Jeremy Ettinghausen

Jeremy is Innovation Director, BBH Labs & BBH London.

Imagination, rekindled

Author, Kendra Salvatore, Strategy Director BBH NY

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending The Future of Storytelling summit, and hearing from the passionate community of people from the worlds of media, technology, and communications who are exploring how storytelling is evolving in the digital age.

I will not summarize all of the great thinking thought and feelings felt. Go to the website and watch the videos from the expertly curated speakers, dig into all of their enlightening perspectives, look up their incredible projects – some links are provided below.

What I’d like to delve into is only one particular feeling I picked up across attendees and speakers; the future of storytelling is about feeling like a child.

Here are some powerful ways that the speakers encouraged a sense of pure, childlike emotion, perhaps unbeknownst to them, that we can learn from:

Follow our ideals

Two astronauts (of the 533 who have ever been to space) spoke about their ‘orbital moments’, what it feels like to be in space. When you see the earth from afar, there is first pure awe. Then, there is revelation – that we are fragile, we are one and we are capable of anything. These astronauts see an idyllic version of the world and are re-energized to create it when their feet are back on the ground. We discussed that besides astronauts, the champions of unwavering utopian sense of the world are children. They believe in hope, in peace, that they can be whatever they want to be. We can find opportunity for this positivity and optimism in our storytelling and apply it more often, especially when things feel most dystopian and complex. A documentary in progress, Constellation aims to spread this mentality to the world.

Preserve curiosity

When children ask questions of adults, there is an important exchange that happens – a kid finds courage to explore an original idea and they’re rewarded by a personal answer that is memorable and meaningful.

Pretty soon, some important adults we can ask questions to are going to die. Specifically, Holocaust survivors. Inspired by the need to maintain this childlike curiosity and learning around the Holocaust a few important organizations have used emerging technology to record many hours of footage with survivors. Language processing and display technologies allow a 3D virtual holocaust survivor to process and answer original questions in real time.

Harness the power of live experience

Jeffery Seller, producer of Hamilton, Avenue Q, Rent and In the Heights led an intimate round table about the emotional exchange that happens through live musical performance. A live performance is a real time exchange of creative energy between people. He spoke of being most impacted by this feeling in childhood and following that feeling to where he is now. A sweet moment in the conversation occurred when a YouTube star confessed that she couldn’t draw a live audience in the traditional staged way that Mr. Seller is devoted to, so she turned to Google Hangouts and, voilà, over time millions saw her sing live. Whether traditional or modern in method, they both admitted the emotional exchange created in live performance is needed today more than ever, in a world where a lot of our creativity is mediated instead of spontaneously heard and felt.

Champion physicality

The O.G. puppeteers on Sesame Street are of the most dedicated to their craft of any storyteller today. They connect with millions of children with their hands held high, inside puppets mouths and bodies, where slight movements of the wrist or finger convey entire worlds of emotion and connection with children viewing at home. These incredible artists have been provoking children’s imaginations for about 30 years. We all tried it. It’s hard to bring life to felt and glue (albeit very cute felt and glue). These physical nuances, that rock children’s worlds, should not be underestimated. Sometimes smallest physical gestures can be the most powerful means for communication, even when broadcast to millions.

Embrace uncertainty

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto reminded us that as human beings, we hate uncertainty – we hate to not know. This is because primitively, to not know was to die – and therefore today, uncertainty still creates stress.

He suggests that the solution to uncertainty is play because play is where uncertainty is celebrated. A child is the best example of embracing this way of being, uncertainty is inherent and play is practiced with abandon.

Sometimes in our industry, we do things we already know are going to be great. To this, Lotto would say, ‘who cares’. In this vein, maybe the true creative visionaries will be we who shed our pretense for childlike uncertainty and play. Through this, truly innovative, inspiring storytelling can take place.

Seek newness

One of the most powerful uses of virtual reality is to give people transportative experiences they have never had before. Being in space. Learning dance in Cuba. New experiences in turn can provoke feelings we have never felt before. In correlation with research I’ve done on VR, the closest feeling to being in a VR world is the feeling of being a child: where experiences are new and wonderful, feelings are surprising and pure, and you discover them for yourself (unlike filmic storytelling that leads you where it wants you to go). If we use VR in the right ways to tell stories, we can return to this kind of pure emotion and experience that our modern adult, civilized lives are so good at stomping out.

I left with a renewed commitment to telling stories from the heart and the gut. A dedication to simplicity in our communication. It is our job and responsibility to identify and amplify the aspirational feelings that being a child so perfectly exemplifies. We have the best of the physical and digital world to do this, to champion these feelings more than ever, in a world where we may need them more than ever.

Don’t Be Boring

Written by Phil Shipley, Annie Little and Josephine Kiernan

Everyone knows that other people’s dreams are boring, but that you’re going to get told them anyway. The same is true about conference recaps. My half-baked reconstruction of the fascinating talks from last night’s Interesting conference is nothing compared to the joy and passion shared by brave souls talking rapid-fire about topics ranging from gnome sex to feminist picture-books, via the connection between synths, squid, and the military industrial complex. Yes, it really had everything…

But if I’m going to have to recount a talk –  my personal favourite was Tim Dunn‘s on the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum. He told the story of the recovery of Sierra Leone’s heritage through a trainspotter’s quest to find some lost locomotives. Once located, they created a wonderful museum, digitised an archive, and gave training and jobs. They had taken a niche passion and done something with it that makes the world that little bit better.

