Achim Schauerte

Is it time to give your brand a voice?

BBH Labs interview with Marcel Kornblum, Head of Creative Technology, BBH London

Voice is one of the big technological themes of 2017 and with Amazon now claiming that ‘Alexa’s speech is protected by the First Amendment’, it is time to listen in to the conversation around voice.

Bots are already a channel that brands are taking up, so voice seems to be the next logical step. We’re expecting to see voice interfaces in lots of new places, not just Alexa and Siri and Google Home fighting to be the voice controlled service of choice within people’s four walls.

This poses an interesting brand experience design challenge, as brand strategy and technology converge in a very specific field. On the technology side there are many conversations being had about ‘voice tech’, while brand strategists have been discussing a brand’s tone of voice for years. The intersection of these two areas is what interests us most at the moment.

We are currently exploring this area with a number of our clients, and as this is all about conversations, I sat down with our BBH’s Head of Creative Technology, Marcel Kornblum, to discuss the process of designing a brand’s voice and the challenges that we are currently facing.

Labs: Contagious just released an overview on voice interfaces and said that “voice technology is an interesting way of conveying a brand’s personality and it can help foster a more emotional, human-like engagement with consumers.” What are your thoughts on this?

MK: I think there are two distinct challenges in the context of automated assistants: what the bot says, and what the voice it says it with sounds like.

Traditional tone of voice is still a factor in the sense of the choice of words that the brands use to communicate, but the shape of the challenge itself is now different. In the context of bots, the interaction between the brand and the user is much more conversational.

Tone of voice is becoming harder to control. For example, when you make a TV ad, you write a script and the brand has the voice of the brand within that script. In social, you have people who are trained to talk in the right way when they talk from the voice of the brand and that can be conversational, but it’s still up to the individual writing the messages, even though in many cases they speak directly as the brand.

With bots, it’s that conversational side of things except that it’s now all automated, so it’s even tougher to have a distinct voice.

In addition to all that, there is a new challenge which is the actual sound of the voice that says those words.

Labs: So how would you start building a brand’s voice?

MK: There are out of the box frameworks to make a bot, for example to create a new sales channel for your ecommerce site. Microsoft, IBM, Google and Facebook have open frameworks to make a bot and you can configure how the bot responds to things. Most of those solutions will have some generic understanding of conversation.

The risk there is that the conversation becomes generic. Inevitably it’s friendly, helpful and clear but not specific to your brand. It’s expensive to build a model that will be more specific to your brand.

On the voice side of things, there are lots of different aspects to the challenge but essentially the tech landscape around bots has some speech generation frameworks and tools.

These are appropriate for being very flexible and allowing any text being spoken aloud, but in the worst case they sound extremely robotic, like your accessibility assistant on your computer or your sat nav.

That approach is valid because it’s very flexible, quick and cost effective but it doesn’t sound very human, although many companies are making great strides in that area — for example IBM Watson has become much more human.

On the other hand, there are very bespoke solutions that allow the brand to really own the voice itself; many of these come from the media sector rather than the bot frameworks, and as a result may not be very flexible.

Labs: So how do you decide which approach to go for?

MK: If you need to be able to say absolutely anything with the voice, like a free ranging open conversation, you will probably sacrifice a bespoke brand voice for the infinite number of words to be expressed. Like with Alexa, users can say anything and the framework needs to come back with some sort of response, even if it is ‘Sorry I don’t understand that’.

If your application is much more on rails, as in there are specific choices that a user makes, you can go with a more templated approach.

It is a bit of an old-fashioned lo-fi option: essentially it is to record templates and words and drop the words into the template. Much like TFL or Sat-nav does (most of them anyway).

That allows you to have a clearly assembled voice but has personality that an auto-generated voice doesn’t. So it depends what kind of application you want to build.

Labs: Google, Amazon and co are the obvious players in this field but are there other areas where the innovation is coming from?

MK: Interestingly there are more sophisticated options around that are coming from specialist companies from the film or gaming industry who do lots of amazing stuff with voice. One of those is to get a voice actor to do an extremely technical recording of their voice which is phoneme based. So you record every individual ‘oh, ah, uh’ and so on. When you do that enough you can make a generated speech engine that uses that person’s voice, which then sounds much more unique and also offers an infinite choice of words.

Labs: Are there certain types of brands that lend themselves better to be expressed via voice?

MK: I think there are certain types of functionality that lend themselves better for voice than others. Voice recognition is not 100% accurate. The deficit in accuracy is really important. The standard in the industry is 94% but the 6% are infuriating. So 94% of the time everything works well, but 6% of the time it’s unbelievably awful and that is a really significant thing.

Most Alexa owners will probably say that generally they love it, but it’s terrible some of time when it doesn’t recognise things. Accents play a really big part. If you speak English with a foreign accent, recognition is way down.

When Siri gets stuff wrong it’s annoying but it’s just search and there is also a screen to fall back on. When Alexa gets stuff wrong, it’s really infuriating because there is no screen — no fallback — and no getting around it. Alexa for that reason is very command based. Google Home supposedly can be much more conversation based. So if you say a few phrases into your conversation it knows the context of your first phrase. Which makes things more natural.

