26th April 12
Posted in makings
Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH & BBH Labs
Every once in a while at Labs, we like, no, need to get our hands dirty. Oily, even. We like to make stuff that we can learn from – learn from the making of and learn from the interactions with. Robotify.me is one such experiment. And unlike most of our output, we’re going to share its whole gestation with you. Partly because we’re too excited not to, partly because we want you to shape the product.
Product? Yes. With robotify.me, we want to put a personal digital robot into the hands of every person who wants one.
Of all the companions you could make, why a robot? Why not a plant, an animal, even a pet rock? Because of the line robots walk (or fly), between the artificial and the human. They are not alive, but in the way the act we try to give them life. And this has bearing on the other half of the project.
Since our first aol email addresses, our first Second Life avatars, our geocities and myspace profiles, our first (and second) anonymous twitter accounts and our weavrs, we’ve been talking about the difference between a person, and an online persona. Is there one? We hope robotify will tell us, because the other trick is this: the characteristics and features of your robot will be determined entirely and exclusively by your social network data. So if you post lots of pictures on instagram, your robot might grow a telephoto lens in its belly. If you click lots of odd links, you might develop tank tracks – negotiating rough digital terrain, you see.
That’s the simplest version. Gradually we want to progress to a version with a robot that changes and grows as you do – a living marker of your data journey. We’re even hoping that, over time, robots will be able to interact. Robosociety, if you will. But that’s the nature of the agile process we’re using – aside from the vision, there are lots of assumptions layered on top of each other, and we’d like a willing army of beta pioneers to help slice through these assumptions and get to the robotify.me that you want.
At the same time, we’d like to experiment with a slightly altered way of communicating – so for the 50s radio-style version of the Robotify story, just slip on some headphones and click play.
Hang on. You said something about beta users?
Yes, labs reader. That’s you. We’re making the beta right now – signup at http://signup.robotify.me. If there’s anything you want to see, anything you’ve always wanted to know about your social data, or anything else you think we should look at, let us know below…
27th March 12
Posted in Uncategorized
Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH & BBH Labs
“I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, and no heart.” – Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report
In 2006, Stephen Colbert promised (parodically) to “not tell the news to you, but feel the news, at you.” He coined the term truthiness, a quality applied to something that has a sense of truth, that is true enough to serve its purpose, without actually being factually accurate. It was just a swipe at lazy newscasting, but Colbert had it right – in modern culture the truths we tell ourselves are the ones that best make us feel something. Advertising has long known that, and has told actual truths about its products, wrapped in representational ‘life truths’ that spin off of it. These are narratives, and all parties in the situation know it. So far, so good.
In my second BBH interview in 2010, Planning Director Ed Booty asked me, “do you think people have had enough of the real?” The concensus we got to was that people could never have enough of the real, but that media forces have worked to inflate people’s expectations of what the real can deliver. Remember: this was at time when Endemol’s solution to the stagnation of ‘reality show’ Big Brother was to put ever more abrasive and conflicting characters into the mix, and people had begun to call it out as a circus. Since then, the response from entertainment has been a whole string of programmes with a new definition of truth: The Hills, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex. Watching them is like reading The National Enquirer; within their own ecosystem they are true, and they offer the most value when you read them as true. Deep down, you know them to be false, but the spectacle tacitly asks you to suspend that to get some value from them. They are truthy. The old masters of this form, the wrestling (“sports entertainment”) industry have a term for this – kayfabe. Successfully engaging with kayfabe can be a lot of fun.
- The combination of the extremes of fiction and the rawness of reality have left us wanting the impossible – a fantastical truth. At the same time, ever since Cluetrain we’ve come to realise that our collective ability to dismantle a narrative is potent, and hungry. A tough gig for anyone who wants to tell their truth in the most engaging way possible. Remember when James Frey got ripped into A Million Little Pieces by Oprah? It turns out that parts of his story were just that, a story, and it was unforgivable.