The main feelings I left with were: inadequacy at my limited hobbies, and a small flame to just get on and do something that I care about.
Phil Shipley, Strategist

From the impressive variety of weird and wonderful topics that were covered at Interesting 2016, one that stuck with me the most was Ade Adewunmi’s TV evangelism. She repeatedly emphasised how much she loves TV. I am a TV sceptic, with the shows I currently watch woefully limited to Bake Off and First Dates. I am not a box set binger or series devotee. But Ade’s perspective on how we learn and test ourselves by watching these shows made me a potential convert.

I found her premise that TV is the arena in which we can reconsider our social constructs, prejudices and push the limits of what and who we experience in everyday life in an importantly low risk environment, a new way to think about the shows that are broadcast every day. I, like she, consider myself to have a relatively liberal outlook. But to include those who live more conservative lives, we are all offered a socially acceptable window into experiences beyond our own, allowing everyone to experiment with ideas without effort or offence. Definitely a good reason to spend more time in front of the box I think.
Annie Little, Strategist

Somewhat hazy from the fervour of London’s Conway Hall mixed with the effects of too much free Waitrose wine – for which now, thanks to the unapologetic wine taster‘s speeches, I can detect notes of marmite in – I found myself travelling home on the tube, writing a letter to my 4 year-old niece about the importance of pursuing whatever it was that she finds interesting. This may be largely due to a mother‘s talk on her plight to create a gender-equal inspiring and imaginative literacy landscape for young readers – so all children can explore whatever career they wish, without gender stereotyping.

In any case, for someone who has always binged on sources of inspiration and consumes TED Talks more hungrily than a 12″ pizza, last night’s Interesting conference could not have been more, well, interesting. The sheer eclectic spread of topics covered; from digging up graves to vibrating underwear, the speakers’ passion points reached into the far corners of our imagination and stirred up, certainly in me, a desire to apply my free time more freely and interestingly.
Josephine Kiernan, Account Manager


Phil, Annie and Josephine were all at Interesting2016, curated by Russell Davies. ‘Diamond Geezer’ has a full round up of what went on there, here.

Bits to Blogs to Bots – Goodbye from @Melex

A few weeks ago Mel Exon (yes, that @melex), BBH Labs co-founder and BBH London MD, broke the news that she was leaving the Black Sheep pastures for, er, pastures new. It’s taken us a while to get over the trauma but we’ve managed to prise this piece from her, covering Labs, nineteen years at BBH (yes, 19!) and some typically righteous thoughts about advertising culture. So get yourself a cup of tea (or perhaps a perfect manhattan in tribute to Mel), sit back and enjoy. 

Thank you Mel, and keep on keepin’ on.


19 years' worth of career detritus

19 years’ worth of career detritus


It’s something of a tradition at BBH Labs to ask a leaver to write a farewell post as they depart. As co-founder of Labs, I’ll admit this feels a little weird. Not least because a hell of a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that day:

No-one asks what’s all the fuss about any longer.

“Innovation” and “digital transformation” are words that are used a lot and not delivered upon nearly as often as anyone would like to admit.

We’ve made new agency models and then we’ve revised them.

The blogosphere morphed into the social web which made everyone a publisher now, goddammit. Or, in fact, a bot.

Over the past decade, Moore’s Law died and software is eating the world as the social web, mobile and the cloud between them change, well, everything.

And if that weren’t enough, AI is the new mobile. Boy, have we been waiting for this. Like, really waiting.

But when we founded Labs it wasn’t so. The Turing Test had not been passed. No Whatsapp, no Snapchat, no Instagram, Facebook had barely stepped out of college dorms and YouTube had launched just a couple of years previously.

There were so few people on Twitter we actually went to tweet-ups to meet other users IRL. Over the years we were lucky to get to know the people connected to creativity, technology and media who were brave enough and stupid enough to put their heads above the parapet; to voice their thoughts and opinions, to test and put stuff into the wild. I refuse to call this a ‘community’, but this is a group Labs and I are indebted to, whether they know it or not. A particular hat tip to @malbonster and every single member of the @madebymany crew, @brainpicker, @markcridge, @cindygallop, @cdixon, @saraewilliams, @anjali28, @sprinzette, @faris, @bud_caddell, @conradlisco, @danlight, @amelia_torode, @katylindemann, @garethk, @thaz, @edwardboches, @soulkat, @ivanovitch, @lenkendall, @teaellu, @caseorganic, @neilperkin, @katiedreke, @jemimakiss, @aleksk, @inakiescudero, @cotton, @sandoz, @mikearauz, @hellokinsella, @adliterate, @iboy, @r2rothenberg, @hondanhon, @willsh @jtwinsor, @iaintait, @nickfarnhill, @nikroope, @jessgreenwood, @slavin, @utku, @heyitsnoah, @brianjeremy, @uberblond, @ladygeek aka @belindapalmer, @tobybarnes, @kathrynparsons, @rickliebling @nicoleyershon and to my BBH Labs comrades-in-arms over the years, @glickglick, @patsmc, @endofu, @marcowens, @benshaw, @helenium, @jamescmitchell, @saneel, @jeremyet and of course Labs co-founder, @malbonnington, who wrote his own farewell post here, still well worth the read.