The models are trained on voices. I think there is a whole other interesting topic here which is that of implicit bias, both in recognition and generation. All the generated voices are all white, they are all Susan and James. That may matter to brands if they use generated voices.

Labs: Are there differences in how to use voice, depending on the channel or platform?

MK: I think it’s much the same as with brands and their content on owned vs. paid platforms. It’s a tradeoff and there are different options available.

For example, on YouTube you put your video there and what you get is lots of people passing by and the algorithm showing it to people who might be interested, and what you give up for it is the context in which that video sits. On your own platform you get to control the whole thing, and you might still use the YouTube player in there.

If you put a voice service on Alexa or Google Home you need to talk to Alexa to get to your service, and Alexa will talk back to you. So as a brand you can provide a custom skill to Alexa, but ultimately it’s Alexa talking with Alexa’s voice.

Your owned platform offers more control but is more expensive in the development and in actually getting people there.

Labs: What is the right context to use a voice interface?

MK: There is a whole environmental thing. It can feel weird talking to your phone in public, especially if people can hear you.

It’s different in the privacy of your own home but then the challenge is multiple users, as these devices are normally shared technology. Microsoft (among others) is working on distinguishing between different people to recognise individual preferences, which is interesting as bots become part of a group conversation.

For example, bots sit on our messaging services and it is becoming normal for them to be part of the conversation. So when we use Slack as a team, there are bots in there too. There is an interesting thing about how bots will become part of our conversation in an offline world via voice and knowing which person is talking and being able to service group conversations in the real world.

Labs: In the movie ‘Her’, a super smart AI operating system gets intimate with her user and interacts with him in the most natural way possible. When we get there, will voice become the main way to interact with brands?

MK: It’s definitely going to be an important one, but I think it will differ according to territory, sector and functionality.

For example, lots of the voice innovation has come from China. China is ahead in uptake of voice interfaces on platforms like Weibo, because a huge part of the population there is not fully literate.

Another factor is that people speak much faster than they write. As voice recognition becomes better, there will definitely be brands speaking with voices because it’s a Marketing and service opportunity.

It’s a really exciting time be experimenting with this stuff.

 

WHY EXACTLY WAS THAT AD SO GOOD?

Written by: Lucian Trestler, Strategist BBH London

As our last post hinted at, we’re getting a little obsessed with feeling here at BBH.  Nigel Bogle has always said ‘sell through the heart’.  We’ve always known it.

The problem with feeling is it can get a little vague – make people happy.   Make people cry. But I believe we can get way more precise about this.

Here’s a little repartee between myself and Byron Sharp:

Sharp

The more we pursue success through consistency, the more important it becomes to precisely analyse what made that first ad so amazing. So often this question is misdiagnosed and the tricky second album flops.

The drumming gorilla was all about joy right? A big, abstract, pure expression of joy in that quirky Cadbury’s tone of voice right? WRONG. It was all about a very specific type of orgasmic joy. The type that you can only experience after an outrageous build up. The release was the important bit there. Kind of like that release of sensory joy that can be experienced when you finally sink your teeth into that chocolate you’ve been craving. The build-up and release that wasn’t in any of their other ads.

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Epic strut. That was all about a bloke dancing outrageously in public right? WRONG. We have all imagined how awesome it would be to burst into a power walk like that on days when we are bossing life and Queen B comes on shuffle. No one has imaged expressing that feeling on the pole. Ok, very few of us have imagined that.

Understanding exactly what that feeling was that made that ad so good is crucial, I would argue, in rolling out hit after hit.

The Under Armour ad with Misty Copeland (I will what I want) was all about that feeling when self-belief puts you on top of the world. Then came Giselle. Then Phelps. Each one a masterclass in spine tingling self-belief.

Our industry moves fast and naturally this means we obsess about the next big thing. And that’s a good thing. But we don’t stop to look back and reflect enough. By taking the time to ask – why exactly was that ad so good? – we (especially strats rustling up briefs) can pinpoint the exact feeling that needs replicating and help crack that tricky second album.

FEELING GOOD ABOUT MARKETING’S FUTURE

Written by: Lilli English & Will Lion (Heads of Strategy, BBH London)

Here’s a useful squiggle. It’s a model of how things change.

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For the last few years it’s felt like we’ve been in the cauldron: a bubbling, unpleasant mix of low client and marketing confidence; a procurement culture that sees our services in the same way it sees the staples; talent with exciting options extending far beyond agencies; an ever increasing media and technological complexity; a reliance on testing work that raises the floor but limits the ceiling; a collective impatience to deliver results faster than they might be able to arrive; and a culture of extreme rationality to make sense of it all, which is sure to balloon as we deal with the uncertainties now ahead of us.

So in response everyone’s been scrambling to create the perfectly optimised marketing machine. Data, science, accountability, logic, technology, utility. These are the heroes. These are the things we reassure clients with now.  And rightly.

But frankly, that’s not enough.  Only focussing on the machine is drying out the work. It’s become sterile, mediocre, samey, complex – across the industry. It’s no wonder the world is blocking us out.

