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  • (Don’t) Turn Your Back On Me

    10th September 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Brands

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London


    I attended an Edvard Munch show at the Tate Modern. Dark, melancholy, awkward stuff. Angst, loneliness, jealousy. A difficult relationship with society in general and women in particular.

    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 rokettube porno 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…’

  • The Killer Advantage

    29th August 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Film

    YouTube Preview Image

    To coincide with the ‘main course’ of the Paralympics, and after the Olympic warm-up, BBH creatives Kim and Mareka – with the great help of Chris Hyndman at Atomized - have made a mini documentary in their own time for charity TDF (The Disability Foundation) to celebrate the amazing feats of Paralympic athleticism and how TDF quietly helps make them happen. It features double amputee and great GB gold hope James O’Shea, who swims for 100m breaststroke glory on September 5th.

    More information about the unique charity TDF and its complementary health services (which are available to the able-bodied too!) can be found here. And if you’d like to donate to help keep more stories like James’ coming, then text TDFV11 followed by the amount to 70070. It goes straight on your mobile bill and costs you nothing more.

    Please share this film around and Tweet your support of @tdftweet with the hashtag #JamesOShea

  • Robotify.me – update, winners and learnings so far.

    24th August 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in robotify.me

    YouTube Preview Image

    A few weeks back we asked our robotify.me early adopters to tell us who were their favourite robots and why they liked them so much. Thanks to everyone who replied. We did this for a number of reasons. Firstly so that we could give away some very exclusive artwork from Mick Marston, our (human) robot artist. And secondly so that we could learn a little bit more from about why people responded so enthusiastically to representations of robots and what particular facets of robotics provoked the strongest reactions.

    Happily we had lots of responses leading to a very healthy debate about who should win the prints. We’ve picked six winners (Magdalene for Henry the vacuum cleaner, Jeremy for Metropolis‘ Maria, Joakim for Bender, Matt for Wall-e, Tom from Bladerunner‘s Roy and Adrian for the Golem – your prints are drying and will be on their way soon). A special award goes to Jonathan’s three-and-a-half year old son for his personal invention, Fire Robot – Jonathan, we want to know more and we want pictures.

    So, there’s more on what we learnt, more on all of the winning robots and more of James Mitchell in the video above. If you feel we missed a robot and have a favourite you want to share, please let us know in the comments below and we are still open for robotify.me early adopter beta testing goodness – register at http://robotify.me.

  • Oversharers need not apply

    20th August 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Social

    Authors, Scarlett Montanaro, Rhys Hillman and Sarah Chan, BBH Barn, Singapore

    YouTube Preview Image

    A world where 24% of people miss out on important moments in their lives because they are busy trying to document on social media sharing, is a world needing an intervention from BBH Barn, tasked each year to produce projects that ‘Do Good, Famously’. We call this intervention Social Rehab.

    The first arm of the campaign was to create this set of social rules for people to abide by. This is a simple set of 6 rules that lays out what is acceptable, and what is not.


    Then we needed to develop something that could make abiding by these rules more achievable. We designed a toolkit that replicated people’s digital behaviour in the real-world. By creating other objects that replicate digital behaviour, such as Instagram glasses, Draw Something Doodle Pads and Like stickers, smartphone addicts might begin to realise that real life is more rewarding. We created a limited run of 100 packs which were available locally or could be requested online. We were chuffed when we ran out within a week and so directed outside interest towards a downloadable PDF of the kit for people to make at home.

    After starting a discussion online, and creating the toolkit we wanted to test our audience’s resolve in as social an environment as we could find. We held a public social experiment at a popular Singapore nightspot which offered time-based discounts to esmer porno whoever willingly locked up their phones. Participants received 10% off their orders which then increased by another 10% for every hour people could stand to be away from their phones, up to 40%.

    The reaction was hugely positive and hundreds of people came to take part, demonstrating that people recognise the issue and are, when given the tools and incentives, willing to do something to change their smartphone etiquette, if only for one night.

  • In Their Shoes: Experience, Education and Empathy

    18th July 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in storytelling

    Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH London & BBH Labs

    The girl, Nina , is dressed for a meeting. “I’ve only got two business plans left,” she states matter-of-factly. She places two objects on the table in front of me: a condom, and a pouch of pills. “I would be very grateful if you could decide.”
    I hesitate, and the girl’s mask of professionalism falters. “These are my only options, so could you choose…please..?”
    In that moment, I realise that my choice is her choice, and her choice is the choice of a hundred young people across London.