Even when the cause is ‘just’, the scent of manipulation is hard to deoderise. In the past month, we’ve seen KONY 2012 explode and be exploded – partly from speculation about the company’s finances, partly from questions about the appropriateness of the solutions they offered to the problem, but in equal part from the sheer slickness of the manipulation. It was too glossy for the message it was trying to put across, too much like an episode of MTV’s Made, rather than a call to action. The response to this criticism might be “that’s the format our target audience responds to, so that’s what we have to use,” but the savagery of the counterattack suggests that young people still respond to message as much as medium.
Then there’s Apple. When public radio show This American Life chose to broadcast an excerpt of monologist Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in January, they got their highest-ever ratings in the show’s 17-year history. That’s because Mike’s monologue is the story of his experiences in Chinese tech factories, including Foxconn, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers. Because it describes the working practices that go into making the tech we use even as we consume blogs like this one. The narrative arc and the expertly crafted pathos could only come from a practiced storyteller – and therein came the problem, because Daisey used a storyteller’s toolbox – deletion, distortion and assumption – to the point where the story just wasn’t true any more. It was a cobbling together of things that happened to Daisey, things that used to happen but don’t any more, things he’d heard about from others but had no proof of, and simple fabrication. And Daisey has been eviscerated by much of his audience. This American Life has never felt so mortally wounded – to the point where Ira Glass and his team produced an entire episode called simply Retraction, and pulled the original from the podcast feeds.
Where does that leave the practice of marketing? Advertising deals in truthiness because it uses things that didn’t happen to get audiences to think of what could happen, and to feel the ‘truth’ of a brand’s world. And this was Mike Daisey’s defence on This American Life: “this isn’t about me lying to you or anyone else. This is about me doing everything I could to get the media to pay attention… Did I go too far in that effort? Maybe. That’s for others to judge.” The truth didn’t quite cut it, so he used made up facts in order to get to what he thought was a higher truth – the story of labour practice in other countries. And to be fair, it worked well enough to enchant the audiences on his tour, the normally journalistically rigorous This American Life, and everyone that listened to it – including the New York Times.
But what these events teach us is the care we must use when we wield the power of story. That when you have an audience that wants life to be larger than life, they should know where and when the enlargements and the brightening of the colours is occurring. There have been calls for cosmetic adverts to have an “airbrushing watermark”. We don’t need to go that far for story: rather, we just have to watch where we’re putting the truthiness. We have to map the zones in the media space where absolute truth is expected – yes, spaces like facebook and twitter – and treat people with what they deserve there.
But the biggest lesson of all lies further upstream. As marketers for brands, we’re usually telling stories about ourselves. So if we want to tell any story we can – all we have to do is make those facts be true by causing them to happen. If you’re Starbucks, don’t just talk about how friendly you are – get your employees to write customers’ names on their takeaway lattes. If you’re Johnnie Walker, don’t just talk about progress – put a real investment into the Keep Walking Project, and make progress happen.
The people have spoken, and they’re not satisfied with truthiness. They don’t just want brands to tell them stories. They want brands to take part in the rewriting of reality, so that the stories they tell each other can be that much more amazing.
23rd March 12
Posted in sxsw
How I went to Austin expecting to learn about browsers and came back wanting to change the world.
Author: Agathe Guerrier, Strategy Director, BBH & BBH Labs
I went to SXSW for the first time this year, with the firm intention to learn about UX, data visualization trends, and new, exciting browser features. As I landed in Austin, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the native vs. web-based apps debate.
In reality, although clearly there WAS a lot of talk of browsers and coding languages and apps, I found myself confronted with a much more fundamental subject: that of meaning and purpose. More than acquire new knowledge, I was filled with new enthusiasm (and a little bit of concern) about the task that lies at hand – basically, redefining the rules of our economic, political and societal framework. Rethinking the world. Yup. Something that we need (the creative and tech community) need to take part in for two reasons: because the last 10 years have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, and because the growing importance of technology in our world, means it now intersects significantly with world views, beliefs, and ethics.