Even Google’s feeling it:

“I have a colleague who is writing a paper on the future of marketing: it’s data, data, science, science. I’m like, “it’s not!” Or rather, it is those things, yes. But if you fall down on the art, if you fail on the messaging and storytelling, all that those tools will get you are a lot of bad impressions” Lorraine Twohill, Global VP Marketing at Google.

And it’s just not working as well for clients. As the IPA discovered last year, thinking only short term and rationally has made our creativity half as powerful in the last few years. Half!

Truth is, anyone can build the machine and churn out lukewarm porridge – but that’s not good enough. There’s a better way. A way that makes more of a difference. So yes we must build the most fearsome set of pipes but we mustn’t forget to fill them with the magic.

Finding our feeling

That’s been our mantra to BBH strategists for the past year. For us the answer lies in going back to one of the great timeless truths of how our creativity works:

We make a commercial difference by making people feel.

It’s painfully simple, we know. But fundamental – and all too easy to forget.

Just look at what’s happened last year: FEELING TRUMPED ALL ELSE. We learnt that you can throw out all the facts and rationale you want, if you don’t get how different people feel and how to make them feel, you’re nowhere.  The likes of Trump have undeniably understood and exploited this, far better than their opponents.

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Go back to our own industry, and the data tells us the same story. We know that when people feel emotionally connected to a brand they are 52% more valuable (HBR), they create more profit for companies, and they do so more efficiently (IPA).

It’s no surprise – making someone feel ignites their brain, earns you a small corner of their memory, which in turn drives their behaviour.

Making people feel. It’s essentially our safest marketing strategy.

But for us this goes beyond confidence in the foundations of marketing – it’s a vision for how to build differentiated brands in the modern world.

Every corner of a modern brand’s experience, from comms to counter, needs to be smoothly connected and efficient now.  Of course it does. But bring more feeling to those moments – more beauty, surprise, warmth, awe – and you elevate yourself into greater difference. Especially as experiences gets more commoditised, feeling will pay back. It always has of course, but now it just has more places to play. And as nerdy as it is to admit it, we think that’s incredibly exciting.

6 things to try out:

  1. Turn the new wave of intelligence into opportunities to create magic. Learn to love DMPs (data management platform) and BPMs (beats per minute). Infuse the whole new connected brand experience with feeling, whether that’s something you see on a TV, play with on a phone or touch in store. Sure there’s a symphony of computation going on behind the curtain but make everything feel magic to the punters.
  1. Give your client confidence in feeling: Gather the hoards of evidence to prove feeling makes a commercial difference and arm clients with the framework and tools to convince their peers and bosses. A few examples for starters: IPA 2014, HBR 2015, IPA 2016, Neuro-Insight, BrainJuicer.
  1. Attract and retain talent who get the power of feeling. We need sophisticated plumbers who know their DMPs from their GRPs. But find the precious few who can do both intelligence and magic, across different ages and experience. When it comes to finding young talent, we look for CVs that balance a restless curiosity across a broad set of interests with depth of skill and/or expertise. Red flags include jargon, platform snobbery, and evangelism around one way of thinking.
  1. Stop thinking, start feeling for great work: Evaluate the work by how it makes us feel. The more precise the better – find the feeling that is proven to change behaviour and track that feeling relentlessly. For example for Audi, we pursue the feeling of desire right through to purchase, as much in TV as in programmatic. And we’re embracing new ways of measuring emotion – from facial coding to neuroscience. We know that too much logic can kill creativity, but often forget that this applies to our own internal creative reviews as much as it does client pre-testing.
  1. Sell the work with feeling. Seduce the heart and give the head reasons to follow. It’s what we advise clients do, but it’s something we all too often forget when selling to them. Simple things can make all the difference – working in proper time to rehearse (if humanly possible); planning a great client experience from the moment they walk in the agency…
  1. Prove the value of feeling. Measure the emotional response to your activity with forensic intensity, from the smallest interactions to the most epic campaign; and prove feeling delivers difference to our clients’ fortunes, again and again.

Feeling works. It’s what we can do that others (and the algorithms) can’t. And it’s what we all got into this game for, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO GET CHIPPED UP. A CRASH COURSE IN BIOHACKING.

It’s a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Soho. I am at a cafe, waiting to interview a guy called Lee Porte. We have never met before, but I immediately recognise him. Lee immediately strikes you as as the archetypical geek – long hair, big beard, Mr. Robot T-shirt, an extremely nice guy. He also has a RFID chip implanted in his hand. While this might sound scary and futuristic to some, it seems incredibly normal to him. And it’s the reason I wanted to meet him.

A few weeks prior to our meeting, I attended the FutureFoundation conference Trending 2017 and RFID implants were one of the ‘beyond human’ topics discussed. A short Twitter conversation later, and I got myself an interview with Lee.

Our conversation on that rainy Tuesday afternoon for me, demystified what you might call ‘biohacking’ – a movement that identifies with transhumanist and biopunk ideologies. Implanted RFID chips are not completely new, but the movement is still in its infancy. I wanted to share some of the insights with you, which Lee kindly agreed to. In case you ever wondered how and why to get ‘chipped up’, here’s a quick overview.

“I love playing with cutting edge technology and it doesn’t get more cutting edge than this.”

