2nd August 13
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Like many people I was amused by Rory Sutherland’s recent piece in The Spectator, in which he suggested it might be a smart strategy for Agencies to recruit graduates with lower class degrees.
Sutherland argues that there is no evidence that ‘recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds’. Graduates with lower class degrees are in fact undervalued by the market and as a result they’re less expensive and more loyal.
I thought I might contribute my own perspective to the debate and indeed my own trusty Recruitment Tool:
In my many years of working with Strategists, I have established that very smart people can reduce highly complex conundra into quite simple challenges. In this respect they have something in common with the less-than-intelligent, who see the world simply despite its many sophistications.
I have also observed that those with moderate-to-medium levels of intelligence can perceive complexity in every aspect of every problem.
This has led me to conclude that the only useful Strategists are fools or geniuses….
9th July 13
Posted in Brands
AUTHOR: JIM CARROLL, CHAIRMAN, BBH LONDON
‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’
The Second Coming – WB Yeats
For as long as I can remember things have been falling apart. Fragmenting, segmenting,
empowering. Devolving, diffusing, decoupling. Subdividing, subcontracting, subbranding. Ever more channels, audiences, tools and platforms. Ever more markets, stakeholders, structures and roles.
I feel that for the entirety of my career we have been seeking coherence in an ever more fragmented world. Endeavouring to establish order in the disorder, to shape the sometimes shapeless, to find patterns in the mayhem of modern marketing.
In my early days we were arguing for campaigns not executions, continuity not chaos. Fighting against ‘goldfish advertising’.
Then as channels disbursed, as tasks multiplied, as Clients centralised, we advocated The Big Idea: the conceptual glue that held the brand together, that gave it a collective purpose. In time I also became a convert to the unifying power of the aesthetic, to the harmonising force of visual identity.
Of course the quest for coherence sometimes felt like swimming against the tide. It came with a loss of spontaneity, at a cost to creative freedom, with the risk of regimentation. But I always felt that coherence was worth it. Because I believed in the active, authorial, unitary brand; in a brand that brought more to the table than a willingness to please; in a brand that meant something to everyone, not anything to anyone.
I have occasionally wondered whether we were wrong. Perhaps we should concede that ultimately the centre really cannot hold. Perhaps in the age of the social web we should let go of the tiller, move with the tide, submit the brand to the ebb and flow of consumer needs and desires, whims and passions; liberate it from its corporate shackles to find its own articulation in the mouths of the crowd.
But I think I’m quite a conservative bloke. I can’t relinquish my belief in the unitary brand, however fragmentary its experience. And curiously the social web, with all its wild diversity and anarchic soul, has also given hope to Coherents like me.
‘Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.’
Marshall McLuhan – Introduction to Understanding Media (1964)
As a young Planner in the early ’90s I read Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, a book written the year I was born. I wanted to learn about the thinking behind such legendary phrases as ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘the global village’. I discovered a whole lot more. It was an ambitious, lyrical, imaginative work. It was brilliantly passionate, fantastical,
I was particularly struck by the image of man in the electronic age extending his central nervous system beyond the constraints of physical form to reach out across the world. Wow! It was pure science fiction, of course, but it was a beautiful thought. Some years later I realised McLuhan had been predicting the arrival of the Internet…
The image of a world wide central nervous system has remained attractive to a lifelong believer in brand coherence. Because it’s an image that can be applied as much to brands as to people and things. It suggests that brands can embrace a glue more powerful than any corporate structure, conceptual definition or visual identity. Modern brands are finally capable of creating their own neural networks, their own central nervous systems.
So of course we should be introducing connectivity to everything we do right now, right the way across the path to purchase. Of course we should all be designing brand ecosystems and ecologies with bold, bright enthusiasm. Because at last we can see the reality of neurally networked brands which are sensitive, responsive and feeling. Brands which learn, think and evolve. And above all brands which are coherent and whole.Perhaps the centre can hold after all.
8th July 13
Posted in Brands
AUTHOR: MICHELLE GILSON, STRATEGIST, BBH LONDON
I have always been a fan of observational comedy. Before I knew what Planning was. Before I even knew what I wanted to be. But reassuringly I once was told that good planners are like good comedians, in that they pick up on insightful human truths and deliver them in a captivating way. If I become the Peter Kay of Planning one day, I’ll die happy.
I recently saw the comedienne Sarah Milligan’s tour broadcast on TV. She had a brilliant phrase which stuck with me. “In life people are either bumper cars or dodgems”. Of course they are the same thing. But the point she was making was some people prefer to navigate life, whilst others prefer to push from the front. Personally, I lean more to the former. But beyond that, it got me thinking about how I view brands.
