Mel Exon « BBH Labs
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Author archive

  • The Birds That Sing At Night

    27th May 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in culture, Social

    'Blackbird singing in the dead of night' (image by Dia, via Flickr)

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    Sometimes recently I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and there have been birds singing in the street outside. Two or three o’clock in the morning, well before sunrise and they’re chirping away, casually, confidently.

    I’m no ornithologist, but shouldn’t they be saving it for the dawn chorus?

    Inevitably one is troubled by the abnormal. My initial concern was that their singing portended some dark event, an omen of impending doom.

    But the world didn’t implode.

    I wondered was I witnessing some form of ecological fallout? Was the nocturnal bird song an unnatural response to an unnatural environment?

    The bird authorities’ website reassured me that our feathered friends sing primarily ‘to attract a mate and defend territory’ and that some species are just  happy to do these things at night.

    I prefer to imagine that the birds outside my window are adapting to the modern world. Working, socialising, eating and courting on a more fluid, 24 hour, ‘always on’ basis.

    Perhaps the collective unconscious of London sparrows has connected with humanity’s accelerating metabolism. Perhaps they’re embracing deconstructed social norms, flexible working, speed dating.

    Maybe this also explains the migrant foxes that have long since given up the tedium and conservatism of rural life for the bright lights and diversity of the metropolis.

    I have always liked the idea that change is a social, collective thing. That we like to change together, that we are reassured by community even when that community is evolving in different directions.

    I have sadly found it frustrating to entertain philosophies to which my Clients do not yet subscribe.

    As a student I was taught that a society in some respects behaves like an orchestra. It assigns ‘in tune-ness’  to behaviours that are consistent with everyone else and it rejects abnormal behaviour as ‘out of tune’.

    This of course has its downsides. But it’s reassuring to consider that, as we run at the future, we may be taking the the wildlife with us…

  • Whose Ad Is It Anyway?

    16th May 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in creativity

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    Tamara Rojo in Swan Lake, image via

    Last week I attended a talk by the magnificent Royal Ballet dancer, Tamara Rojo.

    As a child growing up in Madrid she had not been aware of ballet and had stumbled into her first dance academy somewhat by chance. She immediately fell in love with the art form and became a diligent pupil. Observing her enthusiasm for dance, her parents took her to a performance of Swan Lake by a visiting Russian company.

    The young Tamara was, however, disappointed and upset by the experience. She loved ballet, but had never imagined that it was to be crafted into stories and performed in front of other people. She thought ballet was, as she had experienced it in class, an entirely personal thing, a beautiful private escape.

    Subsequently Tamara’s teachers would tell her that she was there to entertain the audiences, not herself.  But one could not help concluding that Tamara’s exceptional ability to inspire others was derived in part from her determination to do something for herself.

    Inevitably when we discuss modern communication,we spend most of our time considering whether we are properly reflecting the truth of the brand or engaging the interest and participation of the audience. And rightly so.  But doesn’t it help, a little at least, to be motivated by our own interest, enthusiasm and sense of pride?

    Many years ago I worked with the much loved and respected creative, Martin Galton. We would return, heads bowed, from another attritional Client meeting to supply the team with the customary ‘builds’. Martin, however, would only entertain a certain level of distortion of his original concept. Beyond that point he’d say: ‘Forget it.Throw that idea away and I’ll do you another one.’

    Frustrating at the time, but his self-belief endured. In an era where the communications process is increasingly driven by the end user and hyper-targeting techniques, how many of us stubbornly hold on to our own vision? Is there still a time and a place to ‘dance for ourselves’?

  • Exploring The Edges: On Innovation In Agencies

    28th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in business models

    Last weekend @malbonnington posed a deceptively simple question: Do We Really Need Chief Innovation Officers in Ad Agencies? He cited four people with related titles, including our own @saneel who holds the title Director of Innovation at BBH NY. I was reminded of Ed Cotton’s posts which asked a similar question about the role of agency labs. In both cases, the comment threads are as enlightening as the posts – don’t take our word for it, go check them out, including Ben’s own excellent response here. Below I’ve pulled out and built upon our contribution to the debate in both cases. Consistently aided and abetted, prodded and provoked by others far smarter than us since we set up Labs in 2008 (you know who you are, the likes of @edwardboches, @benkunz, @timogeo, @malbonster, @patsmc, @willsh, @caseorganic, @irowan, @danlight, @shaunabe, and @tomux are just a flavour), this post has ended up being a distillation of what we’ve learned so far about this topic.

