5th March 13
Posted in culture
Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, Google Glass all of a sudden made all kinds of sense. Being able to record experiences in the moment unencumbered by a camera or phone, share them in the moment, navigate through a city without reference to a map (digital or paper), augment real live experience with the power of search – all these things seem to be requirements of living a frictionless digital duality. While I’m not sure that using a mobile to access the web is exactly ‘emasculating‘, I do think that Google are tapping into an important behavioural realisation – experiencing the world through the screen of a phone is not optimal living. As Sergey Brin says, “You want something that frees your eyes.”
But, inevitably, now that the application date to become a ‘Glass Explorer‘ has passed, some reasonable, inquisitive voices are raising questions about whether Google’s version of ‘documentary vision‘ is as desirable as it first appeared to be. Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computing, asks whether Google have learnt from his experiments in augmented vision – he raises important practical concerns about the design and safety, short and long-term, of Google’s solution. He also touches on important privacy issues, asking whether this technology will ‘turn us into so many Little Brothers’.
The privacy issue has huge implications, not just for societies already coming to terms with near-ubiquitous surveillance, but for individuals living in those societies. ‘Google Glass will live or die solely in the experience it creates for people,’ says Steve Hurst. But the people Hurst worries about are not the users, but ‘everyone other than the user‘, everyone viewed and potentially recorded, snapped, reverse image searched, Googled, by a Glass wearer. This is, obviously, a big deal. There are rules about how surveillance camera footage can be used. Google itself has had to modify streetview imagery according to national privacy laws. How are we going to legislate for Glass? Will social norms keep up with the march of technology? Who do I send a takedown notice to if I don’t know that I’ve been recorded and who that recording has been shared with? As Hurst says, ‘The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.’
Any new tech idea comes with caveats and warnings, sometimes reasonable, other times hysterical linkbait. At Labs we’re incurable optimists, and it feels, from here, that this is something big and important. Admittedly our excitement for the possibilities of Project Glass is tempered with plenty of unknowables, not least when we’re going to be getting our hands on a pair. The current $1500 pricetag and clunky design doesn’t change the fact that Project Glass, in some form, in some timeframe, is coming. As The Verge say in their positive ‘eyes-on’ review, ‘the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’.
7th January 13
Posted in technology
Author: Saneel Radia, Head of Innovation, BBH New York and BBH Labs
The annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in Las Vegas today. The following is a piece written by Saneel for the Huffington Post on “What To Expect” this year. You can read other articles in the HuffPo series here . As always, follow @bbhlabs and @saneel for tweets from the showroom floor. You can also see last year’s recap on why marketers should be relieved based on what we saw.
I’ve been going to CES for a decade. As someone interested primarily in virtual (i.e., software-based) products and the role they can play for brand marketers, clearly I’m a glutton for punishment. After all, CES is a show about hardware, even if its lead brand has historically been the original software company, Microsoft. In fact, CES is not only a hardware show, but because of the copycat nature of consumer electronics, it’s a show about a particular type of hardware from year to year. Sometime between The Netbook Show, The E-reader Show and The TV show, I started losing faith in CES.
Yet I find myself headed back yet again, this time for The Tablet Hybrid show. Like a nerd voyeur, I’ll closely watch tablets breeding with phones in one booth, then breeding with laptops in another. And I have Samsung to thank for it.
You see, a year that proved tremendously successful for Samsung was a bittersweet one for other manufacturers. On the one hand, Samsung has proven that many users do want a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a tablet with its huge-for-a-phone (both in size and sales) Galaxy S3. This is on top of its successful Galaxy Note 2 sales. On the other hand, the industry buzzword of “convergence” is finally starting to rear its head. As devices have collided these last few years, manufacturers were pleasantly surprised to see new categories be created instead of just old categories be cannibalized. Just ask Apple. For years, Steve had people leaving Apple stores with iPhone, iPad and MacBook tucked under their arms. However, these new Tablet Hybrids from companies like Samsung fall into a gray area. These mixed breed devices are more clearly competing with their component parts, emerging from the lab as better alternatives to at least one of their parental units. Like some type of nature documentary, this is a case of offspring consuming parent.
I wonder if I’ll be able to sense the nervous anxiety this is creating amongst each of the manufacturers showing off their latest creatures on the carnival — oops, I mean “showroom” — floor.