My whole life I’ve always been attracted to brands that set out to include me, as opposed to those that showed me the way. Growing up I was never taken with Nike ads, nor with Apple, nor Virgin. Instead I always warmed to brands like Dulux, Tesco, Ikea, Coca Cola and British Airways. The deliberately inclusive brands that made me feel welcome and at home.
Our CEO Ben Fennell posted here recently asking ‘what kind of leader are you?’ His point was that the business world goes round thanks to quite different types of leadership. Are you a nurturer or a visionary, an operator or a warrior and so on? And the same is true, it strikes me, for brands that are leaders in their categories.
Judging on how they behave and make me feel, I believe there are two classic categories of brand leader: Empathetic vs Emphatic. The former want a dialogue and seek to communicate in a way that relates closely to their audiences’ lives. Emphatic leaders, by contrast, tend to enshrine their own vision and qualities. ‘Buy me and you’re saying something about who you are’, says the Emphatic brand. ‘Buy me because we understand who you are’, replies the Empathetic brand.
Of course I’m not saying one is better than the other. Both friends have benefits. While Empathetic leaders offer a caring, accepting and optimistic tone of voice, the empathic brands will ooze confidence, inspiration and authority. They can be useful, even a source of inspiration, in different ways:
And while empathetic leaders behave in a fun, inclusive way, emphatic leaders always feel dynamic, adventurous and unpredictable:
My Dad used to say “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” when it comes to picking a partner. But truthfully that analogy feels too extreme when applied to our relationships with brands (probably due to significantly reduced commitment when it comes to purchase and consumption).
And yet I’d wager most of us do want both spicy and safe in our lives. And often we won’t look to one person to provide everything, we’ll pick and choose friends, family and a partner that offer different qualities. And, accordingly, even thought I’m an Empathetic brand lover at heart, I confess I shall probably get some glee next time I’m forced to wear my Nike’s to the gym, or light up my iPhone. And further more, may even attempt to bump some cars next time at the fair, rather than dodge them.
7th June 13
Author: Nick Fell, Strategy Director
Last week we launched the Storytime Hangout app for Google+. Built in collaboration with Penguin, it allows families to share the story of Three Billy Goats Gruff over a hangout, whether they’re at home or away from one and other. Not only that but everyone participating can become characters in the story with masks overlayed onto their faces.
It’s early days but the app seems to have caught people’s imaginations and we’re excited about the potential to adapt further stories to be read in this way.
The project was driven forward with unwavering determination by a team of people at BBH and Penguin. We’ve also had great support from the team at Google.
We wanted to share with you our experiences of developing the app and highlight three things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Proactive projects require a laser-focus
We developed Storytime Hangout without an official brief. A small group of us at BBH had been discussing the massive potential of Google+ Hangouts to bring people closer together in some new and interesting ways. We were all passionate enough about the opportunity to spend some of our own time exploring ideas that would augment the experience of a Hangout even further. Storytime Hangout was the best idea of a long list. Proactively developing, building and launching an app in the spare moments in our days has been even more challenging than we expected. We’ve learned the hard way that to succeed means getting behind one idea early and be ruthless with the feature set.
2. Insight before tech
With such a wealth of technology at one’s disposal, it’s never been easier to create and launch an idea. The trap is to build something just because you can. What makes one experience more successful than another still comes down to an understanding of people; their hopes, dreams and behaviour. In our own experiences and in talking to other parents, it was clear that story time was one of the most enjoyable and important moments a parent can share with their children. The problem was that distance and other distractions often got in the way. It’s early days, but we’re hoping that a focus on problem-solving and not tech experimentation alone will encourage people to keep coming back to the app on Google+.
3. Stick by your principles
Technology is transforming publishing. Books are being bought and read in new ways and publishers have to adapt to how they market and distribute their intellectual property. Children’s literature is a particularly dynamic industry. Parents now have access to a wealth of content, apps and games to keep the kids entertained, much of which is freely available on the web. In adapting a children’s story for consumption online we wanted to ensure that we promoted the magic of storytelling. This informed our entire approach to developing the app. Words are central to the experience and we have tried to use technology in a way that augments, not distracts from, the reading of the book.