In setting up BBH Labs towards the end of 2007, Ben and I wrote a business plan heavily inspired by the principles behind Lockheed Martin’s skunkworks. But the truth is our plan bore little resemblance to what Labs then became. In fact I’m fairly certain that BBH Labs has survived thus far because of – not despite – a liminal, ever-evolving and gossamer-thin definition of its goals.

Its purpose was simple though. To think and experiment with emerging stuff (read: new behaviours and new technologies), in the hope we’d develop other stuff (read: prototype processes, products and agency models) that might prove useful down the road. Later, when the word “innovation” became so overused it started to lose meaning, we called ourselves a “marketing R&D unit” instead. Not sexy, but broad enough to let us do our thing.

Labs was not, and is not a gadget shop, a future trends report factory, nor a conference, although we have always attempted to give back to the conferences where we’ve learned the most over the years.

Labs has made money, but it is not a money-making endeavour held to a commercial target every year. If anything, it’s been a mistake-making machine. And boy, have we made mistakes, infuriating an entire industry and occasionally sparking outrage despite our best intentions.

The real purpose has always been to learn, publicly and privately. Openly exposing our thinking (and our ignorance) outside the walls of BBH directly increased our velocity and improved our output. Giving our ideas away meant others repaid us ten times over with their feedback and their own ideas about how to make the work better. Despite years of hearing the opposite, we learned that openness doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

Back then, it felt like we were working in an industry culture that seemed trapped in a box of its own making, chasing its tail and chewing on its nails with a mix of boredom and tamped down disquiet.

So we also wanted to rediscover some of the stubborn, deep irreverence of this industry’s past and learn to love a steep learning curve again.

A cycle began to emerge, where we would then attempt to apply the useful learnings before heading out in discovery mode again, rinse and repeat. The ad industry certainly had some (un)conscious knowledge and skill gaps, but we knew those were gaps that could be closed. The much more fundamental issue was cultural: which companies were prepared to evolve, which people wanted to adapt?

In fact if there is one, overriding thought I take with me now, it isn’t an ill-advised soundbite about the future of marketing or a breathless observation about technology (although there are at least eleven, bona fide reasons to be excited about that).

It is this: culture is strategy.

I joined a place like BBH for the work, I stayed for the culture.

Back in 2007, I was lucky to be part of a company that was prepared to take risks. To let a few people remove themselves from the lucrative commercial food chain that was the ad business and “to cut the apron strings’ with the mother ship…or else you won’t bring back anything useful” (Gwyn Jones). A culture unapologetically obsessed with creativity and difference, and with making the work better.

Just like brand strategies, the strongest organisational cultures are both distinct and consistent. Basecamp’s Jason Fried puts this much better than I can:

“You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behaviour..the result of action, reaction, and truth…real culture is patina.”
~ Jason Fried, ‘You don’t create a culture’, 2008

As an expression of culture, one of the three founders of BBH, John Bartle, gave a speech when he left the agency in December 1999 which has stayed with me. He spoke about the enemies of creativity, or “the 3 ‘C’s”, as he called them:

and Conservatism.

Thinking about what I’ve learned about culture from everyone I’ve worked with, I want to add another 3 ‘C’s to John’s list, three allies of creativity:

and Compassion.

Starting with CARE.

“People know when something has been made with care or carelessness.”
~ Jony Ive

It’s often seen as not cool to look like you care, but I’d urge us all to stop giving a sh*t about that.

I’m not the first person to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that almost nothing great is won easily. But then ease isn’t the goal, excellence is.  The writer Kate Mosse, when repeatedly asked what makes her successful, says she replies along these lines:

“It’s almost embarrassingly simple. I work hard. At first it’s about completing the famous 10,000 hours that make you competent at something – you don’t just start running a marathon or become a concert pianist overnight. But it’s also about the time you spend in the moment, rewriting and rewriting the sentence in front of you until it’s perfect.”

I distinctly remember joining BBH in 1997 and being told in my first week that the agency was “definitely over”. But the thing about companies like BBH is that they never give up. Wherever we end up working, for the work to stay great over decades not days, we have to care: stay hungry, stay positive and Do. Not. Drop.The. Bar. For. Anyone.

Onto my second ‘C’… CURIOSITY.

Dustin: “I have a science question. Do you know anything about sensory deprivation tanks, specifically how to build one?”

Mr Clarke: “Erm…why don’t we talk about it Monday, after school, okay?”