While I am walking through this reminder of Darwinism, convincing myself yet again that this will be my last CES, I can only assume those people with the huge smiles on their faces are Google employees. You see, it’s Google’s Android Operating System that’s the real winner here. Android is running most of these mutant hybrids, which is incredible given Apple’s domination of the market as recently as 3 years ago. It’s especially intriguing this year, which marks the first show since Microsoft officially bowed out of the partnership with the organizers. That means Google is arguably the most important company in Vegas this CES (although Microsoft will certainly be making noise about Xbox, Surface and it’s shiny new Windows 8 Operating System).
So, it seems a software company will continue to reign supreme at this annual festival of hardware. I wonder what, if any, impact that will have on the show moving forward? After a decade of attendance, I can safely say that software is the lowlight of the event. There’s a sad monotony in playing with clunky interfaces while booth representatives explain why it’s great that whatever I’m tinkering with can’t possibly integrate with anything I already own. I guess working in a booth in which every device is made by your employer has a way of letting you see the bright side of one-stop shopping (with an employee discount).
But for the rest of us still dreaming of the walk-around-from-booth-to-booth-swiping-our-credit-cards-and-laughing-as-we-throw-the-latest-bit-of-not-yet-available-to-the-masses-technology-into-a-big-grab-bag-that-won’t-pose-any-TSA-issues-while-traveling-back-with-us-before-being-installed-instantly-and-without-reference-to-user-manuals-transforming-our-homes-into-scenes-from-sci-fi-movies-where-the-computers-eventually-turn-on-humans-who-for-some-reason-don’t-have-the-good-sense-to-welcome-our-new-electronic-overlords experience, I must say… it’s actually the lack of integration that’s most frustrating. It seems insane all my content and stuff can’t just go anywhere, anytime regardless of the logo on the back of the device. Microsoft never seemed to get it right, perhaps because they never truly embraced the cloud. I can only hope Google fares better.
If they do, I may just give up trying to give up on CES, and book next year’s ticket right from the showroom floor… on my new iPhone 5 of course.
21st December 12
Posted in BBH Labs
Since the days of yore , according to a tradition the origin of which has been long forgotten [Ben Malbon started it] we’ve used the last post of the year to look back over the previous 12 months of bloggery, not in a spirit of wistful nostalgia but in a spirit of enquiry. We look to see what our preoccupations were, what topics or technologies regularly bubbled to the the surface, what themes emerged from what has, like all the other years, been a hectic hurtle down the marketing superhighway.
This is also an opportunity for us to say thank you – for reading, for commenting, for debating, for sharing, for writing on our blog and letting us write on yours. This blog isn’t our personal journalling site – openness and transparency are key Labs’ tenets – and every contribution you all make adds value, helping all of us think harder and smarter. Gracias.
So below, in no particular order are the posts that to us seem to represent nodes of thinking or at the very least, nodes of writing activity. In an astonishing breach of protocol, this year we’re going to present them by theme – enjoy, comment, disagree and share, and see you in 2013.
Mel, Jeremy, Saneel, Tim and Griffin
The uproar regarding the changes to Instagram’s Terms of Service – and continued debate about how web services treat users and the content they upload – demonstrates that discussions about openness and control are only going to get more empassioned as more users are exposed to the fact that, if they’re not paying for a service, they are the product being sold. Openness has featured regularly in Labs posts, and we debated this subject with some vigour at SXSW in our SkyNet Vs Mad Max talk, co-authored with our friend Tom Uglow (at Google Creative Lab, Sydney). Clients are also appreciating that openness can be as much of an asset as a quality – The Guardian making it the key reason to believe in the award winning Three Little Pigs. And James Mitchell used this blog to consider ‘truthiness‘ in marketing, the tightrope joining reality and hyperbole that we walk whenever we try to tell a story about a brand. As James writes, balance is not always easy to maintain.
In the year that BBH turned 30 it’s perhaps not surprising that emphasising difference, subverting the norm and, yes, zagging, have been undercurrents on the blog. BBH Asia Pacific Chairman Chas Wrigley (together with Wieden & Kennedy’s Rob Campbell) offered a series of provocations and debunked some flawed notions in their ‘Everything we Know is Wrong‘ presentation – we were particularly struck with their observations on West knowing best. Then, in a series of posts entitled ‘Advertising is Dead: Long Live Advertising‘ Mel made a few predictions about where advertising might be headed over the next 8 years. Check back in 2020 to see how she did. Subversion also produced some startling work this year as highlighted in this smart piece of engagement thinking for Refuge, the domestic abuse charity. Expecting to see the latest installment of her hugely popular make-up video tutorial, Lauren Luke’s audience were instead shown advice on how to cover up the signs of domestic violence – massive impact created through subversion of expectation, a brave performance and a riveting piece of film.