 

1) It’s simpler than you think

If you are thinking about getting a RFID chip implanted, companies like DangerousThings or Cyberise.me will provide you with the chip inside a sterilised syringe, ready for implanting.

While you could implant it yourself, it’s easier being done by a piercing studio, or as Lee points out, a friendly vet (it’s pretty much the same thing as getting your cat chipped). It takes about 30 seconds, neatly sitting in the flesh between your thumb and index finger. Apparently you don’t even feel it being in there. It certainly can’t be seen from the outside.

Armed with an XMP tag writer on your phone, you can then easily read and write on your chip via your phone’s NFC. For example, you can write your contact details on there, and use your RFID chip as a business card with your next handshake. While exchanging business cards sounds like an interesting use case, it doesn’t quite convince me yet to chip up my hand. Lee and I discuss if this niche movement might ever become mainstream.

2) You need a killer app

For Lee, working as a system admin at a big data company gives him unique access to certain systems that allow him to experiment with his RFID chip. He programmed it to use as a key to unlock the office doors, which according to him leads to some interesting reactions from visitors who see him magically open doors, Jedi-style.

Replacing door keys certainly is a very practical application. He is still trying to convince his other half to get a chip so that they can get rid of their standard door lock. Apparently she’s not that keen yet, which might be the case with the majority of people. But this may quickly change, the more applications could be written into your hand.

According to Lee, anything you can add a unique identifier against, you can use with your RFID chip. Technically your Oyster card could be replaced but it is down to TFL to give you access to it, which they currently don’t. If a major player like TFL came on board, Lee reckons this could really kick off. Who wouldn’t want an Oyster card they can’t lose?

Contactless payment is another obvious one and technically there’s no reason why you couldn’t link your credit card to your RFID-chipped-hand, allowing you to pay your restaurant bill at your next dinner. While this might freak out your date and waiters alike, we shouldn’t forget that paying with your mobile phone seemed far off a few years ago as well. Technological change and socially accepted behaviour go hand in hand, so to say.

I am getting really intrigued now. This suddenly sounds like a much more viable option. A simple procedure, and you get keys, a credit card and your Oyster card that you can’t lose any more. A killer app for the forgetful.

3) It’s not just about utility

While I am a very practical person, for some people, utility might not be the main draw. Like tattoos and piercings, body modification is becoming more acceptable and for some people this is purely about aesthetic reasons.  

‘Firefly tattoos’ are little implants that contain Tritium, a radioactive gas that glows. Again, you can get this stuff via Cyberise.me. It has no functional value, but it is “really quite cool”, as Lee points out. He is considering using them as glowing eyes, as part of a larger tattoo design.

Apparently some people just like the idea of implanting magnets under their skin as well. I can see the appeal of playing Magneto for a day, but any more than this and it might become quite frustrating every time you empty your dishwasher.

4) We are just getting started

Whether it is considered useful or beautiful, the biohacking movement is just getting started. Flexible NFC chips are tested in beta at the moment, giving you a much bigger antenna area which makes it easier to tag, but come also with a bigger operational procedure.

There are obviously other developments beyond RFID chips. Brain computer interfaces seem to be the ultimate goal, getting closer to the Matrix. In the meantime, companies like Grindhouse Wetware, an open source biotechnology startup company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are leading the charge. ‘As a dedicated team working towards a common goal – augmenting humanity using safe, affordable, open source technology’ they believe “that with imagination and drive, any of us can feel and touch EMF fields, explore its contours, sense the temperature of objects across a room, navigate a room using a sonar sense, or even connect the body to the Internet – right now. It is that dream above all that drives us to create.”

One of their projects is Circadia, an implantable device that can read biomechanical data and transmit via bluetooth. It can also display messages, warnings, or texts from your Android phone via LEDs through your skin.

This all still seems like sci-fi to me but the conversation with Lee has grounded my view of this futuristic movement in practical reality. And while I can see scenarios of brands experimenting in this space, it might be a bit too early to include any of this stuff into your Marketing plan just yet. Lee suggested biohacked brand ambassadors at events. Sounds like an interesting idea, but as I am not yet convinced to chip up myself, I might not recommend that in my next client meeting.

As I quickly head back through the rain, fiddling with my key card to get back into the office, I wish I could open that door with a quick hand gesture.

 

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Author: Achim Schauerte, Strategy Director BBH London

 

 

GRIME, GAMING & KFC

At first glance these may look like three separate entities, but look a little closer into youth culture today and you will see that they are inseparably tangled together. Grime stars love gaming; they love talking about it online and they love writing music about gaming.

The gaming elite have reciprocated this inter-genre love; KSI – gamer and most influential YouTuber in the UK – has even collaborated on grime tune ‘Lamborghini’ with P Money, which has amassed more than 61m views.

This blossoming friendship between two of the biggest and hottest UK cultures has been played out publicly across a combined social network that reaches approximately 60% of the UK’s 16-24s.

So how does KFC fit into this? Where you find grime and gaming, you find KFC mentioned constantly, both in lyrics or proclaimed as the ultimate fuel for gaming, making it a natural part of the conversation.