Dustin: “You always say we should never stop being curious, to always open any curiosity door we find.. (shouts) WHY ARE YOU KEEPING THIS CURIOSITY DOOR LOCKED?!”~ Stranger Things, Series 1, Chapter 8 “The Upside Down” (Netflix)

I’m fairly sure that simple curiosity was at the root of why we started Labs. Dissatisfaction and discomfort with the status quo had a hell of a lot to do with it too, but wasting our breath dissing the old – or the new for that matter – wasn’t going to get us very far.

Instead stubborn, relentless curiosity turns out to be the single best way to break new ground. Although genuinely ‘new ground’ rarely looks particularly pretty or, for that matter, easy to reach. Nor is it popular. One of the phrases I’ve held onto grimly is borrowed wholesale from an old BBH endline for Levi’s – Originals never fit. (It’s also a critical reminder that having a like-minded client like Kenny Wilson makes life a lot better and easier).

Curiosity also helped us deal with change. Being curious meant embracing new technologies at their gawky teenager stage, getting to know them before their rough edges were chamfered away and they grew to become our titanic overlords. We simply learned more that way. Under a decade ago the social web was being laughed at, mobile was still dismissed, VR and AR were initially ignored, not to mention the fact that many of us are faintly scared of Artificial Intelligence right now…. But let’s not shy away. In the words of Nigel Bogle: run at the future, not away from it.

Not least because user behaviours inexorably change and evolve. Irregularly, sometimes frustratingly slowly, sometimes so quickly it takes your breath away. But they always change.

So far, so obvious. But I suspect it follows that “change programs” are inherently foolish endeavours. By the time one is completed, a new one’s needed. If we have to subject ourselves to a training program, let’s coach ourselves to be adaptive instead. To help us cope with the fear of looking stupid and learn to love learning again. As my friend Pelle puts it, “the agency of the future is one that can change.”

To get inspired, I highly recommend reading science fiction like Alice Sola Kim’s (thank you to Lenny Letter for that tip).

And listening to podcasts that explore the edges. There will be at least a grain of truth to nibble on and hell, if it’s a little weird or tangential, roll with it. Our minds are elastic: they like being stretched.

As I write this, I can sense the tension between two thoughts here: on the one hand, the consistent behaviours that create real company cultures and, on the other, the need for those same companies to be adaptive. My simplistic answer is to add them together: a strong culture is consistently adaptive. Let’s hope so.*

A curious mindset will also make you want to listen to and debate with different voices. If you’re lucky, a little while later, surrounded by a team of skilled, different-in-every-way and collaborative people you may feel you’ve formed the creative equivalent of Voltron. Super cool.

Certainly, people who don’t look like me or sound like me have done the most to help me see new corners of the universe, they have made the work better and the process of getting there way more exciting.

Which leads me, finally, to COMPASSION.

Look up the definition of compassion and it can sound passive, pitying. Even, god forbid, patronising coming from someone who’s grown up as a white, cis, middle class English girl. Instead, I’d rather define compassion as the urgent need to keep looking outside of ourselves.

At its most business-like – putting the human, egalitarian aspect of diversity to one side for a second – excellence and difference in output demands real diversity of input.

So it’s shameful that we still work in an industry where we have to keep correcting for the biases women face, the biases anyone of colour, anyone LGBT+ and anyone not born with a silver spoon in their mouth faces every single day until we reach equality.

But we do. If you’re still not sure how to act now, you can start by following these simple actions courtesy of Laura JB, Nadya, Karen and everyone who took part in the Great British Diversity Experiment.

And if you run a company, just do it already.

Then, once your own house is in order, it’s time to look outside. In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang:

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No, not just for some, but for everyone.”

Those lyrics may sound like a romantic hippy ideal, but 1965 was the year Malcolm X was assassinated and US combat troops were sent to Vietnam. Right now, with everything that’s going backwards politically and socially around the world and right on our own doorstep, let’s take those lyrics to our hearts.

And particularly our hearts in fact. The atomic unit of a creative business is an idea. A well expressed idea, big or small. We have this incredible super power: creativity that can move people to act, to persuade, to make them laugh and cry.

Let’s use that super power. Keep caring about the work, be curious, become urgently more compassionate. Be part of real cultures that make us proud.

To borrow shamelessly from Queen Bey herself: let’s get in formation.

>melex sys.exit<


*As I get older, I notice the intrinsic duality to life more and more. The ongoing crop of opposing ideas and opinions, not to mention the ambiguities we have to navigate en route to getting something useful into the wild. Trying to do this without quietly losing your mind is the new normal, so let’s take comfort in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words: “The test of a first rate intelligence is to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”


The End of Words? Let’s Hope Not

Author, Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH Labs and BBH London

Working at Penguin Books in 2000 I recall plenty of excitement about a brand campaign featuring black-and-white documentary photography with the caption ‘be here’ in Penguin orange. The striking images and absence of any actual books certainly made the work stand out from the mass of publisher marketing activity, which largely featured a book jacket and a quote.

The campaign was a huge success. But perhaps there was a little ambiguity in the messaging. The intention was, of course, to imply that there was no better way of immersing oneself in a story, a world, someone else’s life than through the pages of a (Penguin) book. But such was the power of the imagery that, without the Penguin logo, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ could have been an equally valid interpretation.