Great to see experiments coming from around the globe this year. The BBH Barn team in Singapore tackled social media overload with their Social Rehab programme and kit while in New York the Labs team created While You Were Off, a service which kept track of the all important updates that you might miss during those darned inconvenient minutes or hours of Internet downtime. More seriously (and controversially), SXSW saw the launch of Homeless Hotspots, an experimental programme in partnership with a large Austin homeless shelter to see whether street newspaper vending could be updated to be more digitally focussed. After an admittedly rocky start it’s great to see how the issues that the experiment raised might lead to some transformative change as we follow our ongoing attempt to drive innovation for Street Newspapers across the globe.
It’s always a pleasure to get a note from BBH London Chairman Jim Carroll with a new draft post in it and in a particularly rich year for Jim’s elegant reflections it has been hard to shortlist a selection for this round-up. But if you don’t have time to go back and read them all here are a couple we particularly loved. In Laughing Together, Weeping Alone Jim suggests that we underestimate introverts at our peril – in a world that can’t stop talking (and sharing), perhaps its the unspoken, unshared feelings that are most true. In Swimming in the Shallow End Jim raises a toast to modest ambitions, incidental victories and frivolity – not every brand should aspire to sup with sages and kings. Lastly, in this farewell post, Labs’ strategist James Mitchell neatly articulated what for him (and many of us) BBH Labs offers - a place to wander, discover and build.
And so we end this round-up, with Robots. For us, as for Brad Pitt and Chanel No 5, it was inevitable. First announced in April, Robotify.me was finally birthed this month. We’ve learned a lot on the way – about process, about MVP, about delivering (yes, ‘shipping is everything’), about APIs, about facets of our social media activity that we were not aware of previously. We continue to learn from the excellent feedback we’re receiving and will continue to evolve Robotify.me in the new year. But if there’s one conclusion that we can draw from the experiment so far it is this: you can learn through listening, you can learn from sharing, you can learn from reading, but there’s no learning like the learning you get from doing.
See you all again in 2013.
4th December 12
Posted in Creativityforgood
When we look into our mystic crystal balls of the future, who knows what we’ll be using technology-wise? Well, we could just shrug our shoulders and wait to see, or we could roll our sleeves up and get involved on the front line of development.
The charity Royal London Society for the Blind has a dream about the future of tech and they came to us to see if we’d help them promote it.
It’s a concept called Everybody Technology, a dream that tech companies, developers and users all collaborate to create and design with everyone in mind, creating 100% inclusive technology.
To make concrete RLSB’s vision, we enlisted the help of the person who we felt would best deliver and represent both the disabled and able bodied – the great physicist Professor Stephen Hawking.
His words are a rallying call to developmental arms, being ‘spoken’ by men, women and children, from different cultures, backgrounds and abilities. It encourages joining the Everybody Technology group, to create a network of developers and users to drive a revolution in thinking forwards
The iPhone and iPad are certainly the modern day shining examples of this revolution, technology that each and every one can use, in very different ways. But it began way back in 1880 – with two Italian lovers. A blind woman, who couldn’t write to her partner had to dictate her sweet nothings to someone else aloud. Not very private – so to overcome the adversity, her husband invented the typewriter for her. Which developed into the keyboard this very post was tapped out on…
RLSB see a future where more technology originating for specific needs enters the mainstream, and vice versa, enabling everybody to live fantastic lives to our full potential. That’s a future we quite fancy living in.
If you agree and you’d like to get involved in Everybody Technology, then share our film or sign up to the group here.
31st October 12
In 1983 Celtic troubadours The Waterboys released a song called “I Will Not Follow”. I’m pretty sure it was a response to U2′s anthemic “I Will Follow”. Answer songs have a rather mixed history (though I’m grateful to the category for providing us with Roxanne Shante and Althea & Donna…), and I suspect “I Will Not Follow” was not The Waterboys’ finest moment Nonetheless, I admired their courage in taking on the emerging Titans of Rock. And I loved the sentiment. The determination not to go with the flow, not to follow the masses, not to get lost in the crowd. A passionate rejection of passivity. A celebration of the power of negative thinking.