So when KFC challenged us to create an initiative to connect with a youth audience across digital platforms, we knew that this was the cultural opportunity to go after, especially as this age group is leading the charge against online advertising, with nearly half (47%) using adblockers – up 15% in a year. (Source: YouGov 2016)

We wanted to find a unique slant on gaming that felt right for KFC, a brand that connects people in the real world. Social conversations revealed that the rise of online multi-player gaming, as cool and big as it might be, has somewhat undermined the old-school way of having weekend long gaming sessions, hanging out with your mates on the sofa, a split-screen and lots of food.

We decided to bring back the thing that made gaming great in the first place by creating the Colonel’s Couch. A gaming sofa designed to unite friends over their favourite games and food. So on the 27th November, KFC hosted a gaming tournament that saw the biggest names in grime and gaming battle it out for a lifetime’s supply of KFC.

With traditional OLA declining in reach, we wondered whether live broadcast, connecting straight to the customer, could offer us a marketing opportunity. We decided to partner with Facebook and stream the event ‘live’ so that our broader KFC audience could witness this epic game/griming battle.

While watching people game online might seem a strange concept to some, we know that eSports is one of the world’s fastest growing sports with a global audience of 256m people growing at 13% YOY (Source: Newzuoo 2016).

And the results spoke for themselves. By shortcutting traditional media, KFC reached 87% its target audience, with the live stream reaching 2.7 million people. Within the first 48 hours we had 3,800 comments, 77% of which expressed joy for what they just witnessed.

This campaign enforced the existing cultural associations between this demographic, eating occasion and KFC. At a fraction of the price of TV. The long term effect of this broadcast is yet to be measured, but we are already planning no.2. Why? Because if you create and share something that people love, you don’t have to worry too much about adblocking.

 

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Authors: Tom Hargreaves, Strategist BBH Live & Lucian Trestler, Strategist BBH

Making the Right Magic Win

A BBH LA POV on Trump’s America and the post-truth media world.

If you’ve read Paul Feldwick’s latest book retracing the history of our industry, you’ll know that the debate on whether logic or magic is best at building successful brands has been raging ever since the lights were turned on on Madison Avenue.

The hard cold facts or the emotional bond? Cold or warm? Speak to the head, or charm the heart? USP or ESP? System 1 or System 2?

But until recently, outside of the advertising world, it was quite clear who was in charge of logic (journalist and news outlets) and who in charge of magic (novelists and film directors). And it was also quite clear than on most important subjects, logic would win. After all, both free market capitalism and democracy are based on the premise that citizen-consumers are all rational individuals that make informed decisions on the basis of their self-interest, right?

Well, think again, because:

MAGIC IS WINNING (even on the grown-up stuff)

Magic trumps logic, pretty much all the time. We always knew that rational discourse alone wasn’t enough to build a brand. But now it looks as if rational superiority amounts to nothing, unless it isn’t powered up by emotion, even on the most critical topics.

Brexit officialized and legitimized the triumph of feeling over fact (for more on the subject, read this). And as of this year, we live in a world where editors and politicians openly admit that they care more about affecting opinions than realities. And then of course, there is the fact that a man whose business smarts couldn’t outperform an index mutual fund just beat history’s best prepared candidate to the top job.

But hey – we’re the creative guys! We like to tell stories and impact culture! So surely this is great news?

(IT’S THE WRONG KIND OF MAGIC THAT’S WINNING)

It’s not all sweetness and light in the world of emotions. Fear, anger, and jealousy lurk in the shadows.

Obama gave us Hope, but since then Farage, Le Pen and many more have given us Fear, and Trump is getting ready to give us back segregation, isolationism, and patriarchy. Sadly, recent history has proven Yoda right (not that it needed to): ‘the Dark side is more seductive. It is the quick and easy path’.

WE NEED TO TAKE A COLD, HARD LOOK AT HOW WE DO OUR JOBS

Why is this all happening? In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes about our species’ unique ability to generate affiliation, commitment and action on a large scale through powerful imagined cultural constructs (faith, nation, even family, have no biological basis or equivalent in the animal world). He identifies it as the single most important factor in our success: our capacity for collective fantasies is what allows us to get shit done. It could also be what destroys us.

But the media industry has a lot to answer for. This excellent long read from the Guardian does an outstanding job at explaining how social media has blurred the lines between truth and fantasy, by effectively devaluing the expertise of journalists in favour of a click-bait economy. In the words of Hossein Derakhshan and as written in the article, ‘the diversity that the world wide web had originally envisaged’ has given way to the ‘centralization of information’ inside a select few social networks, and the outcome is ‘making us all less powerful in relation to government and corporations.’

When we focus on share-ability, when we talk about being user-centered, are we implicitly creating a world where knowledge and truth weigh nothing against the sensational? By signing up to emotion, have we effectively signed away the value of fact?

NOW IS THE GREATEST TIME TO BE CREATIVE

If your agency is like mine, then the last weeks have been particularly tough. The results of this election have many of us asking “Why?” and “How?” What’s been so hard for many people who work here is, they’ve been very involved in process – taking buses to Phoenix to get the vote early, volunteering time to phone bank, or hitting the streets in protest.