    At an IPA event on Tuesday, Saatchi’s Head of Planning Richard Huntingdon commented that “beyond all else, what we do is empathy.” It’s true – the comms we create should be an act of empathy towards our audience. When the problem is just right, empathy itself can be the answer. Complicated issues of debate – particularly around things like social justice, where the topic is one we don’t like to discuss – can lose people in the discussion. When the most important measure of success is understanding, the quickest route to the head is through the heart, as empathy. Parents know this. When they try to convince children of the wrongness of a situation, the phrase you’ll most often hear is: “well, how would you like it if…?”

    When we feel anger or distrust towards someone we’re often told to walk a mile in their shoes. As humans, we’re actually very good at playing roles and seeing things from another person’s point of view – if we get the right prompts. But executionally, it’s a fine balance. You have to manage the audience’s experience positively enough to draw them into a character, and only then can you subject that character to their (often harrowing) fate. Finally, the immersive experience must offer the ‘immersed’ some sense of redemption, the sense that there’s something to be done to give this character a better future than their present. Only then can the audience leave not just with understanding, but with the desire to act.

    One of the most profound cases of alienation that divides “us and them” is shocking because it’s so everyday – homelessness. Centrepoint Parliament know this all too well. They campaign to raise awareness yabanci sex izle of youth welfare, but it’s easy for the messages to get lost in the debate. We all remember the point and counterpoint that swirled around the London riots last August. Whose responsibility was it – the kids’? The media’s? Blackberry’s? British society was about to give up the youth for lost and no amount of rational discourse would overcome those images in the press of a burning M&S, a looted Tesco, a burnt-out car.

    Centrepoint Parliament needed a way to viscerally cut through it all – and over six months, we worked with them to find it. The answer came directly from recordings of the youth hostel itself. No rhetoric, hyperbole or ‘advertising’ could match a simple recreation of the truth – this was Nine Rooms, an experiential theatre piece devised by its own members, with help from BBH. You are placed directly into the worst scenes of a young homeless person’s life – the loneliness, the idleness, and the dilemmas.

    YouTube Preview Image

    My choice made, I hand the item to Nina. Her expression flickers with pain but all she says is a polite “thank you for your time.” She collects her notes and walks out, leaving me alone with the untaken choice, and a sense of gratitude that I’ll never have to make this kind of decision for myself.

    They are scenes that we all have suspected are happening to ‘someone, somewhere’, and internally written off as the facts of life. To be forced to go through them – to wear the shoes – drags them out of the realm of statistics in the head, and into a the form of a nuanced human experience in the heart. To read the impact Nine Rooms had on people is both affecting and uplifting. It’s clear that the power of the performance has made this a brief well answered:

    “Powerful and emotive. So well done to get in touch with the reality of homelessness. Portrayed in a way which allows the audience to feel what the characters feel.”
    “Moving and very effective – being so close and personal made it a hard journey.”
    “Powerful stuff. Is this really going on in London? We all get so tied up in our lives that we don’t know what’s really going on. Thank you for the experience.”

    There were tough strategic choices to be made, too – we reasoned that delivering a powerful experience for the few was better than a message that would get tuned out by the many – as long as those few were so impacted that they would pass it on. The sense of shock and outrage we got from our comments book shows that it’s worked. And as we said above, immersive theatre at its best doesn’t just affect people, it moves them to take action – in this case, signing the petition to restore careers advice services so that no young person has to make Nina’s choice.

    From ‘events’ like Secret Cinema to political projects (Coney’s Early Days Of A Better Nation) and even new twists on horror, both secular (Hotel Medea) and sanctimonious (see the rise in the US Evangelical concept of the scare-you-straight “Hell House”), immersive theatre has come into its own as a way of heightening reality for a media-skeptic generation. Even traditional media becomes that much more powerful when technology lets us step into the scene (see the experiential touches of our own work for Missing People). Whilst at its most shallow, ‘experience’ is a play for PR-able creativity, at its best, it’s a dose of empathy that’s truly transformative.

    Ask the residents of Nine Rooms.

    You don’t have to have been through the rooms to take action – sign Centrepoint Parliament’s petition here.