    Image by Eistean, via Flickr

    I suspect innovation, or more specifically, how we deliver it, is a topic that’ll continue to cause debate in any creative industry worth its salt, for the simple reason that innovation isn’t an ‘add-on to what we all do, it is the decades-old bedrock of our existence: asking audiences to see their world in new ways, seeking new routes to communicate, shining a light on invention. We may embrace co-creation and recombinant culture, but our industry still worships at the altar of originality. Who of us doesn’t want to do ground-breaking stuff? Inevitably, it follows that the very idea of “innovation transcending functional expertise“ can feel like a total anathema.

    Certainly, my immediate response to the questions about Chief Innovation Officers and agency labs is pretty simple: in most cases, I wouldn’t appoint someone to the job.

    I say this for three reasons:

    a. Few agencies aspire to operate close enough to the “bleeding edge” to justify the cost.
    b. As others have commented in the past, the hiring of a CIO all too often represents an abdication of a management team’s responsibility to lead change.
    c. It’s a tight rope walk of a job. Incredibly easy to slip off.

    And yet…for the people with the appetite to try it, here are a couple of thoughts on why, when and how we *might* make it work:

    1. Start by picking your company carefully.

    Oddly, it’s at the extreme ends of the spectrum of corporate health that this role may be most useful: at the hellish end where a company is wallowing in a stagnant backwater, the short term appointment a CIO could help signal a fresh agenda. At the opposite end, when an agency has grown too big to sit around one table yet retains a forward-looking culture, a CIO can play a powerful, much more strategic role. More on this below.

    2. Demonstrate the value of exploring the ‘edges’.

    Make sure everyone around you (that’s the whole agency, not just management) are on board with the commercial and creative advantage your role can bring. Summarised, the task is to explore and exploit the opportunities at the “edges” of your business, as described in a related article from earlier this year:

    “Edges could involve new product introductions, expansion into new markets, or the launch of entirely new business propositions…the edges of companies are generally more open to change and the adoption of new technologies, because they face more unmet needs and fewer established routines. The people who are attracted to edges tend to be less risk-averse, as well….Longer term, edge initiatives have the potential to become the new core of the enterprise.”

    Read full post

  • Introducing: BBH Asia-Pacific Data Snapshots

    26th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in data, digital

    Author: Simon Kemp (@eskimon), Engagement Planner, BBH Asia Pacific & BBH Labs

    The digital landscape across Asia-Pacific has seen significant change in recent months, with enthusiasm for social media driving the broader adoption of a wide range of connected services and tools.

    Although Internet penetration levels remain low in many Asian countries, the sheer size of those countries’ populations means that the numbers must be seen in context; for example, internet penetration in China stands at just 34%, but the number of social media users in that country exceeds the total population of Russia.

    It’s also critical to understand how people in the East access and use the web. Read full post

  • Launching a new D&AD Initiative: The White Pencil

    15th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Author: Rosie Arnold, Deputy Exec Creative Director, BBH and Deputy D&AD President

    On Tuesday night, D&AD launched a new initiative: The White Pencil Award. It is an ongoing award, but the first White Pencil will be awarded next year to a piece of creative thinking that best answers a brief that we’re giving to the whole creative community.

    The White Pencil is for a piece of creative work that changes the world for the better; the first organisation D&AD has chosen to support is Peace One Day.

    The brief is available here and, to the best of my knowledge, it is the first time the entire global creative community of designers, advertisers, digital, photographers etc has been give the same brief.

    Come on all you creatives out there: use your talent to change the world.

  • “I use stories as a technique to organise the past” – Jonathan Harris

    14th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Uncategorized

    YouTube Preview Image

    When Jonathan Harris’ project ‘Today‘ began, we instantly liked its intentions. Lifestreaming projects like this are hardly new but, in the hands of someone like Harris, you know ‘a photo and a story a day’ (in his case, a resolution made to mark his 30th birthday) is going to be downright special.

    In this film, made by Jonathan’s friend Scott Thrift, over a year’s worth of photos each appear for a second.

    The soundtrack is Harris talking about the experience which will feel familiar to any lifestreamers – the early anxiety, the excitement of figuring it out, a growing audience, then a sense of the project ‘running you’ … followed by the missing it once it’s gone.

    “I use stories as a technique to organise the past and I think there’s a real lack of storytelling now among all of us. We’re all living lives that are so fragmented…there’s not that time to create stories, to make sense of that experience.”