And now we find ourselves at the end of 2016, and our world has been flipped upside down once again. Not unlike the “Upside Down World” in Stranger Things, we find ourselves in a dangerous place. But it offers you an opportunity, to wipe the blood from your nose and get back to work.

If something positive can come out of this, it’s the fact that we can’t ignore the issue any more. There’s not ‘back to normal’. More people, young and old, will now know what happens when you don’t take responsibility. They will be compelled to roll up their sleeves. We have the opportunity to create an age of mass awakening. People are listening: so what will we choose to talk about? Race, gender, walls, bullying, privacy, media, police, guns, pussies, weiners, age, tic tacs, the environment and tanning booths… It’s up to us.

You have the most powerful, creative tools this world has ever known at your disposal. In your hands and at your desks. Use them. They can be more powerful than any bomb and more piercing than any bullet. If the revolution won’t be televized, it must be mobilized by you.

Your voice, your ideas and your actions can be the change this world so desperately needs.

Bring in ideas that start with profound human insights, sharp points of view and teeth. Gnarly f***ing teeth that cut through anything in its way. Craft like your life depends on it, because life as you know it will never be the same. Sweat over every detail, every syllable and every thought. Because the world needs your art, words and vision more than ever. To say what we are feeling, make sense of what we are living and heal what we’ve been through.

AND IN PRACTICAL TERMS… HOW WILL WE MAKE THE GOOD MAGIC WIN?

Strategists: come back to the roots of your craft, to be the voice of the people. What can you do to ensure you genuinely understand your audience? If you ‘didn’t see Trump coming’, then you fundamentally don’t. Work harder to ensure you are truly getting insight from real people – not just the real people of the Lower East Side of NYC and Santa Monica, California.

Creatives: you have the power to shape representations in a subtle, and yet insanely powerful way. Big ideas won this year’s elections, powerful emotive ideas capitalizing on the appeal of nostalgia, fear and conservativeness in the context of a tumultuous globalized world. How can you tap into collective emotions to create momentum towards progress, generosity and optimism?

Producers: Casting, location, choice of directors… Your decisions have the power to challenge stereotypes. Could this mum be a dad? Why couldn’t the CEO be black? How about shooting in Arizona? Could a female director shoot this comedy script? (I hear some women are funny)

Agency leaders: are you actively creating a culture that’s ‘open-hearted and inclusive’? What are you doing about diversity? Are you creating space and time for your teams to embody the values they believe in?

Media buyers: what future of journalism and media are you creating through your investment decisions? How much are you spending with Facebook, and can you use this lever to talk to them about their responsibility as the new gatekeepers? Do you spend money with titles that spread hatred or untruths?

Commit to fighting for truth. Do not let this crisis go to waste. It won’t be easy. Nothing great ever is. Progress is never perfect. But it’s the only way forward.

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Written by Agathe Guerrier (Head of Strategy BBH LA), Frances Great (Managing Director BBH LA), Zach Hilder (Executive Creative Director BBH LA) & Pelle Sjoenell (Worldwide Chief Creative Officer BBH Group)
Picture Credit: KSENIA_L via Favim.com

Foresight, Hindsight & Insight

It is sadly ironic that The Simpsons predicted the outcome of the presidential election 16 years ago, while almost all of the polls and predictions run by the media just before the 8th November 2016 were wrong. Again, I might add, having experienced a very similar phenomenon just a few months ago following the Brexit referendum.

Working in our industry, especially as a planner, I wonder how much we can actually still listen to the polls, the research groups, the quantitative studies? In a more unpredictable and uncertain world, is there still a role for forecasting and foresight? Can data ever be trusted?

Last Tuesday, on the day of the election, I attended the Future Foundation’s Trending 2017 event. On the day they revealed their rebranding to the Foresight Factory – a day when millions of Americans defied all the foresight. In hindsight, this doesn’t just feel like a bad coincidence. It almost seems symptomatic of the state our industry is in.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been working with the Future Foundation for years and intend to continue to do so. The event was a really interesting one to attend, with lots of food for thought around the evolution of conversational commerce, personality pressures in our social media driven world and the latest stuff on biohacking. Definitely enough material for another blog post and a testament to the work from companies like the Foresight Factory to inspire us all to think beyond the present and keeping an open mind for the future. Gazing into the future and thinking about what’s next is critical to what we do, and will always be something I enjoy most about my job.

However, there seems to be a more urgent question we need to ask ourselves at this point: has the way we handle ‘foresight’, research and ultimately data, put us out of touch with what actually moves the majority, or at least a big part of our society?

This might be a surprising question to ask for BBH Labs, but an important one nevertheless. In her article ‘Reality check: I blame the media’, Danah Boyd reflects on the role the media played in the election outcome and demands that “all of us who work in the production and dissemination of information need to engage in a serious reality check”. I would include the advertising and wider marketing industry, so see this as our reality check.

Here are three observations on what we can learn from the data flaws in predicting the US election and what has gone wrong when it comes to ‘data’ in our industry. As always, we are interested in hearing your thoughts.