Take the “Skynet vs. Mad Max: Battle for the Future” dual session (by our very own Mel and Jeremy). It drew a parallel between the small, apparently benign technology choices we make today as consumers, and the future of the human species. Who imagined that buying an iPhone represented a leap towards a world where individual identity would be reduced to one login, one identity, one self, the scary simplicity of this system ultimately leading to totalitarianism? It’s removed, but not far-fetched.
Tim O’Reilly, in his fantastic “Create More Value than you Capture” discussion with Andrew Mcafee, made a powerful case for embedding social good and genuine value(s) in all businesses. He pointed to a brilliantly obvious truth: it’s enthusiasm and passion that fuel creativity, not greed. For the sake of the social equilibrium that it depends upon, the objective of a business can not simply be profit, it has to create value for society at large, as well as for itself.
Ben Silbermann (CEO and co-founder of Pinterest) took part in a Q&A session with Christopher Dixon and kept surprising us with disarmingly candid answers to “hard-nosed” questions. When asked what product feature he was most excited about developing, he answered it was his team, because “your team should be the most interesting product you’re building”. A few minutes later, brushing away a question about whether he was concerned by the various attempts to copy or rip off Pinterest, he explained that their effort went into improving the product and making it the best it could be, not preventing others to imitate it. In his eyes, success comes from putting all your efforts into making your product and experience brilliant, and if others copy you, it probably means you’ve got it right.
And finally, against a backdrop of high risk, economic worries and general breakdown, I was surprised at how optimistically confused Bruce Sterling’s Ultimate talk left us all. He forecasted a move away from the chaotic “internet” and towards vertical stacks or platforms like Google, Amazon, or Facebook (more organized, less messy – an echo to the Skynet vs. Mad Max talk and its crowd-sourced prediction of Skynet’s victory)… but also the ulterior demise of stacks.
He didn’t say what they would be replaced with, but this legendary cynic seemed pretty optimistic about the ability of the interactive community to make sense of the “augmented, ubiquitous, post-stack future”.
In building this uncertain “new world”, we might find inspiration in community-based, generous value creation models like Kickstarter, Airbnb, or Task Rabbit (which were unanimously praised as the most inspirational things to have happened in the last 5 years).
But there is still a lot of work at hand, especially for our industry, in translating the inspiration from Geektopia into actionable ethics for the world of brands…
In the spirit of starting small, here are three things I’m going to start or do more of:
- 1. Get rid of any obsession with single-mindedness, and make sure to respect people’s intelligence by recognizing that “There is not one You”, as Christopher Poole pointed out
- 2. Broaden the definition of “Business objective” to entail the creation of value and values for consumers and society at large, not just profit for the company
- 3. Behave more generously everyday, by building great teams and empowering them to create and make even greater things
6th March 12
Posted in Uncategorized
Three days to go until the geek world descends on Austin for SXSW Interactive which if the ‘super grid‘ is anything to go by, will be more overwhelming than anything that has gone before. With marketeers, developers and Googler’s pouring into Texas in unprecedented numbers, we can’t hope to give more than the briefest taste of what we’re looking forward to. Our mission, as in previous years, is to learn, to re-engage and to discover – Labs will be out in numbers speaking, interacting and seeking whatever edge SXSW has left to offer.
SXSW is a great opportunity to connect with likeminded friends from around the world and meet other likeminds previously only known on twitter, google+ or blog comment threads. We’re excited to see Amber Case keynote an event of this scale, looking forward seeing old friends consider intent and the social web and we’ll be be queuing in the corridors to make sure we get a front seat at a stellar curation panel featuring Percolate, Longform and Maria Popova.
The great thing about SXSW is that there is something for everyone – whether your appetite is for The New Aesthetic, architecture or even Nick Denton, you’re covered. The Panel Committee were strict on submissions from Labs this year, but we’re thrilled with what slipped through their net of rigour. We’d humbly suggest that Mad Max Vs Skynet: The Battle for the Future, presented by our very own Mel Exon and Google Creative Lab’s Tom Uglow, is a must see. Labs will also be represented in Austin with the launch of our on-the-ground project, Homeless Hotspots.
