Mel Exon

Running BBH Labs, based in London.

Nick Gill: 10 Things I’ve Learned That Might Help

This piece was originally published in Creative Circle’s 2012 Annual last month. It’s packed full of advice from the great and the good, with special mention to our own John Hegarty and also to Ben Kay on how to write an advertising blog. You can buy a copy of the annual in magazine form here.

Author: Nick Gill, Executive Creative Director, BBH London

Weeble shot & designed by secretfunspot

‘Creative’. I’ve never really come to terms with this word. The very notion that some people are defined as creative, whether by trade or persuasion, I still find strange. Even if I wasn’t creative the last thing I’d do is admit to it.

When I was at school I never thought of myself as a creative person. Just someone who could draw and paint quite well. And these basic skills would be my ticket out of obscurity.

But growing up I soon realised that for all my talent I was never going to be an artist. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough. I just wasn’t made that way.

Because someone had tuned my brain to solving problems. Give me a blank sheet of paper and I’d break out in a cold sweat. Ask me to draw a picture that included a giraffe, a lawn mower and a magic carpet and I’d enjoy working out how to cunningly weave these three seemingly disparate objects into one satisfying image.

I went to art college in Manchester. I stood in the graphic design studio on day one, waiting for a tutor to read out my name. But it never happened. This is because they had me down for another course. One entitled ‘Design for communication media’. ‘What’s that when it’s at home?’ I enquired. ‘Advertising’ came the reply. And that’s how I got into this business. I fell into it. Like a drunk tripping over a chair leg and landing in the arms of Charlize Theron. I am one lucky bastard.

Because advertising is a great career. And ‘creative’ is a truly wonderful way to go through life. To make money out of your imagination is as exciting as it is scary.

What have I learned from my time in the business? Here are a few things that might help. (more…)

#KeepAaronCutting – A Year On

Author: Mareka Carter, Creative, BBH London

Today, Monday 6th August, is the one year anniversary of the London riots. With the eyes of the world turning to London once again, this time for our moment of Olympic glory, we have fantastic news to report.

All your generosities from all over the world at the time of the London riots raised so much money that we were not only able to refurbish Aaron’s barber shop, and bolster him a bit with his loss of earnings, but we had enough left over to help others in the Tottenham community as well. It was Aaron’s wish, (and our delight) that we support projects for young people, showing that youth are far from the enemy, but the future that needs nurturing.

We have worked with the fabulous Kay Horne of Business In The Community (BITC, and pictured below with Aaron) to find recipients for the money that were appropriate. Kay has been tirelessly supporting the regeneration of Tottenham since the riots, and her BITC role will take her through until March and hopefully longer. She’s a smiley face that the people of Tottenham have come to trust and love, and almost as much of a local celebrity as Aaron!

So it was with great pleasure recently that we met with Aaron at the shop, and hosted representatives from the projects we have chosen to benefit from the funds – sharing more than £10,000 in fact. They are:

The Highway Youth Club at Bruce Grove Youth Club – this is a Dinner Club that feeds disadvantaged kids in the area and keeps them off the streets with loads of forms of entertainment. It makes sure they are set up properly to embrace their futures. Aaron spent his entire childhood in a youth club called Oxford & St. George’s in the Jewish East End, that provided everything for needy families, and he has a strong belief in it giving him the best start in life and skills he needed to survive.

The Dandelion Project is a young citizens’ journalism project, which we chose because of the media connections to the Keep Aaron Cutting Project. We wanted to show that youth and social media could be used positively for good, and the Dandelion Project has the same aim. Their kids are going to come down and do a piece on Aaron.

The People’s World Youth Club is an organisation that helps kids focus their energies through creativity and self-expression & exploration of the world and its cultures. We were very attracted by a project that helps kids focus their talents around working together to create. People’s World are hard at work on their Carnival float right now, which will be creatively themed around the riots of last year.