I was reminded of this last month when Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn seemingly predicted the end of the written word, at least on that platform. “The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” she told a conference in London, adding, “We’re seeing a year-on-year decline of text…If I was having a bet I’d say: video, video, video.”

Of course, Nicola has both data and Mark Zuckerberg on her side. Video content made up 64% of web traffic in 2014, had reached 70% by the end of 2015 and is predicted to reach 80% by 2019. At Facebook’s F8 developer conference Mark Zuckerberg told the crowd that we are ‘at the beginning of a golden age of online video’, announcing a raft of tools for the production and dissemination of live video content. Twitter seem to be placing a major bet on and major investment in the streaming of live sports. And Snapchat proudly opens into the camera rather than into anything as passé as a text entry box.

And in the meantime, traditional publishers are doubling down on video. Most major newspapers have created video production units, and just a few weeks ago The New York Times (‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’) picked up two Cannes Grand Prix, one for Mobile and the other for Entertainment, with its VR app and The Displaced VR film. Even The Economist magazine has a documentary film arm, tautologically advertised as the place ‘Where the Image is the Final Word’.

Words, it seems, have had their day.

It’s undeniable that the raw, unedited, as-live video that fills our news and social streams provides a more visceral and immediate storytelling experience than a more passive, measured reading experience can. But – and this might sound a strange question from a publisher-turned-marketer – is storytelling all there is?

Right now, given tumultuous events both at home and abroad, I’d argue that there is a desperate need to propose, share, support, challenge and discuss ideas, not just tell each other stories. We need ideas that can change views, overcome apathy and suggest how we get to a better tomorrow.

And words, carefully chosen and elegantly arranged, are perfect tools for the communication of ideas.

Certainly the brand as storyteller is a notion that many dismiss nowadays. The 2016 brand needs to have a purpose and a mission, an idea of what a better world might look like and an idea of the role that a brand can play in helping us get there. The GMO of Procter & Gamble has pronounced that Millennials demand brands have a purpose. And it is purpose driven ideas (that word again!) that win pitches and win awards.

So perhaps we should hope and expect to see more brands crafting campaigns with ideas formed out of words instead of stories crafted from video. History and momentum suggests the year-on-year decline of text on Facebook is an inexorable trend on that platform. But just as is it’s not all about storytelling, it shouldn’t be all about video.

Our culture and our marketing needs ideas more than ever. We still, unambiguously, need to choose and use our words carefully.


This article first appeared in Campaign

Brexit, or What Happens When You Don’t Have Big Ideas

Author, Richard Cable, Content Director, BBH London


There’s a post being shared on social media that shows a scene of Armageddon under the legend ‘If we leave the EU’. Beneath it is an identical image under the legend ‘If we remain in the EU’. It’s a perfect expression of the dire predictions emanating from both camps.

At stake is the United Kingdom’s place in the world. We are engaged, as a nation, in creating a positioning statement that will define our role in the 21st century. The shaping of destiny is heady stuff. Now is the time, if ever, to do the ‘vision thing’, break out the stirring rhetoric and inspire a generation. It’s a big stage that cries out for big ideas.

Instead, we’ve ended up with stereo negativity. Surround-sound Project Fear. The political equivalent of an Eastenders Christmas special, in which unloveable people say terrible things about each other for an extended period, followed by an unedifying revelation just before the ‘doof doofs’ at the end.

Which is bizarre, given that there are two ready-made big ideas at the heart of both campaigns.

According to Millward Brown, the anatomy of a truly big idea is that it disrupts the category, has emotional resonance, compels you to discuss it, is credible and believable, and cuts across cultural and geographic boundaries.

By that rationale, the European Union is the biggest of big ideas, transcending the nation state, bringing peace through shared prosperity, creating order and structure through collaboration across one of the most historically diverse and fractious continents on Earth. Britain in the vanguard of a great leap forward. (Campaign song: ‘All Together Now’, The Farm)

On the other hand, we have the radical, kick-over-the-traces option that would see us be the first to cut loose from an organisation no-one has ever cut loose from before and striking out as an independent. The challenger brand that promises a less encumbered, less parochial perspective, match-fit for a century that will be defined by what goes on in Beijing, Rio and Delhi, not Brussels. Britain as a re-energised global free agent. (Campaign song: ‘Here I Go Again (On My Own)’, Whitesnake)

Both big. Massive, in fact.

Yet somehow we’ve ended up with a choice of lanes on the dual carriageway to Hell; financial catastrophe if we leave (campaign song: ‘You Oughta Know’, Alanis Morrisette) and the-immigrants-are-coming-to-get-us if we stay (campaign song: ‘The Wall’, Pink Floyd).

It’s as if the two camps see us, the electorate, as a gigantic Lou and Andy sketch, sitting, myopic and listless, mumbling ‘I don’t like it’ over and over again before suddenly deciding ‘I want that one’.

Nationwide Building Society- Little Britain- Lou and Andy from Adam Arber on Vimeo.

Failing to land a big idea could be considered an occupational hazard. Failing to formulate one to begin with is nothing short of intellectual cowardice.