When I was in my last year at College, thoughts turned to possible careers. It was the late ’80s and , in the wake of the Big Bang, there was a magnetic pull towards the Big Job in The City. It was natural, obvious, exciting. The dark satanic thrills .. I recall my decision not to apply for a City role felt more significant to me than any subsequent active career choice.
I used to interview young graduates looking for a job. I found that their CVs were curiously similar. When asked what they’d achieved in life, they’d say they’d travelled to Asia, captained the hockey team, and they liked skiing and reading. But when one asked what the candidate had chosen not to do, more singular answers were forthcoming.
Some of our most important decisions are the paths we choose not to take,the roads we refuse to travel. Our lives can often be best understood by mapping the things we didn’t do, the words we didn’t say. Perhaps we should more often consider a brand’s unspoken truth, quiet regret. Because in its silence and inaction may reside its strength and identity.
‘If you gave me a pound for all the moments I’ve missed,
And I took dancing lessons for all the girls I should’ve kissed.
I’d be a millionaire, I’d be Fred Astaire’
ABC – “Valentine’s Day”
My first job after College was as a Qualitative Researcher. ‘Brand elasticity’ projects were very much in vogue. Could this everyday family margarine perhaps be a cheese, or a biscuit, or a ready meal or a jam? With a sip of Chardonnay and a nod of assent, my respondents would consistently give the green light to a whole host of reckless innovations and insane brand extensions. And over the years the song has remained the same, even if the lyrics have changed. Could my brand be an experience, a portal, a membership club? Could it be a hotel, a hub, a content provider? Could it release a clothing line with rugged check shirts, boxer shorts and rain resistant outerwear? Isn’t my brand more a lifestyle choice than a yellow fat?
Curiously perhaps, research respondents find it easy to endorse our grandest aspirations. But then it’s not their money and maybe they’re just being polite. Sometimes it seems we need to be better at defining the limits of our ambition, at identifying the red line, the point beyond which we will not go. Sometimes we need to demonstrate more restraint, more discipline, more negativity.
Many Clients are instinctively suspicious of the negative perspective. Surely it betrays a lack of confidence, enthusiasm, ambition? In order to sustain consistency they develop processes and platforms, models and matrices, funnels and formats. But best demonstrated practice is often worst demonstrated imagination. Over the years negative thinking has inspired truly exceptional communication by the likes of Dunlop, Audi, Marmite, Volvo, Stella and Guinness. What would a world be like without this brand? Who are its enemies? What is its weakness? Whenever one is confronted by the bland, boring or undifferentiated, it’s always helpful to reach for a liberating ‘not’.
Of course in the age of the social web possibilities seem infinite. We want campaigns to be all embracing, 360º, holistic. We want to tick off platforms like some bizarre game of I Spy. We want all the colours in all the sizes. Yet I wonder if the democratisation of knowledge and opinion creates a kind of accelerated conformity: the Consensus of Crowds. Surely brand behaviour on the web would benefit from a little more negative thinking? Perhaps more discipline and self denial? Maybe we need to see more of the brand that likes to say ‘no’, the brand that will not follow…
Every morning I face the horrors of commuting as I change Tube at Kings Cross. Crowded, crushed, compressed. Downbeat, dour, depressed. In order to get onto my teeming southbound train into the centre of town, I walk along the less cluttered northbound platform. Periodically empty northbound trains stop and then recommence their journey out to the quiet leafy suburbs. I’ve always promised myself that one day I’ll jump on one of those empty northbound trains, make my way to the end of the line, find a caff and settle down to The Guardian, bacon, eggs, tea and toast. One day…
25th September 12
Posted in Sustainability
Authors: Kimberley Gill and Mareka Carter, Creatives, BBH London
Do we really, really, want those Louboutin shoes? Can’t we live without that hand printed wallpaper? Maybe we can all take a little step back from what we think we want or need, and consider the realities of other peoples lives. Pinterest struck us as being the perfect place to highlight the contrast between its regular users’ lives and those who have far less, giving us a bit of a reality check.
Our charity partner AMREF’s focus this year is maternal health – in particular young girls in rural Tanzania who are becoming mothers as young as 11 years old, due to traditions and lack of sexual health education. So Pinterest is our chosen platform to give a young mother a voice to express herself and the realities of her life.