Aaron also attended a lunch at a week-long event for young entrepreneurs that we supported, which was held at his beloved Spurs football club. It was run by NTYE, which is the Network for Teaching Young Entrepreneurs – the organisation gives young people business skills to work for themselves, as Aaron has done since he was 12 years old.

As you can see, Aaron was on great form when he met the youth club representatives, speaking Ghanian with Pastor Alex from Highway, and full of stories to relate to Fiona, the young journalist from Dandelion. And he was chuffed to visit Spurs.

As ever, the shop is open for business and social chatter from 6am-12:30pm Monday to Saturday, and business in Tottenham is still slow (you might have seen Aaron on BBC’s The One Show on 20th July, with other Tottenham traders and residents), so we’d encourage you to visit for a haircut. You’ll be very much welcomed, without a doubt.

Thank you once again to everyone who made this wonderful conclusion possible, we are very proud of London and the world for their efforts, and, equally so, the little corner of Tottenham.

A version of this post first appeared on Keep Aaron Cutting at the end of July.

#London2012 – an early look at the ‘Social Games’

Author: Vicki Maggs (@maggsy), Digital Analyst, BBH London

As we’ve all heard repeatedly, London 2012 has been anticipated as “The most social Olympic Games yet”, and it’s easy to see why. Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Facebook users have grown 800%, Twitter users by over 8000% and Youtube videos are now generating 72 hours of video per minute. Not to mention the launch and growth of Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and Foursquare.

Friday night saw the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games with 26.9 million UK viewers tuned in. According to Twitter, this one night alone generated more tweets than the entire duration of the 2008 Beijing Games – 9.66 Million.

Using Sysomos, we found over 840,000 tweets tagged the #openingceremony with the peak of conversation occurring on Mr Bean’s entrance. Interestingly, he was also the most discussed topic of conversation (aside from mentions of Danny Boyle @DannyBoyleFilms) – being picked up all around the world as a successful nod to British culture and humour. Mr Bean gained a very positive response with 97% of conversation favourable. (more…)

The Planner / Creative Relationship: Results

Authors: Fran Hazeldine, Head of Strategy and Pelle Sjoenell, Executive Creative Director, BBH LA

[slideshare id=13692036&doc=plannercreativesurveyresults-120719040321-phpapp02]

A few weeks ago we asked Planners and Creatives from a range of agency backgrounds to fill out a short survey about the Planner / Creative relationship.

As promised, we’ve got some results to share. If you like your slides with added innuendo, our Planningness presentation is available here. But it’s quite minimalist and really needs the voice over, so we’ve summarized the main findings below.

A few notes on the sample

The 324 respondents were a mixture of self-selecting BBH Labs readers, people from our extended professional networks and anyone else we could persuade to take part. So there are probably all sorts of research effects that mean you shouldn’t take any of the results as hard fact – more food for thought and discussion.

What do we know about the survey respondents? Not surprisingly, we had more Planners than Creatives. And the Creatives tended to be more experienced and male. There was also a heavy North American and European skew across the board.

But despite collecting a mass of demographic info, the results we’re sharing are not split out by gender, age or region. We tried cutting the data along these lines, but any variation was remarkably unremarkable. So instead we’ve focused on the simple comparison between Planners and Creatives, which turned up some much juicier stats. (more…)

Last month Google asked me along to their Creative Sandbox in Cannes to give a ‘lightning talk’ about ‘something I was particularly interested in’. Luckily, they gave me just 15 minutes to speak or we would have been there all day in the baking heat.. Thank you to everyone who came along and asked lots of questions afterwards – here, for what it’s worth, is a record of what got discussed.

I’d like to talk about 2-3 things here, loosely connected by a theme around how and why we should keep contributing to, using and building the open web:

1. The Guardian, the UK newspaper (a client of BBH London) and their ‘open journalism’ positioning.
2. A project we’re developing at BBH Labs called
3. A postscript on how we like to work here and what “open and constant learning” means in practice.