  • A Lesson in Covering Up

    2nd July 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in online video

    Authors: Claire Coady, Social Media Manager and Simon Robertson, Strategist, BBH London

    Want to find out how to get a great look under even the most trying of conditions? Let YouTube celebrity and makeup artist Lauren Luke show you how in this helpful tutorial:

    YouTube Preview Image

    If that wasn’t quite what you were expecting, you’ll know what Lauren’s many followers and their friends will be experiencing over the coming days, as a result of our partnership with Lauren and domestic abuse charity Refuge.  It’s a very different approach for a charity, but it’s one that we think is vital to help them adapt to a very different type of audience, and a different type of public conversation.

    The world is noisy. Everyone has something to say. But there are some things people just don’t want to talk about. And in a media landscape catering to our individual needs, people don’t have to talk or hear about things they don’t want to.

    People don’t want to talk about domestic abuse.

    MORE THAN JUST AN AWARENESS ISSUE

    When society doesn’t talk about the big important problems, particularly the ones that may cause fear or discomfort, a vacuum of knowledge inevitably forms, quickly filled with misinformation.

    People think that everyone “gets” what domestic abuse is. They’re wrong. Research shows that more than half of teenage girls aged 13-18 have experienced sexual violence at the hands of a partner – and considered it normal. 40% of teenage girls would consider giving a boyfriend a second chance if he hit them. A third believe that cheating justifies the use of violence.

    By not loudly and continuously reinforcing that domestic abuse is a problem, society sends a message that it isn’t serious.  By ignoring the issue, it is normalised, and creates a generation of  potential victims.

    In a very real sense, silence kills. Two women in the UK die at the hands of an abusive partner or ex-partner every week. Talking saves lives.

    That’s why Refuge’s call to action is “speak up, save a life”.  But speaking to teenage girls requires a different type of speaking up: one tailored to a fragmented media landscape, a group focussed on entertainment rather than weightier issues, and a subject that discourages discussion.

    A CASE FOR SUBVERSION

    A traditional disruptive approach wasn’t going to work. But we knew our audience wouldn’t come to use through choice. Our response has been to create a piece of communication directly tailored to the way that teen girls consume and communicate information. That encourages them to become part of the conversation on their terms. Not disruption of their experience, so much as a subversion of it.

    We knew we’d have to sneak our message into an existing channel that our audience were already interested in in a way that created maximum impact. Considering the role of subversion of expectation in viral spread – viral activity often takes the form of practical joking – we realised that the more that we could increase that sense of contrast between expectation and content, the higher the likelihood of spread.

    And we wanted to make sharing and commentary the call to action, because sharing is how teens conduct public debate.  It allows them to make a stand without rokettube exposing their own opinions and be part of something with a low risk of emotional or social damage. Viral behaviour is their version of the town square, the salon or the pub.

    SERIOUSLY UNFUNNY

    In effect, we were creating a practical joke with a purpose that couldn’t have been more serious: shocking people out of their complacency around domestic abuse, and allowing them to take a stand against it on their terms.

    What we needed to do was find a Trojan horse who would carry our message to young women. That was where Lauren Luke came in.


    Lauren’s relationship with her audience is paramount; every content decision and direction she makes is with her subscribers in mind. Her enthusiasm for the cause and participation in shocking her fans is, in short, the kind of unstinting bravery needed to tackle domestic violence as a subject.

    The film itself has been deliberately designed to maximise the shock of the contrast between the context and content: particularly Lauren’s chirpy demeanour contrasting with her appearance. But this wasn’t about forcing a scripted film into a social channel. We provided a general framework and direction for Lauren and allowed her the space and time to make the film her own: a challenge she rose to brilliantly.

    We then wanted to make sure the content was framed in a way that maximised the stunt aspect: the copy that appears alongside the film wherever it is shared is intended to draw people in without ever giving an indication of the content.

    Finally, our call to action is the most simple and natural one that our audience know:  share. And by sharing, speak out.

    Credits

    Copywriter: Jack Smedley

    Art Director: George Hackforth

    Art Director: Stephen Noble

    Film directed by: Wesley Hawes and Gary McCreadie

    Creative DirectorPablo Marques

    Strategists: Claire Coady & Simon Robertson

  • Wind-tunnel UX and Branded Design

    26th June 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Brands, UX

    Authors: Neil Barrie, Zag Strategy Director & Stephen Wake, Zag Head of Design

    Great brands have long understood that providing customers with enjoyable, differentiated user experiences is critical to winning their loyalty. Walk in to a Waitrose supermarket or Kohl’s store and there’s no comparison to a Tesco or a kmart from the layout of aisles, to the attitude of the staff to the products they do and don’t stock.