30th May 13
Posted in dataAuthor: Adam Powers, Head of User ExperienceThe always prescient KPCB analyst has published her state of the Internet Paper for 2013 and, as ever, it makes for a stimulating read.- whilst smartphone and tablet penetration is rampant, Mary suggests the future is all about, “…wearables, drivables, flyables and scannables.”. That last category includes the shocking revelation that QR codes are popular somewhere – 9 million scanned per month in China!- In fact China is the place to watch for innovation and developing trends. Mobile internet access and search have already surpassed desktop use in the land of Alibaba. (Whose business is now surpassing Amazon.) China also added 264m Internet users between 2008 and 2012, more than any other country.- Mobile is the platform of choice for content upload, and right now photos are the thing. A staggering 500m of them uploaded every day but expect video, sound and data to get in on the act very quickly.- the average smartphone user grabs their fondlebox upwards of 150 times per day. Significant for wearable tech opportunities but mouth-watering for mobile advertisers – Meeker identifies a $20 billion opportunity right there.Check out her slide share deck:
1st May 13
Posted in strategyAuthor: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH LondonThis is an edited version of a piece I wrote a while back for the APG. Reprinted with permission.It is a melancholy truth that the more expert I have become, the less my expertise is valued. I recognise that this may be because my dusty tales of Levi’s watchpockets,strategic chords and yin yangs lose a little of their lustre with every passing year. And I suspect I’m not pronouncing SXSW with convincing emphasis. But it may also be because Clients no longer come to me for expertise. Or at least not the expertise I imagined I had to offer.I had always thought that we Planners were akin to strategic doctors. We assessed the patients’ symptoms, we prescribed treatment, we arrived at prognoses. I imagined that sitting in four reviews a day, year after year, gave us a special authority on the anatomy of communication. I’m sure there was a time when my Clients nodded gratefully as we offered sage counsel. The blinding insight, the lyrical proposition, the Damascene conversion…There was, wasn’t there?… But modern Clients are more strategically and creatively confident than ever before. They have their own strategy departments, they’re closer to their own data, they work across more channels than most of us.They go on creative role reversal courses…I’m really not sure they come to us primarily to listen to our opinion. And I have to say sometimes nowadays it’s difficult getting a word in edgeways.It’s true, I have considered an alternative career as a bus conductor. And when the 25 year old Millward Brown consultant’s opinion carries more weight, I find myself yearning for a passing Routemaster. But advertising people are inherently positive. And so I reconsider…I am increasingly of the view that Clients don’t come to us for medicine; they come to us for therapy. And I suspect that our value resides, not as strategic doctors, but as strategic psychoanalysts.Often a successful modern Client engagement is not unlike a session of analysis. Clients begin with problems. They verbalise their thoughts, they make free associations, they express their fantasies and dreams. We listen, we interpret, we consider the unconscious conflicts that are causing their problems. We help them reach solutions through a process of self realisation.Freud, in addressing the unconscious, talked about the need to ‘unearth buried cities’. This doesn’t sound too alien to brand planning.I should at this point issue a health warning. I’m a Planner from Romford. Whilst I enjoyed Keira Knightley’s performance in A Dangerous Method, I can’t claim any particular knowledge of psychoanalysis . For me it’s just an illuminating analogy. Besides, if we were too literal about this, we’d never look a Client in the eye. And I suspect that’s a sure fire way to lose business…Let us nonetheless consider some of the basic principles that would derive from a psychoanalytic approach to Client engagement…Set out on a quest for meaning, not cure. The answers to most problems reside in the minds of the Client. We are enabling self knowledge,helping them to create their own narratives.Behave as a participant observer, not a detached expert. Analysis only works if we embark on it together, as willing equals.Embrace free association. Often we are too quick to impose order on our Clients’ challenges. Bear in mind that fantasies and dreams can illuminate unconscious conflicts.Remember, everything has meaning. Be attentive to behaviour,body language, choice of words and phrases.Look for meaningful patterns. Consider consistencies,
symmetries,repetition. Probe for the meaning within the pattern.Our time is up..I used to believe there was only one correct answer to every problem. Now I believe there are many correct answers. The challenge is to establish the correct answer that best suits the Client’s character and personality. Anais Nin famously once said: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are’. I’m sure this maxim applies as much to strategy as it does to creative.
26th April 13
Author: Ben Fennell, CEO, BBH London
As I write, we’ve just completed a six month, ‘in house’ course on Leadership for 30 of BBH’s finest. The course is a tangible acknowledgement that leadership skills are not simply ‘picked up’ over time. But that they have to be developed, they have to be taught, they have to be learnt.
Throughout my career I’ve been a keen student. I’ve always tried to observe, emulate and customise the leadership behaviours I most admire. From mentors, from clients, from within BBH, from history, politics and sport.
There are a couple of interesting things about our course:
- It is totally bespoke to BBH, by that I mean it is focused on developing the skills and tools to succeed in our culture.
- It is cross discipline, so in attendance are strategists, suits, producers, and those historically reluctant trainees, CDs.