As for Austin nights, it’s hard to know what level of blagging skills or extreme patience will be necessary to crash the numerous SXSW parties this year. This nice survival guide from GSD&M gives plenty of good tips, while we’ve enjoyed nights out at the Fray Cafe in years gone by. Great nights have been spent chewing the fat at a table next to one of Austin’s plentiful taco vans, and if things get weird, you can always head for the hills.
So whatever your thing, you’ll find it in Austin and we’re looking forward to seeing you there. Let us know where you’ll be, what time to meet up at Lego Corner, what you’re looking forward to and, most importantly, where we can find the best breakfast burrito.
10th February 12
Posted in Insight
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
When I went to school there were the Sports Guys and the Music Guys.
The Sports Guys liked doing circuit training, spraying Ralgex and making noises with their studs in the shower. The Music Guys wore heavy tweed overcoats, pored over the NME crossword and argued about the relative merits of Joy Division and Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King. I liked both categories, but fundamentally I guess I was a Music Guy.
I went to college equipped with Country Born hair gel, ‘fu shoes and Radio London mix tapes. I covered my walls with album covers from Wah, Defunkt and Echo and the Bunnymen. I danced all night to James Brown and Washington Go Go. (Mine was an awkward, heavy-shoe shuffle that alienated girls more than it attracted them.)
I confess I became somewhat pretentious. But I imagine it was an innocent sort of pretentiousness. A love of words and ideas and debate. Of music, books and film.
Obviously pretentiousness is somewhat silly and self-important, but that’s part of its charm. Look at Salvator Rosa in the self portrait above from the National Gallery. He’s painted himself as a sensitive, brooding philosopher , braving a dark, stormy world. He’s carrying a Latin inscription (natch) that reads ‘Keep silent unless you have something more important to say than silence’. How absurd, how pretentious, how cool…
Last summer I visited Charleston, the Sussex country home and social hub of the Bloomsbury art set between the wars. They painted the walls and furniture, they painted each other, they discussed pacifism, ballet and the global financial crisis. They made a show of drinking coffee rather than tea. To be honest I didn’t love all the decorative artwork and I wasn’t too sure about their sleeping arrangements. But I had to admire the fact that they had a view about the world, a design for living.
When I left college I fell into advertising as I thought it was one of the few professions where we Music Guys were welcome. Advertising is an art not a science, it’s creative persuasion, lateral thought. Advertising folk cultivated curious facial hair, absurd spectacles and MA1 Flight Jackets. I felt at home.
In the ’90s our Agency produced the Levi’s campaign and I recall it referencing Ansel Adams, Hunter S Thompson, Rodchenko, Bill Brandt, Burt Lancaster and more besides. Pretentious perhaps, but also bracing stuff.
Now let’s be clear. I’m certainly not a subscriber to the view that advertising is art. At its best it’s creativity applied to a commercial end. But I do believe that creativity needs to be inspired, catalysed and nourished by a broader set of cultural references and ideas.
Of late I’ve begun to wonder whether we Music Guys have lost our way and our voice a little. I’m concerned that there may not be enough people discussing arthouse movies, German dance troupes, experimental theatre. Shouldn’t the Agency be abuzz with fevered debate about Hockney and Hirst? Shouldn’t creative reviews be inspired by more than YouTube? I worry in fact that we have become less pretentious.
Perhaps people work so hard nowadays they don’t have time to develop what Denis Healey called a ‘hinterland’. Maybe it’s straitened times. We want to be seen as sensible, rational, commercial. Maybe it’s Anglo Saxon reserve. We apply a blanket pejorative to anything slightly outside the norms of conversation and thought. Perhaps it’s British anti-intellectualism. Our TV is dominated by unreality shows, costume anti-dramas, middle brow mundanity (what Simon Schama recently labelled ‘cultural necrophilia’). Our Queen prefers Lambourn to Glyndebourne. Our Prime Minister prefers tennis to Tennyson. And his favourite read is a cook book. Maybe we’re just too busy jogging.