    For more of Jonathan’s work, check out

    via @HelenWalters’s Thought you should see this blog (HT @brainpicker)

  • Breaking A Sweat For Japan

    14th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Events, People

    Image credit: Dom Grant & Zak Razvi (@zakrazzle)

    From 12pm GMT today, BBH’s global run/row/cycle-a-thon goes LIVE, streaming from all six BBH offices simultaneously for 24 hours straight. You can watch it happen via the webcams on the site. Please show your support by donating here, tweet #bbh4japan or leave a message for everyone breaking a sweat here. All donations, no matter how small, will help the charity we’ve chosen to support,, deliver emergency temporary housing, warmth and dignity to Japanese families who have lost everything after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

    A whole host of people around the world in BBH offices got this up and running.. you know who you are. We also caught up with Dom Grant and Zak Razvi at BBH London who designed the art work to promote the event:

    “We wanted to create a powerful image that worked on more than just one level. Using the iconic design of the Japanese flag, we replaced the red circle with a textured heart graphic. We then used the shape of Japan as a crack to depict a broken heart. We hope the image encapsulates our love and respect for the people of Japan.”

    Please give generously. A big thank you for your support, from everyone here and at

    ******AN UPDATE, 21.04.11******

    As of this morning, we’re happy to report a whopping £27, 110 has been raised! Thank you to EVERYONE who donated and supported the effort.

    Here are some shots from Japan sent to us by Shelterbox today:

  • “Emotion is data too” – Google’s screening of Transcendent Man

    12th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Events, Film, technology

    “Here’s to living forever. That’s not just a salutation in our family”
    ~ Sonya Kurzweil

    “This is of mythical proportions. We have to deal with it, even if it turns out not to be true.”
    Kevin Kelly

    Sarah Speake introduces the 'Transcendent Man' screening

    Regular readers of this blog will know we have an abiding fascination with what technology may bring in the far flung future (see our The Coming Age of Augmentation post and, most recently, Greg Anderson on Asimov’s First Law).

    So it’ll be no surprise to hear we got *extremely* excited when an invite arrived, courtesy of Google, to attend a screening of Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man at the Science Museum in London, followed by a Q&A with the director and the film’s subject, the futurist, author and engineer Ray Kurzweil. Read full post

  • Status of Africa: Lend Your Facebook Status For Mother’s Day

    1st April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Author: Romy Miller, Team Director, BBH London

    It’s Mother’s Day in the UK this weekend and it seems a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of some of the difficulties many mothers face in the most marginalised communities of Africa, via a new release of our Status of Africa Facebook app for AMREF, Africa’s leading health development charity.

    You may remember that we did something similar last year – the difference this year is that we’re focussing just on women – mothers, in fact. Maternal health is a huge issue: every year 280,000 African mothers die unnecessarily in pregnancy and childbirth because they lack basic medical care. AMREF is working to change this by trying to ensure no woman dies whilst giving life.

    The Facebook app gives users the chance to choose a real African mother or midwife that AMREF works with and to share their status or Twitter account with them for 5 days. The app automatically updates the users’ status twice a day with their chosen African mother or midwife. The status updates were written based on true case studies. The stories shared by the women are real. Read full post

  • Between Fantasy & Reality: Dels’ “Trumpalump” Promo

    31st March 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in music, online video

    Author: EmmaLou Johnson (@emmaloujohnson), for Mint Source (@mint_source)

    YouTube Preview Image

    The promo for Dels’ “Trumpalump” looks at the space between fantasy and reality and very cleverly focuses on a line from the track, as the directors behind the promo explain it:

    “Our process of generating ideas always starts with the lyrics. With Dels it helps massively that his lyrics create such vivid images, for example in Trumpalump we took inspiration from his line ‘do we dream in colour or black and white?’..” ….ooh, how very Inception.

    It’s directed by us, AKA Christopher Barrett & Luke Taylor, double D&AD award winners, who also run their own multi-disciplinary graphic design and branding studio, alongside shooting promos and commercials with Academy Films.

    You must watch the promo through to the end, as the more it goes on, the cleverer it gets. Shot on a shoestring, made possible by using mates (the twin girls are friends of Dels) and by doing everything in-camera…no possibility of an Inception-style post prod budget in the promo world these days! And that’s precisely what makes the piece so exciting and inventive. Out goes budget; in comes creativity.

    If you like this, check out the Making Of too:

    YouTube Preview Image

    Mintsource is BBH’s internal initiative to provide BBH with an opportunity to seeing fresh, alternative and up and coming talent.  A kind of director’s showcase for the ‘unusual suspects’ in the film directing and animation world.

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