- It is personal, because leadership always is. I invited the 16 speakers, 13 BBH and 3 clients, to talk about the leadership attribute that I most associate them with, eg ‘making good and bad decisions’, ‘leadership in tough times’, ‘creating positive pressure’.
- Having been exposed to a whole series of very personal, and very diverse leadership orthodoxies, one has come out head and shoulders above all others.
The power of difference. All the delegates have told me that a better understanding of their own unique strengths, and a strategy to amplify those, is the key to creating higher impact, and greater followership in the workplace.
Despite almost all of the delegates’ pre course perceptions to the contrary, they have found that BBH is packed with a range of very different types of leaders.
I think this has probably always been the case at BBH. It was the complimentary differences in personality type, style and delivery that made our founders John, Nigel and John such a compelling cocktail.
It is interesting to me that, somehow, as we’ve grown, people have started to believe that there is only one way to lead and succeed at BBH, one leadership archetype: competitive, quality obsessed and, yes, relentlessly dissatisfied.
People like myself may well have propagated that myth. Which is ironic, because I know exactly how much I depend on the difference offered to me by my closest partners. Leaders with any sense of self awareness learn quickly to assemble a team that complements their strengths and compensates for their weaknesses.
One simple example. I think in metaphors and references from sport and film while Jim Carroll, our UK Chairman, uses renaissance art and soul music. I want our people to be exposed to both, and a hundred more besides.
Jim spoke at my 40th, he stood in front of 100 people, only 10 of whom he knew and who knew him. It would be fair to say that it was a fairly rowdy and sporty crowd. He won over his audience, and nailed me with his opening line:
“Ben and I share not one personality trait”. Genius.
And that’s the point. I want our company to be filled with all kinds of different leaders: visionaries, operators, closers, nurturers, warriors, enthusiasts, rocks.
It’s the celebration of difference that makes a culture powerful and unique. It is the managed tension between different types of thinkers and personalities, that gets us to our best answers. I urge every new joiner to “keep their edges”.
I think it was Warren G Bennis that famously said that “Failing organisations are usually over managed and under led.”At BBH we want more leadership, in all its forms, at every level of our company.
I am always energised when I face the company and see a whole new cohort coming through.
I wonder if the next great horizon for our business should be less defined by our outputs: digital, social, CSR. And more by our inputs. By developing a generation of industry leaders to inspire staff, clients, and most important of all, the consumer.
The longer I do my job the more I believe that ‘Inspiration’ is the petrol you put into the tank of a creative business. It’s our fuel. It is leadership’s most fundamental obligation.
Of one thing I am certain. You can’t possibly inspire others unless you are 100 percent clear about the single question we started, and have focused, our whole course on:
‘What kind of leader do you want to be?’
19th March 13
The second of series of reports from Austin, by a few lucky BBH SXSW survivors.
Author: Helen Lawrence, Strategist, BBH Labs & BBH London
The most recurring topic of conversation in Austin during SXSW isn’t the future of technology, it isn’t the principles of responsive design and it certainly isn’t what makes something viral. It’s meat. What meat to have in your breakfast taco, what meat to choose for your lunchtime ribs and what meat should top your dinnertime hot dog (I can’t believe Tim didn’t mention this in his SXSW reflections!). This is a town dominated by BBQ joints and smoking shacks. I fear that after five days there I may have the incredibly sexy combination of scurvy and gout:
However, we have a problem. One hundred thousand years ago humans still needed 2000 calories a day to function. Back then, to produce that 2000 calories we’d get through 1800 to find and produce something to nibble on. Fast forward to today’s brisket loving era and it takes 200,000 calories to produce those same 2000 calories. Our food production habits are screwed up. We waste everything: energy, resources and it even the food itself once we’ve got it to that juicy, edible point. It’s not at all sustainable. We’re messing it up, and we’re doing it quickly.
So – who is the obvious person to turn to in order to solve this problem? An astronaut of course. Nothing beats an astronaut. Ahem.
The 100 Year Starship project is using the question of interstellar space travel to get to an answer:
“We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. We unreservedly dedicate ourselves to identifying and pushing the radical leaps in knowledge and technology needed to achieve interstellar flight, while pioneering and transforming breakthrough applications that enhance the quality of life for all on Earth.”
If we’re going to have to consider exploration outside of our solar system we’re going to have think a little beyond a simply bigger rocket. One self sustaining pod hurtling through the sky; it has to keep a bunch of humans alive for a century, stop them killing each other and prevent them from getting hungry.