Whatever the source of the problem, l’ve come to rue this loss of pretentiousness. I wish people more often cited the marginal and the maddening, the absurd and the abstruse from the world of art, academia and literature. Not just because it’s interesting, challenging, funny. But because today’s obscure eccentric is tomorrow’s bright young thing. Because creativity’s favourite bedfellows are difference and diversity.
So I’ve determined that I’m going to be pretentious in 2012. And I’ll encourage everyone else to do the same.
Honi soit qui mal y pense…
21st December 11
Posted in BBH Labs
“The past went that-a-way … We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” – Marshall McLuhan
Predictions are a mug’s game. In these uncertain times you won’t find us sticking our heads above the futurology parapet and making some rash pronouncements on the coming this or the tomorrow of that. Instead, at this time of the year, we like to approach the future with a longing gaze in the rear view mirror and a look back at the last 12 months of postings on this blog – 81 of them in all from 35 contributors.
As in previous years, below you’ll find ten of our favourite posts from 2011 – the ones that have provoked us in the learning and writing and our generous readers in the comments. But our self-analysis has also uncovered buried themes, some revisited, others newer, which marked our 2011 and perhaps set a tone for the year to come.
Storytelling and new forms of narrative have always been of interest to us in Labs, but this year we’ve added the growing attention paid to, er, attention to the mix with a couple of guest posts on connected TV and further exploration into storytelling with our Fray Cafe-esque TaleTorrent event for Internet Week. For many, all around the world, 2011 has been a year of grassroot activism and whilst occupying Kingly Street and 32 Avenue of the Americas is our day job, sustainable marketing and creativity for good have also bubbled up as pervasive themes in a number of posts this year. And given the tumultus changes happening within our industry, you won’t be surprised to see industry innovation and reinvention well represented as another theme below. Perhaps more than any other year since Labs was founded in 2008, this has been a year of rolling up sleeves and putting theory into practice.
It might seem that 2011 has not been a stellar year in terms of innovation in the broader technology industry. While our Facebook experience has been timelined, our Googling plussed and our questions quora-ed, the space shuttle programme has come to a close, the Higgs Boson remains elusive and so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that this year also saw a number of more reflective rather than reactive posts. BBH London Chairman Jim Carroll set the tone for a theme we’re calling ‘Think While you Make’, with a lovely series of elegiac posts on sleep, ennui and nocturnally abnormal wildlife.
So while we recover over the holidays we look forward to much more thinking and making, talking and doing in 2012. As always we are are astonished by the generosity of everyone who writes for, reads, shares or comments on the blog. It’s been an amazing year. Thanks for taking part, thanks for letting us in and thank you for everything you’ve taught us this year.
We’re already looking forward to the start of the Spring term – see you back at school in the new year.
Mel, Jeremy & Saneel
So, finally, Labs top 10 for ‘11, in mostly chronological order.
Some setting out of the stall in this post which encouraged us to find a balance between action and reflection, to not have too many tabs open at once, and occassionally to leave things alone for a while to let them ripen at their own pace.
It might be a small cheat to bundle these two great posts together in a top ten, but as a pair they make a strong argument for more evolved thinking when it comes to creativity, collaboration and consumption. When audiences are willing to participate in branded activities and business see the benefit of a more transparent and collaborative model, co-creation and collaborative consumption are surely pivotal to the ongoing success of any forward facing brand.
A fascinating guest post from Google’s David Bryant on the convergence of computer and human operating systems and the increasing adoption of intuitive physical interactions that provoke a more instinctive than reasoned response.
Provoked by a couple of posts on the need (or not) for agencies to employ Chief Innovation Officers this post looks at how to be an innovation unit and what the wider agency can and should demand of those it employs to push the envelope and live on the edge.
‘No one works for a Creative Director. Everyone works for the idea. The idea hires us and we go to work.’ The most popular post of the year from BBH LA’s ECD Pelle Sjoenell on the role of the Creative Director as politician, farmer and assassin.