Data itself has become the spectacle

Going back to the #TrendingFF17 conference. On the day there was an Amazon Echo inconspicuously sitting on the podium. Throughout the program, everyone in the auditorium giggled at Alexa giving us the latest polls and predictions when asked to do so. The source and content of the reassuring predictions of Hillary Clinton having a clear lead in the election almost seemed to be secondary, as everyone was still quite confident about the outcome and the technology took centrestage, or as Boyd puts it: “I believe in data, but data itself has become spectacle.”

Apart from the fact that our industry has a certain obsession with the latest gadgets, data itself and the way it is presented (in this case by a hands free, first generation AI, voice controlled speaker) tends to become more important than the actual facts it represents.

No question, Amazon Echo is a fascinating device and we love exploring what the future might hold. In this instance it was just another symptomatic reminder of how ‘the medium really is the message’ and that it is easy to overlook the validity of the data being presented through all those shiny devices. “This abuse of data has to stop. We need data to be responsible, not entertainment.” Which leads me to my next point.

Predictions aren’t properly scrutinised

No, this election might not have marked the ‘Death of data’ but in this article on filter bubbles and analysis, Kalev Letaru points out that “the mass availability of data today means we are increasingly grabbing at data and using it to produce findings without spending the time to think about the limitations and biases of the views it may provide us and especially issues like self-censorship.”

Everyone working with various forms of research and data inputs knows this. Methodologies, the size of the sample, the ways consumers respond in different environments, and the way conclusions are derived, are critical yet often overlooked or at least easily forgotten once the results are in.

This is the main reason why the media “weren’t paying attention to the various structural forces that made their sample flawed, the various reasons why a disgusted nation wasn’t going to contribute useful information to inform a media spectacle.”

The points about ‘self-censorship’ and a ‘disgusted nation’ are really important ones. It suggests that a big part of society is disenfranchised with everything that represents the establishment and the system that is working against them, including the media, corporate America and maybe the world of Marketing, brands and advertising.

In her Guardian article, Mona Chalabi points at the same phenomenon when she shared her observations working with Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight and that ‘there was also a certain arrogance that comes from being part of an elite that “gets the numbers”, and an entrenched hierarchy meant that predictions weren’t properly scrutinised.’

This should make marketers uncomfortable and question their data and the research that drives their decisions. Maybe people don’t actually want your business to succeed. Maybe they don’t want to engage with a brand. Maybe they are fed up answering endless questionnaires on their attitudes and purchase behaviours. True, no one is forcing them to, but the same can be said for the polls.

The only thing I am saying is, let’s be more rigorous with our data and let’s not fall in the arrogance trap and scrutinise every prediction and conclusion. It is critical for our business to have an eye on the future and continue to ask what’s next, but we should always question trends, future forecasts and the data that lies beneath.

Mistaking foresight with insight

The most important point though is to truly listen. I know it sounds like a cliche but with all the sophisticated data sets and tools we have at our disposal, they still don’t make up for truly understanding of how people think and feel right now.

I was fascinated when I saw this Michael Moore talk. He predicted Trump’s election months ago. Not only is he from a white, middle-class background, he spent a lot of time travelling around the country, talking and listening to people and trying to understand why they would support Trump as a candidate.

The truth is, real insight into people’s behaviours has always led to the more impactful solution, whether it is an ad campaign, a newly designed service or in this case, one of the most surprising and effective (as sad as that might be) campaigns ever. Donald Trump’s campaign succeeded because it tapped into an insight – that a big part of society felt disgusted, left behind and neglected by the whole system.

So let’s not forget that data is only as useful as the insight you can gather from it. If insight trumps foresight, maybe the Simpsons are the best way to predict the future. By holding up a mirror to society, Matt Groening and the writers behind the show have predicted many things to come true over the past few years.

In hindsight it all seems so obvious, we should have listened to the Simpsons. Or as someone once said “An insight is an insight, when it is obvious in hindsight.”

 

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Author: Achim Schauerte, Strategy Director, BBH London & BBH Labs

 

Can we really make a difference?

Written by Lilli English (Head of Strategy, BBH London)

I woke up in the early hours of Wednesday morning and immediately looked at my phone. There it was, Trump in the lead. I check Facebook shortly after.  My feed is having a meltdown.  Outrage, disgust, emoji-sobbing, mocking.  I consider joining in.   And then realise: it’ll make no difference.

Whilst I’ve enjoyed all the satirical Trump films, fact checkers, and Hollywood celebs imploring America to vote Hillary (and not be ‘a steaming dump’ about it), I’ve also felt a little uncomfortable about it all. Or rather – uncomfortably comfortable.

I recently read a brilliant piece that asked whether too many businesses today are run like boring dinner parties: ‘The risk with running our businesses like our dinner parties is that we begin to create corporate echo chambers: organisations that repeatedly support the same sentiments…and reinforce the same rules’.

To borrow this analogy, I can’t help feeling I’ve been sat in one long, loud, rather smug political dinner party this year.  Britain stormed out half way in the evening which was awkward, but the chatter soon happily turned to another topic we’d all vehemently agree on – the US election.

In his latest film HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis looks at how ‘we have retreated into a simplified and often completely fake version of the world’, made worse by the disconnected, ideological echo chambers of the internet.  We’re essentially talking to ourselves.   All the time.   It’s not just a boring dinner party – it’s scary one. (I’ve watched too much Mr Robot, forgive me).