The space race in the 60s was a tangible one: getting to the moon is a challenge that could be imagined and solved. The 100 Year Starship Project wants to set a challenge that trickles down solutions into our own fuzzy planet in the same way. The space race has given us some of the biggest everyday technologies we use now: scratch resistant lenses, GPS and water filters for example. By posing some of the biggest societal and sustainability questions out there and considering how we’d achieve them to last 100 years in space, we can hope for properly realistic solutions to the things we’re messing up at the moment.
Meat is a big one, clothes are another. It’s a terribly energy intensive hobby. We make too many, we own too many, we wash too many and we don’t recycle nearly enough. 100 years at our current clothing rates would need a lot of wardrobes up on our space ship, not to mention cotton fields, plastics factories and silk worms. We can’t take clothes to space, despite them being such a core part of our creative identity as humans – one solution put forward by the 100 Year Starship project includes reusable sheets that we project clothes onto, allowing us to change them whenever we like.
Back to the bovines. As much as I love the idea of cows in space, wearing little cow shaped astronaut helmets, it just can’t happen. ‘Fake meat’ companies are popping up all over the place, even Twitter co founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams are investing. That’s one possible solution for our 100 Year Spaceship. What else is there?
I like the 100 Year Starship project. It frames a problem into a great story. Mae Jemison, a brilliant astronaut, told the SXSW audience that we should tell better stories, ones that inspire and ones that can bring about social change. The project neatly frames sustainability into something we can picture. There are no cheats when you’re somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. So many of our so called sustainable solutions aren’t that at all. We feel we’re doing well when actually the problem is just popping up somewhere else. You can’t do that on a spaceship.
This makes me ruminate a bit on brand strategy – we talk a lot here about strategy being the art of sacrifice. What would you sacrifice in your brand armoury if forced to focus on the essentials? And would your brand get a spot on the starship in the first place? Is it ducking and diving, pushing superfluous issues elsewhere? Perhaps not being quite as sustainable or transparent as it could be? Whack it in a bubble and put it in space: it’s a good way to test it.
I’m excited about the 100 Year Spaceship. The hippies and the astronauts are getting it on. And damn, it’s even sexier than gout.
26th February 13
Posted in Insight
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
I recently saw the Bob Marley documentary that came out last year. Insightful, inspirational, touching stuff.
I was quite struck by a story relating to The Wailers’ early career in Kingston. Their manager would take them to rehearse late at night in the local cemetery. He believed that if they could conquer their fear of ‘duppies’ (spirits), they could also conquer any stage fright.
We often talk of advertising as a business fuelled by confidence. And it’s true. Confidence gives you the courage to be honest, to be different, to challenge conventions. Confidence is the foundation of sustained success.
But I have also found that the reverse is true: agencies run on fear.
Fear of corporate change, competitive threat and Client whim. Fear of forgetting, of fluffing one’s lines. Fear of fashion, of falling behind and falling apart. Fear of failure. Fear that the latest success may be the last. Fear of complacency, of hubris. Fear of lost relevance. Fear of irrelevance. Fear of redundancy. Not just losing your job, but losing your utility. Fear that your best years are behind you. And your worst meeting is in front of you.
As Nigel Bogle has been wont to warn, even in the good years, ‘We’re three phone calls away from disaster’.
I still go into every presentation with an awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach. And under sustained pressure I develop painfully itchy shins. Hardly the romance of a saint’s stigmata. Faintly ridiculous really. But nonetheless a physical manifestation of stress, anxiety, doubt.
John Hegarty once bumped into our Levi’s Client in Reception. The Client said he was worried because the proposed print route was a bit risky. Rather than reassure him that it wasn’t at all dangerous, John said, ‘You’re right. It is risky. I’m worried it might even be a mistake, possibly a disaster.’ And then he marched briskly on to his next meeting.
I think a successful business should be fuelled by confidence, but oiled by fear. The one delivers ambition, the other insures against complacency. I’m drawn to the same qualities in people too: I like enthusiasm, appetite ,optimism; tempered by a little self doubt, angst and humility. (‘Once a Catholic…’, I guess…)
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
But whilst fear in moderation may be useful, attractive even, fear in excess is paralysing, corrosive. You see it in the eyes of the team whose competence has been questioned, whose business has been put up for pitch, whose job is on the line.
So I suspect we could still do with a little singing in the cemetery. We still need a means to confront our darkest paranoias, to defeat our deepest doubts. Of course in a modern, sanitised age we don’t have ‘duppies’, ghosts and ghouls. Maybe, post Freud, just articulating our misgivings is healthy. Maybe we ought to give more time to sharing our angst, anxieties, apprehensions.
Maybe I’m just singing in the cemetery right now…