For Labs, meeting Amber Case and learning about Geoloqi, the location sharing startup she is developing with Aaron Parecki, was one of the highlights of SXSW. We’re already looking forward to seeing her keynote in 2012 and catching up with the great concentration of smart people that SXSW attracts. Come and say hello if you’re there.
To mark the launch of Sir John Hegarty’s book, we asked him a series of questions which he answered with a series of sketches, an appropriately witty, incisive and ‘different’ interview celebrating an iconic advertising career.
At Labs we celebrate the hybrid, but in this post recognize that a team of hybrids might lack the depth in specific disciplines, might spend too much time agreeing with each other and might only be appropriate to crack certain tasks. As Ben points out in the comments, it’s important for a jack of all trades to be a master of some!
A consideration for a new thinking about what an agency can be, should be and could do as we approach ‘marketing singularity’, the moment the message becomes indistinguishable from the product or service it promotes. Instead of codifying an agency operating system around functions and outputs, we suggest that an agency of the future needs an OS rooted in a culture of collaboration, experimentation and transparency.
Lastly, in a year when social media has been both blamed for fuelling the London riots and praised for fuelling the Arab Spring, we can’t have a top ten list without acknowledging the Keep Aaron Cutting project. Thanks to the generosity (there’s that word again) of all the BBH blog and twitter stream readers who used social media to spread the word about an 89-year-old barber from North London who might have lost everything, Aaron’s shop is well on the way to being rebuilt and a nice old guy has had his faith in young people and in technology restored.
More of this next year, please.
2nd December 11
Posted in awesomeness
Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH Labs
Back in November, Internet Week Europe happened – many of you might better know it as #iwe11. Last year, we challenged London’s digital elite to get their hands dirty and code up a storm in an afternoon. This year, we did something altogether more warm and fuzzy.
This November, we asked people to step forward and bare their souls for TaleTorrent – a night of true stories about the internet. And step forward they did! We had a truly fantastic lineup of speakers telling stories from the funny to the sad, the professional to the personal, but all extremely entertaining. Thank you guys, again.
It was very much a night run on volunteer goodwill – not least from the guys at Kinura, who approached us a full three days before the event and said “hey, d’you want us to stream it online?”
We said an emphatic yes. And so, for anybody that missed it, grab some port and enjoy after dinner.
TALETORRENT – PART ONE
Featuring @BetaRish and @mndtrythnkng‘s ultimate answer to Facebook’s “What’s on your mind?”,@katylindemann‘s True Confessions Of A Teenage Weblogger, @documentally‘s 999-style car crash reenactment, and @claireburge‘s paean to the gods of Serendipity.
TALETORRENT – PART TWO
Featuring @jnicholasgeist‘s Zombie apocalypse night-on-the-tiles (a transatlantic special!), @simonsanders‘ pen-pal to PM saga, @mananatomorrow‘s cyberphilic daughter, and my experiences of chartroom romance, of a sort.
…and if you enjoyed that, know now that there are plans for TaleTorrentTwo, to land sometime in March. A little less rushed this time around. Details will come when they exist, but if you’re inspired by what you’ve seen and you want to have a go, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to have you.
23rd November 11
Posted in culture
Wouldn’t it be nice to smell the internet? Well, thanks to the clever chaps at Mint Foundry this might soon be possible.Their concept product, the punningly named Olly (details at ollyfactory.com!) will convert tweets, checkins, likes or other digital notifications and blast out an arduino-powered whiff across your keyboard. So now every William Gibson tweet can smell like a long-chain monomer and every checkin at a Starbucks like fresh roasted coffee. Sadly you will need two Olly’s to experience the double hit of Testosterone and Smug released whenever Piers Morgan tweets @Simon Cowell.
