rubel (& many others – @malbonster for example) were starting to predict a downward spiral for the company as geeks sought shiny new toys elsewhere. In this post we argue – or guessed, I suppose is more accurate – that this wouldn’t be the case, and that this was just the beginning. Time will tell, but right now Twitter seems to be morphing into something more significant than any of us might have imagined this time last year.

8. If you want a conversation, say something interesting

sendesik There have been plenty of conversations this year about conversations. Here, we made the argument that conversations require nurturing if they are to be sustained, and we suggest a driving role for campaigns in helping to achieve this. Campaigns start conversations. They can refresh and sustain them. And they can amplify them. If we think of conversations as the fire and campaigns as the fuel for those conversations, it’s pretty clear we need both. There’s no fire without a spark. There’s not much heat without fuel.

9. Less, But Better – an interview with design legend Dieter Rams

Long-term admirers of Rams’ philosophy on design and his general radical outlook on life, we interviewed him to see how we might make our own innovation efforts more radical (& successful). As the key influence on head designer Jonathan Ive, at Apple, and without question a linking thread to the Bauhausian minimalism and functionalism of the 1920s and 1930s, we were honored to be allowed to ask Dieter a few questions. He gave splendidly ‘in character’ answers, particularly on the theme of crowdsourcing. There is much we value in this post, but the primary finding for us – question everything, *especially* the most obvious – remains with us and in fact seems ever more relevant.

10. The Coming Age of Augmentation

A particular favourite of mine, this post is one I’ve returned to more than any other. We touch upon the concept of the ‘Technological Singularity’, the idea that once we create an an artificial intelligence greater than our own, it follows that any resulting ‘Superbrain’ will be capable of augmenting itself extremely quickly to become even more intelligent and so on, leading to an explosive growth in intelligence that is (literally) beyond our imagination. And we begin (and really only begin) to explore a broader point around the pace of technological change, and what we – and the brands with whom we work – can do to embrace it. This was another of those posts that received some phenomenally insightful and inspiring comments. (Note: this piece also came with a bonus post that contained all the background reading we’d found most useful in putting this together.)

Hmmm. We kind of cheated as two of the posts around the theme of ‘better interactive work’ were essentially two halves of a single post, so here’s a bonus fave. A recent one.

11. Google Chrome – Behind The Scenes

BBH’s recent work for the launch of the Chrome browser in Europe was the focus for this piece. We shared the full-length films (now on YouTube) but also shared the short film we produced around how we made them. It’s work of which everyone at BBH is proud, and that BBH Labs played a leading role in producing. Take a look if you haven’t seen it.

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KEY EMERGING THEMES ON THE LABS BLOG . . . SO FAR . . .

- The development of interactive as it collided with the emerging social web (for example: 10 Reasons Why There’s Not More Great Work in the Interactive Space)

- The increasing attention given to new models of creative collaboration (& crowdsourcing)

- The proliferation of data visualization and new ways of using it (Art & The Algorithm, From Art to Apps)

- Emerging agency models (Agency Nil, Agency Nil #2, R/GA, Boulder Digital Works)

- The celebration of awesome creativity (esp where it innovates or hacks channels or platforms – LEGO, Sour, Concave Scream, Mary Poppins, Nike, Google)

- Interviews with people we respect (Dieter Rams, Aaron Koblin, Manual Lima, Jeremy Ettinghausen)

- Musings on the shape of the future (The Coming Age of Augmentation, Will the Web Make Us More Honest?, Adaptive Brand Marketing)

- New apps, software, APIs, cool stuff (Goggles, Foursquare, The Phonebook, QR codes)

- Sustainability & community (iSaw, Blog Action Day, Glove Love)

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