Our search for a girl who would become AMREF’s voice for the project started back in April. The AMREF team over in Tanzania put forward Sihiba Yusufu, a girl who had become pregnant at the age of 11. Now 13, Sihiba is trying to bring up her baby and look after herself. She feels strongly about what happened to her and doesn’t want it to happen to any more young girls.
What seems like a really simple and quick project has actually been a little while in the making, for the important reason that we wanted this project to be as genuine as possible. The Pinterest account has to be from Sihiba herself, and not by AMREF on her behalf. There have been many challenges along the way – the iPhone got stuck in customs, helping Sihiba learn to use Pinterest, working out the logistics of keeping the phone charged in rural Tanzania. And of course making Sihiba’s safety a priority – so she has the support of an AMREF peer educator during the project.
Sihiba’s Pinterest profile can be found here: Please follow her and her boards, comment on and share her images and her film, to stand up for African mothers and help create social value from pinning. Let’s use social media to show what people need, rather than what they desire.
You can also donate to support AMREF’s important work here.
10th September 12
Posted in Brands
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
It was striking that he painted quite a lot of pictures of women with their backs to the viewer. A powerful expression of exclusion, loneliness, unrequited love.
I spent my youth being turned away from London’s elite nightspots. Perhaps it was the sleeveless plaid shirt, the white towelling socks, the caked on Country Born hair gel. But the bitter sense of disappointment hasn’t left me. I can taste it now. And I learned more about clubbing from Spandau Ballet videos than actual experience…‘He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’Handel, Messiah
As a young executive I was invited to apply for an Amex card. I applied and was duly rejected. Naturally I was confused and disappointed and I never spoke to them again. I’m sure consumers often feel a similar sense of exclusion from brands. Refusal and denial are shaming, embarrassing. The fear of rejection is almost as powerful as rejection itself. And then there are the coded gestures, the arcane language, the gender and cultural specific semiotics. The feeling that you don’t belong, that you’re not welcome here. It’s a private conversation, you wouldn’t understand.
I guess that’s why strategists so often recommend that brands are more open, inviting, transparent. We want brands to look us in the eye, to reach out from the canvas with a knowing glance and a welcoming smile. Easier said than done, of course.
Yet the turned back does not have to be all bad.
The Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi often painted a solitary woman with her back to the viewer. She goes about her daily routine in a quiet middle class home, lost in private thought. Hammershoi’s subjects seem more loved than feared. This distinctive reverse view gains its power in part from being so unusual. But also from the sense of intrusion on private time. The sense of seeing, but not being seen. It’s a little awkward, but also intriguing. Am I encountering her truest self, her identity freed of relationships, social constraints and concerns about appearance?
It reminds me of the oft’ cited quote from George Bernard Shaw: ‘Ethics is what you do when no one is looking.’ (I’ve uncovered versions of this quote from many sources. Henry Ford said ‘quality means doing it right when no one’s looking’. And of course, most recently Bob Diamond suggested ‘culture is how we behave when no one’s watching.’)
So how do brands behave when no one is looking? What would the brand encountered in a quiet room be up to? Would we find it dutifully engaged in customer-centric endeavours? Would its jaunty personality be sustained when there’s no one to impress? Would we discover an honest engagement with issues of citizenship and responsibility?
I’m worried that we’d most likely find the brand plotting a marketing and PR plan. I’m worried that in business as in politics too much thought nowadays is given to how things will play, how they will be perceived and reported. I suspect that too often the brand’s instinctive ethical and commercial compass has been replaced by recourse to brand image tracking and favourability ratings.
I appreciate this may be a curious thing for an adman to say. I should perhaps celebrate the triumph of modern marketing, the inevitable victory of perception in the All Seeing Age. Perhaps like a modern celebrity the smile must always be on, the guard must always be up. But it still makes me a little melancholy…
And what of Agencies? How do we behave when no one’s looking?
We are often perceived as conventions of feckless youth and superannuated yuppies. And I confess I was a little uncomfortable when Clients first started plugging in laptops, decanting lattes and working at our offices. I worried that they’d disapprove of our timekeeping, that they’d be offended by our cussing.But as more Clients have made the Agency their mid-week home, I think the Agency has benefitted. The Embedded Client often sees passion, industry, talent and integrity.They get to see our truest self. And it’s not as bad as they, or we, may have expected.
In the words of the great Brit Soul luminary, David Grant…‘I’ve been watching you watching me. I’ve been liking you, Baby, liking me…’