The interesting thing about the Olly is that it is an attempt to add texture to wholly digital experiences. A decent proportion of my last job was spent arguing with people about page-turning animations in ebooks – I felt that they were a legacy metaphor and had no place in a purely digital experience. There are definitely things about the physicality of a book that would be great to transfer to an ebook. For example, knowing when you are nearing the end of a book by the distribution of weight in your hands feels different from the knowledge that you are on page 1324 of 1346. Such additions would add both context and texture to the ereading experience, wheras the page-turning animation is texture without context.
Brett Victor’s much-discussed rant (his word) on the ubiquity of the finger-swipe in visions of future interfaces suggests a disquiet with what is being sacrificed in the quest for frictionless interaction. As touchscreens increasingly become our interface to the web it is healthy that there are those out there documenting what we are losing whilst everyone else, including us at BBH Labs of course, celebrates the gains. Will the sound of an optical drive go the way of the rotary phone dial or an analogue tape rewinding or these other disappearing noises?
So, are we adding textures such as smells and page-turning animations because digital is less sensuous than the physical world? When we create new digital experiences should we think about adding textured UX as well as intelligent UI? And as brands transition more and more to digital marketing initiatives, should we worry about what sensory experiences they and we are losing, out here in meatspace?
Update 9 jan 2012: If you want your workstation to smell like teen spirit every time @justinbieber presses ‘send’ then you should head over to kickstarter where there’s a month left to back the project to make the dream reality!
21st November 11
Posted in business models
Author: Sarah Eno (@enoism), Brand Planner, BBH Zag
It’s nearly impossible these days to conduct any relationship entirely offline. Professional relationships are managed on email, Linkedin, and blogs; brands develop robust relationships with us through online loyalty schemes; friendships are built and maintained through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few; and more and more people are meeting their romantic partners via online dating sites.
So I suppose I shouldn’t have been particularly surprised the other day when I came across a set of start-ups in the area of online relationship management for couples. These businesses claim to help us keep the spark alive, monitor our relationship health and generally be happier together by using their online services. Here are a couple in detail:
- Tokii claims to be ‘the world’s first relationship management platform’ with a suite of products designed to ‘proactively improve relationships’. Couples can use the ‘tradingpost’ tool to trade things like washing the car for a backrub, monitor each others mood through the ‘moodmeter’ and spice up their relationship with fun, interactive games.
- The Icebreak helps couples keep their love lives fresh and fun through a game-like platform where couples score points by sharing moments from their day, answering ‘icebreaker’ questions and working together to improve their relationship health.
In many ways, these businesses signal a natural progression to complete management of relationships online. If most of our relationships are blossoming online, why not throw our romantic ones into the digital world as well?
Whether I’d personally use the service or not (undecided, at best), I have to admire the Zag-like thinking behind these businesses. They’ve identified an opportunity area that appears ripe for brand invention – you can see how by looking at the idea through these three key principles of brand invention and innovation:
Principle #1. Meet a consumer need
If romance is blossoming online (Match.com claims 1 in 5 relationships start through online dating), people will need a safe place for their relationship to develop digitally. Consumer need? Tick.
Principle #2. Go where the money is
Online dating is a growing business, as is the booming business of divorce. A digital service that helps keep the spark alive and maintain relationship health in the time between meeting and potential divorce could slot right in to this open space and scoop up all those struggling couples. Money? Tick.
Principle #3. Piggyback on existing behaviours
Self-tracking and the gamification of everyday activities are both hot behavioural trends currently connecting our ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds. Tokii and The Icebreak both feature metrics and statistics that chart the health of your relationship over time and track improvement. They also reward you for improving your relationship with points and physical rewards, making working on your relationship like a game. Existing behaviours? Tick.
It’s not easy to find open spaces for brand invention and I’d argue that these two businesses have managed to do just that. Well done.
But perhaps there’s a bigger, moral question that has to be asked: There’s now a brand called Eulogy in the UK which aims to bring death and mourning into the online/social sphere; there are countless online dating brands to help you find love; online brands help couples throughout the process of marriage counselling and divorce; and now we can manage our romances online too.
So, are there any areas of private life that should remain private and untouched by brands?