But first, some brief scene-setting: we’re all familiar with the debate that has raged and continues to do so about the open web – but why should we care? (more…)

Going for Gold

Author: Ross Berthinussen, Strategy Director, BBH London

At 11 o’clock this morning, we premiered the launch ad for our new Olympic campaign for British Airways on Facebook. At 7.35pm GMT this evening, it will be broadcast to the UK, just before kick off in England’s critical, final group game in the Euros.

The campaign is a rallying cry for Britain to stay at home during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to support the national team. Just this once, when its country needs it most, when the Olympic Games comes to London, Britain’s national airline is telling Britain not to fly.

Even with its tongue in cheek tone, it’s a bold move. I thought I’d share some of the thinking behind the campaign and some things we’ve learned along the way.

[youtube width=”530″ height=”315″][/youtube]

Be confident

We’ve had a turbulent journey with BA over the last six and a half years. We’ve been with them through the PR disaster of T5, fog, volcanic ash, the recession and industrial disputes. But right now, confidence is high. They have new leadership, they’re financially solid after the merger with American and they’re reinvesting in the customer.

Our communication has had a job to do to help restore this confidence – to rebuild pride inside the organisation and the emotional connection the nation has with its flag carrier.

In September last year, the airline recommitted to “To Fly. To Serve”, a motto that has lived in the organisation for over fifty years, with a campaign that celebrated the people who live their lives by this ethos. We followed this fast with a campaign in February that heroed the BA team who were ready to welcome the world to London for the Olympics.

Our body language over this time has been critical. To instil confidence we had to act with confidence. We bought big TV spots, press insertions and outdoor sites. We had the confidence to lighten up. We featured an orangutan and racing baggage in our ads. This summer billboards across London will rally Britain, “Don’t Fly. Support Team GB”.

Build in reward

We hope people are going to lean into this idea: we’ve got a series of high profile TV spots this week to build conversation; with the British Olympic Association’s backing we’ve persuaded members of Team GB and Paralympics GB to share the ad – so a lot of people will hear about it first from the athletes; and hopefully the nature of the idea will spark interest and debate.

So we wanted to build reward in for those who want to get a bit closer.

We’ve created a customisable version of the TV ad online in which you can enter your postcode and, using the Google Streetview API, watch a version of the film with the plane taking a detour down your street. To premiere the ad this morning, BA’s facebook community were asked to first enter their postcode to receive a personalised version of the film.

We’ve made a documentary with Michael Johnson, Sir Clive Woodward, Denise Williams and Shelly Woods, that explores the difference it makes for sports people to compete on home soil with a nation behind them.

[youtube width=”530″ height=”315″][/youtube]

The ad itself has scenes that reward multiple viewing – like the old lady onboard who checks the time on her watch as she passes Big Ben.

And we might have made a short film that suggests there might have actually been a plane driving through Richmond Park – whilst making a nod to the Fenton viral.

[youtube width=”530″ height=”315″][/youtube]

Do vs. say

We obsess a lot at BBH about getting to different kinds of ideas. Asking what can we do, rather than what can we say, seemed a good place to start here. The creative brief for this idea was, “what can we do to show our support for Team GB?”

Have a point of view, start a conversation

We got to the idea of telling Britain not to fly early. It became grounded when we listened to an ex Olympian talk about the concept of the home advantage. This gave the brand a point of view on the Games and the guts of our campaign. All our activity invites you to join in with #homeadvantage.

Get everyone onboard

There are over 40,000 people working at BA. There was a chance that they might not like us telling people not to fly. We needed them to understand that this was the ultimate expression of our support for Team GB, that it would help build the brand and that people wouldn’t take us too literally. So BA have been running a huge internal programme to get them onside and share the thinking behind the campaign.