A big idea tells people what you stand for, but a big idea is fraught with risk. It takes courage to stand up and say “We choose to go to the Moon”. It takes luck and energy and talent and belief to actually get there. You choose a big idea not because it is easy but, as Kennedy went on to explain: “…because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept and unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”

Would Kennedy have electrified an entire nation with the pioneering zeal to see the job through if he’d chosen instead to talk about projections of the likely long term economic benefits of the space programme, or the fact that on the Earth you don’t get to choose your own laws of gravity and they’ll let literally anyone live here?

No. He captured the imagination of the quarter of a billion tax payers who were going to foot the bill for this ludicrously expensive enterprise by landing one big idea: The Moon. First.

The ‘big idea’ is advertising’s most recent sacred cow to be trotted in the direction of the abattoir. If you needed a cautionary tale against dragging Daisy up the steps and in favour of setting her free in Elysian Fields forever, the EU Referendum is about as cautionary as it gets.

As David Ogilvy put it: “You will never win fame and fortune unless you invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

Or in this case, perhaps sink like one.

A Very Virtual Bedtime Story

Authors: Jab Borgstrom, Creative Director, Samuel Bowden, Producer and Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH London

Doing something for the first time is a great feeling, but doing something so new that you don’t have the set of references, the criteria, to judge the work you’re doing is a wonderful, intimidating and educational experience.

When Samsung offered us the opportunity to try and come up with an innovative new purpose for any of their pieces of technology, VR and specifically the Galaxy Gear VR headset was an obvious candidate. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, the chance to create a genuine experience ‘as authentic as in real life’ was too interesting to pass up.

‘People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.’ Kevin Kelly – The Untold Story of Magic Leap

VR as a consumer technology is still very new but what we saw when we started looking the growing number of exciting executions was that VR experiences are essentially solitary ones. You put on the goggles and are transported onto a surfboard, a rollercoaster, onto Mars. A recent, deeply affecting piece from The Guardian even puts you in the cell of a prisoner in solitary confinement – a great use of the technology and also a useful metaphor for the majority of VR experiences.

So when we discovered the statistic that a third of parents today are not at home to read bedtime stories for their children, we decided to see whether VR technology could bring a parent and child together, inside a real, virtual bedtime story. Could use Samsung’s technology to elicit real emotion and recreate the sense of closeness that is lost when parent and child are apart?

The use of technology to augment parenting is understandably a contentious issue and at no point in this process did we believe that our VR story should replace either books or parental presence in a child’s bedtime routine. Rather this is an experiment to discover if technology can be used to ease a modern tension and help parent and child stay emotionally connected when physical distance prevents traditional togetherness.


Given that we were embarking on a project without any precedents we knew that we would need both a guiding set of principles and a partner who could help us translate our idea into virtual reality. We found a perfect partner in Unit9 and together agreed that what we were making needed to behave as much like a bedtime storybook as possible. We needed to enable interactions between the parent and child, the reader and the listener, but these needed to be gentle and natural, designed to engage rather than excite a child. So not a game, not a completely passive story, but something in between.

The project was developed at quite a pace and we had several workstreams running in parallel. We had a bunch of fine writers working on and tweaking and revising the story that eventually became The Most Wonderful Place To Be. And we had illustrators and 3D animators creating a look and feel, trying different visual techniques to see what felt right. But it was when the two came together that we knew that a traditional, illustrated storybook world was the one for this project. It would be the animations and the fact that things were happening in 360degrees – up in the sky and behind the viewers’ heads – that would make this feel magical. Anything else – superrealistic 3d renders, papercraft etc – would be sensory overkill.

But as it is also not film – not even an interactive one – we needed to give the parent a child the opportunity to talk and interact ‘off script’ and the ability to control the pace of the storytelling. Incorporating VoIP into the VR experience was definitely a challenge, but one that we knew we had to overcome. Similarly giving the parent the ability to control the pace of the story – to pause and talk with their child between scenes was really important.

Explaining some of the concepts we were contemplating and sharing them internally and with clients also proved a challenge. At different points of the process we had to invent new metaphors for the interactions we were creating. Powerpoint builds and advancing between powerpoint slides was a very useful metaphor and one that both advertising and client teams got behind very swiftly!

This has been such a unique project that it’s hard to know what lessons we’ve learned that can be taken into future VR projects. If we were starting this again with what we know now, perhaps we’d have added a little more personality to the parent and child avatars each viewer sees. But when you are finding solutions to new problems that you have invented for yourself, you have to make choices on what to focus on and thankfully we had the principles we’d agreed on early in the process to guide us.

Most of the time, on most projects, there are canons of craft lore and decades of iconic work to compare what you are doing with. Working on this project was a step into the unknown and because of that liberating and terrifying in equal measures.