We can draw a number of parallels between Brexit and the US election.   People are angry.   They’re feeling desperately disenfranchised.  They’ve born the brunt of crumbling infrastructures and intractable social issues.  The world’s accelerated at a dizzying speed and many feel left behind.   Bigotry abounds and trust deteriorates.

But it’s not the first time voters here and in the US have given the Establishment a kick in the teeth, nor is the sentiment of anger driving the mood of these countries a recent phenomenon.  It’s been building for quite some time.

What is striking is this total disconnect in both nations between what ‘we’ thought would happen and what actually happened; between the media and its audience; between our algorithm-happy ‘echo chambers’.   The fact is, we haven’t a clue how the ‘other’ thinks or feels.  The same goes for the people governing us. We’re all too busy admiring our own reflections.  ‘So much a part of the system that you were unable to see beyond it’[1].

So how do we see beyond it?  How can we better understand the reality of our world? And what’s all this got to do with our industry?

The ‘wisdom of crowds’ can only possibly work if the crowd shares and is exposed to different perspectives.  We know that diversity of experience, education, temperament, intelligence, ethnicity, gender and age, leads to better ideas, better solutions, better societies[2].  Lack of difference essentially makes us stupid.  It makes us boring.  It makes us complacent. Me and my Facebook feed included.

This has implications not only on the way we build brands but also the role brands – and therefore our creativity – can play in people’s lives.

As a marketer, you look at what’s happened this year and revisit what you always knew: feeling trumps all else.  You can throw out all the facts and rationale you want, if you don’t get how different people feel and how to make them feel, you’re nowhere.

You’re also reminded of our own marketing echo chamber.  We’ve built a sophisticated system around us, which we ceaselessly tinker for efficiency.  It feels comfortable in here. But not much changes with comfortable. And perhaps like the pollsters, we can now justifiably question what we’ve been comfortably measuring.

Very deliberately making space for and seeing difference is important.  It matters for political brands – the likes of Trump have undeniably understood and exploited this, far better than their opponents. And it matters for our creativity and the brands we’re busy building.   Difference has the power to make a difference – a mantra we at BBH strive to live by for the work and, as heads of planning, a mantra Will Lion and I encourage every strategist to go out and feel for themselves, beyond these walled gardens.

But can brands really make a difference in society, beyond ‘doing their bit’? It’s easy to feel squeamish about mixing good with commerciality, but I believe brands can and should play a more significant role.

People are feeling a profound lack of trust in governing bodies, the media, even their own social echo chambers. This makes the more ‘transactional’ relationship they have with brands seem rather more straightforward.  Buyers know we’re here to sell and seduce, and they know brands have the power to be better and do better – and will reward them for it.  That’s the deal. And it’s in many ways a more transparent and accountable ‘deal’ than exists between voters and leaders.  Or even Givers and charities.  Brands have the permission.  It’s up to us what difference we want to make.

We’ll hear a lot now about uniting and coming together, and of course that’s the noble thing to strive for, not least for the brands we serve.  But before that, let’s hang on to the importance of seeing and hearing difference, outside ourselves – because that’s what’ll make the difference ultimately.

 

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[1] HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis

[2] The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Scott E. Page

Photo credit: The Infinity Mirrored Room By Yayoi Kusama

Lilli English is Head of Strategy at BBH London by day and illustrator by night.

 

What’s next?

That is the question that BBH Labs has always asked.

When I walked into the office this morning, I felt a sense of nervousness but also excitement. On Friday a true BBH legend left the building and as @jeremyet mentioned in his farewell post, he handed over the precious keys to this blog. I promised him that we won’t screw it up.

So with my first blog post for BBH Labs, inevitably comes the question: What’s next?

As @melex outlined in her leaving post, BBH Labs had many different iterations over the years – from the original plan of a Marketing skunkworks, to experiment with emerging stuff, developing new agency models, and most of all to learn, publicly and privately. Now it is time for the next iteration.

There are many people here at 60 Kingly Street and across our network, keen to shape the future of BBH Labs, keen to build on the success of the past but also keen to take BBH Labs forward. We want to do some of the same things in the same way, but we are also really keen to do things differently. BBH Labs, at its heart, has also always been about difference. Working in different ways, playing with different ideas and involving different people.

We will continue to explore what happens at the intersection of technology, culture and brands. We want to connect with likeminded people who want to push the boundaries of our industry and we want to continue to test things, to experiment, to fail. We want to continue to share our learnings with you. And we want to bring the learnings from the outside world into 60 Kingly Street.

That is why we also want to make BBH Labs even more open, more collaborative, more participative – internally and externally. And now we want to involve you.

I am a planner by trade, so what better thing to do than to start with some research. I want to invite you, the long-time BBH Labs community, to get involved. What are the things you would love to see from BBH Labs in the future? What are the things you are most interested about? What have been some of your personal highlights over the years? What should we continue doing? What could we do differently?

I know you are out there, so let us know what you think and get in touch. Either here, on Twitter or via E-Mail: collaborators@bbh-labs.com

Whatever the next iteration of BBH Labs, we will definitely continue to ask what’s next.