Think tactically

We’re telling people not to fly but we still need to sell flights. Whilst we can’t be seen to promote travel over the Games we can offer money off flights and holidays to get away afterwards – this idea actually came from our client in the meeting when we first shared the idea.

Be generous (and dodge the tornado)

You have two fears developing a campaign as an Olympic sponsor. One, that you will appear cynical, simply piggybacking on the event for your own gain. Two, that you will be swept up in the tornado of other sponsors (and hi-jackers) vying for people’s attention and time. Brands trying to claim that they are also faster, higher, stronger. Or showcasing athletes using their products.

This campaign builds on a series of things BA have been doing over the last few years to support Team GB and Paralympics GB, including flying the team and its equipment around the world, which has built credibility in this space. We hope that this Olympics, by zagging when everyone zigs, by having the courage to admit that the fortune of the British team is more important than buying our product, we will not only dodge the tornado but be seen as genuinely contributing to the performance of the British Team.

Thank yous

We couldn’t have got here without a brilliant relationship with a very brave client, a talented BBH team and the support of a tight team of agency and production partners including Zenith Optimedia, IMG, Cake, 12th Floor, Partizan, Framestore, Stitch, Angell Sound, Black Sheep Music, Google and Paul Zak at Burnham Niker.

(And, it goes without saying, if you’re British and reading this, please consider staying at home and supporting Team GB and Paralympics GB during the Games. Your support could be the difference between silver and gold).

Dance Lessons

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

Asphodel Meadows, choreographed by Liam Scarlett

I attended a talk by the top Royal Ballet choreographer and dancer, Liam Scarlett. He is only 26, but he has already choreographed two exceptional ballets for the main stage at Covent Garden. And he still finds time to dance in the company.

Scarlett was discussing how he approached creating his 2011 work, Asphodel Meadows, around a particular piece of music, Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto. One could be intimidated, he said, by the scale and complexity of the Concerto. Where to start? How to break into the task? Whereas with narrative ballet there is a natural sequencing to follow, with an abstract work there is no obvious entry point. He explained that his own process was first to identify the ‘epicentre’ of the music, its emotional core. He knew that if he could just design the pas de deux around a particular romantic passage in the second movement, everything else would follow. Having got to the emotional heart of the music, he could work outwards to the rest of the piece.

I am often in meetings nowadays when a Client demands an idea that is media neutral, that extends across every channel, region, product and form of engagement. All the colours, in all the sizes.  Such a panoramic demand can be rather intimidating. And I have found that telling the Creative Department we need to cover the walls with ideas is not entirely helpful.

I suspect that, following Scarlett’s lead, the key to cracking this kind of challenge is not to consider it in its totality or in the abstract. Ideas tend to be born in the specific. The key is to find the epicentre of the task, to find its emotional heart. (more…)

Commercial Karma

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty,water colored memories
Of the way we were.

~ Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were

Barbara Streisland, image:

I attended the Damien Hirst show at the Tate Modern. Flies and fags, butterflies and bling, spin and spots, drugs and death… There. You don’t need to see it now.

I walked away somewhat hollow. I felt a pang of guilt and recognition. Guilt because Hirst was in many ways the adman’s artist. Art that came with a nudge, a wink and a knowing punchline. Art as quick hit, shiny bright, paper thin. Recognition because, yes, that was Britain in the ’90s. Spin doctors and Spice Girls, boy bands and man bags, heroin chic and Shabba Ranks, lads and Loaded, puffas and Prozac, Wonderbra and Wonderwall, alcopops and Posh & Becks. Fool Britannia…. There was no god, no beauty, no other. Just money and death and irony. Things could only get worse…

I’m not sure I blame Damien Hirst. I suspect he’s a very good artist. He was very effectively holding a mirror up to us and our values. Or lack of them. And I suspect each generation gets the art it deserves. Flies and fags was maybe all we were good for in the ’90s.