    ‘Screen’ UX offers brands a whole range of new opportunities to really deliver on their promises and strengthen their customer relationships. But too often this is a missed opportunity, we end up with experiences that are good but not great. They work, they conform to best practice rules & standards but if you take away the logo they are indistinguishable from each other.

    Wind tunnel web design?

    Images via www.lovemoney.com, www.moneystrands.com, www.mint.com, www.mybillq.com www.lloydstsb.com, www.yodlee.com,

    The screen shots above are from a recent Zag audit of the Personal Finance Manager (PFM) market but the point applies to plenty of other categories.  Jim Carroll has spoken passionately here about the Wind Tunnel Marketing but are we also in danger of entering the age of Wind Tunnel Web/UI design?

    We believe that the most effective way to avoid this situation is to put brand at the heart of UX, to use it as the north star to guide the myriad of interactions and touchpoints that brands create for their customers.

    Of course this is easy to say, much harder to do. Here are 6 ingredients that we find help foster a successful fusion of brand and UX, based on projects we’ve worked on and projects we wish we’d worked on. It’s certainly not comprehensive, more intended as a conversation starter – we’d really like to hear about other ingredients that people find useful here.

    #1 A proper understanding of your audience

    This is obvious but too often people pay lip service to this area. You really need to know the needs, interactions and emotions that colour their experience of your brand and your category. And even more importantly is to have genuine empathy for them as PEOPLE not consumer/users. He’s not a 25-44 year old ABC1, he’s a proud dad who works to hard and reads to his kids too quickly on Thursday nights so he can go out with the boys and so on...

    #2 A proper understanding of your brand’s purpose

    Again obvious. But again too often this is more about platitudes than purpose. For this to work you need to have really asked the tough questions of the brand in question. Why is it really there? What is its role really?

    Nike’s purpose is one of the best I’ve seen for this sort of thing. It’s inspirational, it’s directional and it’s very very stretching. Nike will never complete this mission but they are creating a lot of amazing products while they’re trying. The CEO Mark Parker was instrumental in pushing this mission ktunnel through eleven years ago. It’s hard to see the previous one (‘to be the number sports & fitness company in the world’) being much use as a guiding principle for UX…

    #3 Appreciate that the rules of branding have changed

    When we say ‘brand’ we don’t mean a didactic set of messages, rules and templates to roll out over every touch-point. We mean a coherent set of guiding principles to help designers make the right decisions about what to say and what to do. Adaptable rather than monolithic. Otherwise the whole exercise will do more harm than good.

    #4 Run a collaborative multi-discipline process

    Every project has a different set of skillsets but one thing we’ve found always leads to better results is to keep it open and collaborative from the outset. So we make sure our graphic/digital designers are challenging (or even writing!) the business/brand strategy on any project from a very early stage. This helps avoiding the platitude/purpose issue touched upon early. If the brand strategy isn’t speaking to the people charged with bringing it to life then it’s probably pointless.

    If you’ve got the above ingredients in place then you should be in a really good place to try and achieve something special, to make the brand thinking tangible and improve it:

    #5 Create signature interactions

    Flipboard is there to be beaten as an example of brand and UX.  A clear vision to be a ‘Social Magazine’ that fuses the beauty and ease of the print magazine experience with the power of social media. The signature interaction of the gentle ‘flip’ movement. And it’s in the name!

    Wonga’s ‘money sliders’ are another powerful example. They exemplify ‘straight talking money’ and a more down to earth approach to finance every time you to interact with them.

    #6 Surprise people (in a useful way)

    Everyone knows the situation. You’ve finally reached the end of a critical project phase. You are sending the authoritative, definitive email to all the stakeholders to wrap everything up, accompanied by the pdf of the amazing work…and then you send the email without the attachment and have to send another going “ahem’ here’s the attachment”. Except when I [Steve] was in the process of executing this understandable error Gmail stopped me.

    You can be sure that anyone who’s experienced that bit of help will tell a lot of people and be more loyal to the brand in the future.

    To us this is the benchmark in terms of moments of surprise and delight. Here is a brand using ‘screen’ UX to build relationships with their customers in as powerful a way as Waitrose are using their store experiences.