Creative Credits:

Client name and title: Dan Canham – Manager, Samsung Global Marketing

BBH Creative Team: Martin-Jon Adolfsson and Oksana Valentelis

BBH Creative Director: Joakim Borgstrom

BBH Strategy Director: Damien Le Castrec

BBH Strategist: Tom Patterson

BBH Chief Strategy Officer: Jason Gonsalves

BBH Chief Production Officer: Davud Karbassioun

BBH Producer: Samuel Bowden

BBH Business Lead: Julian Broadhead, Polly McMorrow

BBH Global Business Development Director: Tim Harvey

BBH Account Manager:  Lara Worthington and Katharine Gritten

BBH Copywriter: Nick Kidney

BBH Print Producer: Simon Taylor

Additional Contributors: Amrita Das, Richard Cable,Jeremy Ettinghausen,Vix Jagger, Chris Meachin, Alex Matthews, Sarah Cooper, Patrick Dedman, Kate Frewin-Clarke, Matt Bertocchi, Katie Callaghan

Unit 9 Credits

VR Creative Director: Henry Cowling

Art Director: Fred Aven

Teach Lead: Laurentiu Fenes

Lead Unity developer: Xavier Arias

Unity Developers: Kevin Borrell, David Diaz, Luke Haugh, Mark Vatsel, Riess Phillips Henry Illustration / Environments & Character Design: Christian-Slane

3D Artists: Sophie Langohr, Steve Campbell

Storyboard Artist: Sophie Conchonnet

Technical Artist: Josep Moix

UX Designer: Camille Theveniau

Designer: Mariusz Kucharczyk

Sound Design: Chris Green, Sound Design

Head of QA: Dominic Berzins

QA Lead: Eve Acton, QA Lead

QA Senior Tester: Tom Watson, Ayesha Evans

QA Tester: Andrew Heraty

Executive Producer: Richard Rowe

Senior Producer: Emma Williamson

Film Credits

BBH Producer (Film): David Lynch

BBH Assistant Producer: Sarah Cooper

Production Company: Black Sheep Studios

Editor/Editing House: Black Sheep Studios

Print Credits

BBH Producer:  Simon Taylor, Katie Callaghan

All Together Now

Watching the music industry wrangle with disruption and try to redefine its offer *and* its revenue stream has been both a decent spectator sport and a cautionary tale. But the power of musicians to connect with their audience and push creative boundaries has remained undiminished, even as business models have mutated around them.

Last week the Convergence festival hit London, with an interesting and experimental set of performances, collaborations and events curated to focus attention on the intersection of music, technology and art. We sent a group of BBHers along and below are some of the provocations and takeouts they brought back to the office.

On Music Vs Sport

Dan Deacon‘s tales of dumpster diving for food and couchsurfing across America amused/appalled many of our attendees. Annie Little and Alana King were struck by his desire to create a collective ‘vibe’ at his performances; “People at a gig think of themselves as I, not we. At a sports match it’s like ‘Yeah we played really well’ but at a gig it’s more of an individual encounter that everyone experiences differently.” As Alana discovered later that evening, Deacon’s demands for audience participation did produce a very different and very communal gig, though one that might be awkward for a more squeamish audience!

On Creative Collaborations

Mercury prize winning produce Dave Okumu is a prolific collaborator who has worked with Amy Winehouse, Jessie Ware and Theo Parrish to name three. Richard Birkett was interested to see that while creatives from different disciplines approach a problem from different directions, there is often parity in the process they bring. Okumu emphasized the human nature of creative collaboration, going into them without an agenda, treating them ‘like a child playing’. What is at the heart of the project is fragile, he says, and must be protected and nurtured. The best way to do this is to create a real connection between collaborators and create the right conditions for magic to happen.

On tangible data

Touching Air, by Stefanie Posavec - a necklace made of data showing a week of air pollution levels.

Touching Air, by Stefanie Posavec – a necklace made of data showing a week of air pollution levels.

Between them, the panellists at the Tangible Data session have produced many of the most imaginative and impressive visualisations of recent years. While she was seriously impressed with the beauty and craft on display, Elle Graham-Dixon found herself wondering whether there was a real need to make *all* data more accessible. The difference between data visualisations and interactive data manifestations is that the former are beautiful in their own right, whereas the latter require our participation – perhaps the early experiments haven’t quite balanced the value equation to make that happen naturally. Yet.

On not messing with our algorithms

Spotify’s Discover Weekly service is an amazingly rich personal recommendation service generating a playlist based on your listening habits cross-referenced with those of others who share some of your tastes. It made Laura Osborne wonder whether Spotify should introduce a ‘Don’t Mess with my Algo’ button to avoid playlist pollution, when a friend takes over your account at a party or when you are using Spotify to search for music for a mood film. When an algorithm produces such individual and useful results, perhaps we need help to keep the inputs as personally relevant as possible.

Convergence London is scheduled to return next year. In the meantime check out their Facebook page for pics and videos of this year’s event.



Chats with Bots

Author, Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH London and Labs

Funny robot sit with headphones

AI bots are everywhere. Or at least, chatter about chatbots is everywhere. The slick new Quartz app wants to msg you the news. Forbes launched their own official Telegram newsbot yesterday. Will 2016 be the year of the bot, the year we start chatting and stop worrying about whether the person(a) at the other end of the chat is human or not?

At Labs we like to get stuck in and get our hands dirty. Metaphorically. So we fired up Telegram, added some bots to our contact list, and started chatting. And here’s the resulting chat, screengrabbed for your edification.

So, maybe couldn’t cope with my language or, more likely, my location. And there’s clearly no pretence of any sort of humanity in the interface. And maybe no food to be had in London after 10pm.

More chats with bots to follow…

The Last Click is not a New Jerusalem

At the end of last year, strategists at BBH London were ‘invited’ to compete for The Write and Black Sheep Prize, an internal writing competition. Answering the question ‘If I were a marketer today what zag (general or category specific) would I make?’ in 400 words didn’t faze their planning brains – there were many brilliant entries. 

Here’s the second of our shortlisted entries – Strategy Director Tom Roach on the distorted worldview of customer journeys.

The World in a Cloverleaf

The World in a Cloverleaf

Medieval maps often placed detailed illustrations of Jerusalem at the heart of wildly inaccurate depictions of the world.

Like early map makers, whose worldviews were bent out of shape by the dominant views of the day, our perceptions of customer journeys have become wildly distorted.

The last click has become the Holy Grail. We obsessively optimize the final stages of the journey whilst remaining remarkably incurious about the long periods beforehand.


The very first online ad was produced in 1994 for AT&T. It had a click through rate of 44%, incredible by today’s standards where online display averages 0.06%. It was, briefly, a source of difference and competitive advantage.

Its inventors possessed a belief in the power of difference rarely seen in the performance-marketing gold rush that followed.

Marketers are now hooked on efficiently driving customers along the online journey, often via an ever-expanding and murky network of affiliates, publishers and agencies who feed their habit.

Our focus has shifted downstream, multiple brands often focusing on the same point in the journey, using the same channels and tactics to target the same customers.

And every time new platforms become available we default to using them, layering them on top of existing journeys, further fragmenting limited resources.

Rather than seeking marginal gains at every stage of the journey, perhaps we need to shift to a strategy of aiming for exceptional gains at only one or two.

Some brands do this already: John Lewis wins via customer service and only chooses to win social fame at Christmas; Apple wins via design and its product ecosystem; Red Bull wins via content, opting for invisibility in broadcast.

Business strategists would recognise this as something akin to ‘Blue Ocean Strategy, which aims to create uncontested blue oceans of market space in order to create a category of one that makes your competition irrelevant.

Applying this thinking to customer journey mapping would mean creating accurate maps of the full on and offline journeys for our brands.

Then it would mean determining where precisely on the journey to deploy the power of difference, where to be present but not different, and crucially, where to be different by being absent.

We mostly use maps to help optimize campaign performance. But they could also help steer us to our true destination: long-term competitive advantage.

Write and Black Sheep – Pt 1

At the end of last year, strategists at BBH London were ‘invited’ to compete for The Write and Black Sheep Prize, an internal writing competition. Answering the question ‘If I were a marketer today what zag (general or category specific) would I make?’ in 400 words didn’t faze their planning brains – there were many brilliant entries. 

Over the next week we’ll be publishing some of the entries – starting today with the winning piece, Saskia Jones wonderful provocation on the connection between introversion and creativity. 

(note – this piece was first published in Campaign)


Precursor Monologue to a Creative Dialogue

image (7)

Let’s start with a game of “Who am I?”

I am told to speak up;
more often;
with more authority.

I am encouraged to
communicate with immediacy
work in groups;
and to network.
Yet I think more than I speak;
I am considered rather than immediate
I seek solitude.
& I hate small talk.

Who am I?

I’m Albert Einstein, I’m Barack Obama, I’m Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m me.

I’m an introvert.

I am part of the 30% of the nation that are.

I haven’t picked introversion to validate talking about myself for the next three hundred words.


I’ve chosen this because of the intrinsic link between introversion and creativity. The kind of creativity that creates difference. At scale.

The kind of creativity that is the holy grail for today’s marketers.

Yet marketing is an industry renowned for attracting extroverts – and our environment has adjusted accordingly.

Collaboration, brainstorms & public speaking.

These words, and variations of them, fill me with fear.
I turn quickly from a vaguely intelligent & considered individual into a vacuous mute.

These now common-place processes and functions are founded on extrovert norms.

Extroverts are galvanised by other people, by external stimuli; they are each other’s catalysts – but these approaches are less effective than applying introvert “norms” to idea generation.

They also increase both social anxiety and peer pressure.

I therefore become more likely to agree with an idea I don’t necessarily believe in.

However, these approaches still prevail.

I find irony in the idea that we are trying to create difference but adopt processes that promote homogeneity.

There is an opportunity to disrupt this – to encourage a dialogue between extraverts and introverts.

Greater difference will come from quiet, than it will from noise.

This opportunity is not just internal, it extends to how we best engage with introverts through our comms;

Introverts over index on having a higher income – being high net-worth individuals.

Audi is marketing to them – consciously or otherwise.

But these people have defining traits that impact how & where we talk to them; they are fiercely private – an important consideration as comms become increasingly personalised.

Do I have all the answers to how this would work?


But I do know that “Neither E = mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.”

So how about I start by turning the tables.

By asking you to:

Speak more quietly
and less often.

To work alone
be more considered
and cut out the small talk.

Try it.

I dare you.