    What are the equivalent moments for the brands you work on?

    If you enjoyed this post then we should acknowledge the influence of inestimable @adamtvpowers, BBH London’s Head of UX.

  • Robotify.me – what Labs are making next, and why.

    26th April 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    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 brazzers 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…

  • Laughing Together, Weeping Alone

    2nd April 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Insight

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London


    I was at home watching a film when it happened again. A drying of the throat, a tightening of the vocal cords, the involuntary dab at the side of the eye to discover a bead of moisture forming. Yes, I was crying again.

    I’m no motor racing enthusiast, but I was cracking up over the Senna documentary. The potent cocktail of youth, beauty, talent and tragedy. The story of a genius half expressed, a life half lived.

    It’s a curiosity of middle age that one finds oneself weeping more frequently. Sometimes it’s prompted by the profound. But often it’s the incidental, the humdrum, the everyday. A fay costume drama, a moderately emotional screwball comedy, a random memory of Dylan, the springer spaniel, watching sparrows on the summer lawn.

    I sat next to a guy on the plane a while ago. A formal, serious looking man with one of those bulky lawyer’s briefcases that mean money and business. He obviously travelled a lot. After take-off he set out his paraphernalia for in-flight comfort: his unguents, earplugs and blindfold. He refused food, switched on a monitor and proceeded to cry profusely all the way through Four Weddings and a Funeral.

    I’m not sure about the psychology or physiology of Middle Aged Weeping. Could it be the remembrance of things past, the wisdom of age, the diminution of testosterone, the proximity of death, the fear of apocalypse? Or all of the above simultaneously tugging at the heart strings and demanding a tune?

    I’d like to say I’ve gained some lasting benefit or resolution from my weeping, that I am more in touch with my emotions,more at one with myself. But, whilst I am certainly curious about it, I don’t feel any farther down the road to self knowledge. Tears are not enough.


    I cry alone
    When no one else can hear me
    When friends come by to cheer me
    I smile and say I feel OK.
    Maxine Brown, I Cry Alone

    With the exception of a few funerals, like Maxine Brown I have always cried alone. Context evaporates, time stalls, the world closes in. Melancholy is a matter of silent isolation.

    Conversely I only laugh with others. To share the joke, to join the fun, to feel peels of laughter rippling through the crowd. The greatest highs are the ones we share. And solitary laughter is the surest sign of oncoming madness. As the guy on the 19 bus giggles out loud at the contents of his book, one edges along the seat a little farther, grips the handrail a little tighter. I suspect more people write LOL than do it.

    Take a look at anyone’s Facebook photos and you’ll see a curiously hedonistic sense of self. The laughter, smiles, gatherings and getaways of friends and family. Darker thoughts and feelings are generally suppressed. It’s a redacted life.

    I wonder what does this mean? Are we instinctively predisposed to share life’s highs and keep the lows to ourselves? Are some feelings inherently more private and others more public? Are there natural limits to the social?

    I’m aware, of course, that some societies cry more freely than mine. Perhaps others laugh more privately too. And conventions are changing. We live in an age where the instinct to share has extended beyond the joyous and celebratory. Oprah’s openness, misery memoirs, celebrity confessions. Some have speculated that the  social era may lead us to happier personal lives, that in our free expression on the web, we’re engaged in some kind of mass therapy: we’re producing the best adjusted generation since before The Fall.

    Nonetheless, I share the growing concern that our transparent world poses challenges in the area of privacy. Hitherto much of the debate has centred around personal data, unsolicited targeting, embarrassing photos. I suspect privacy may represent a more profound issue than this. Privacy is a matter of personal porno tv identity. And in order to prevent identity theft in the truest sense we need to protect the arcane, opaque, mysterious elements of our own lives. In her new book, Quiet, Susan Cain suggests that the ‘world that can’t stop talking’ underestimates introverts. I agree.

    Van the Man once sang about the  ’Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’. I had grown up thinking that any belief needed a justification, that an emotion wasn’t properly felt unless it could be articulated, that one couldn’t recover from a trauma unless one could describe it. Now I treasure the unexplained, the unspoken, the unthought.

  • ’tis the season to be truthy

    27th March 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    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.

    img credit: wwe.com
    Note: Not an actual undertaker
    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 youjizz 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.

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