Don’t you also think that we get the advertising we deserve? As an Agency, as a Client, as a culture ? When we hark back to a golden hued, bygone age of celestial communication, are we not condemning our own failure to create greatness now? When the disappointed Client fires the disappointing Agency, isn’t he or she shirking personal responsibility? When we rail against cruel fate and happenstance, when we bemoan the recession, or reach for the blame gun, shouldn’t we be looking in the mirror first?

I believe in commercial karma. That, broadly speaking, in advertising as in life, we reap what we sow. That what goes around comes around. Not for some spiritual, counter cultural, gaia-type reason. But because, though it seems trite to say it, in the long run, smart, open minded Clients, working with intelligent, lateral Agencies, for honest, worthwhile brands, will make better, more effective work. And vice versa.

I guess I have witnessed exceptions to this. The craven creative, the malevolent marketing director, the bullying business director have on occasion won the day. But overall in my experience fakes are found out, charlatans are shopped. Good prevails.

Instant karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead

~ John Lennon, Instant Karma

John Lennon, image:

Of course in the past one had to wait for hubris to be followed by inevitable nemesis. Nowadays the social web has created a kind of instant karma. Because the courtroom of public opinion is so immediate and all seeing. It shines an unforgiving,instantaneous light on the ill conceived and poorly executed. It likewise rewards the virtuous with currency and value.

I had always believed that Corporate Social Responsibility was exactly that: a responsibility that a business owed to the communities it served. I wasn’t so enamoured of more fashionable phrases like social investment because I didn’t feel ethics needed commercial justification.  And I wasn’t convinced CSR had a role in marketing or brand.

Now I have been persuaded that ethics are more than a responsibility. They are fundamental to a brand’s sustainability in a transparent, socialised world. Because increasingly consumers are unwilling to buy good products from bad people. Because in a world of commercial karma only the good Clients, good admen and good brands can win.

‘Everything we know, is wrong’

How communication is consumed: West vs East, from "Everything we know, is wrong"

BBH Asia Pacific Chairman, Charles Wigley, and Rob Campbell of W+K delivered their joint talk “Everything we know, is wrong” at The Asia Marketing Effectiveness Festival in Shanghai last week. Asked to be provocateurs, their talk (slideshare below) smartly tackles five flawed notions in one fell swoop: from ‘tv is dead’, ‘brand love’, ‘everyone wants to join in’, ‘pre-testing makes everything better’ and finally ‘London and New York know absolutely everything’. At Labs we particularly enjoyed the provocation of the last theme, which struck us as something not discussed nearly enough on these pages. If you’re someone with a client or simply a keen interest in Asia (so all of us, then..), then may we suggest – if you do nothing else – reading slides 64-81 of Chaz and Rob’s presentation below.

[slideshare id=12671669&doc=ame2012presentation-120424105922-phpapp01]

As Chaz himself puts it:

“We had what we knew would be a crowd pleaser in the East where we have both lived and worked for years, but may be less of one in the West. We’ll see. We firmly believe it anyway. Specifically we took on the notion that ‘West knows best. If you believe that culture significantly influences how people look at and interact with the world, then there is ample evidence that it causes Asian – more collectivist – consumers to interact differently towards brands and to read communications differently. Academia and our business are just at the start of understanding this one. But it’s going to be big. Read Richard Nisbett’s ‘The Geography of Thought’.”

Chaz and Rob in action at AME 2012

Our top ten links of the past 7 days: 20 April 2012

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that we send out a email to BBH staff with 10 links we’ve liked over the past 7 days. We look for things that are provocative, challenging, useful, or just plain interesting. When we feel really good about the list, we post it to the blog. Here’s this week’s list. Feel free to let us know what we’re missing. The list is strongly influenced by what we tweet and what we put on our Google + page. Here goes:

Dr Techniko's extraordinary 'How To Train Your Robot' class

How To Train Your Robot – how DrTechniko teaches kids rudiments of programming logic (simple, genius): (via@endofu)

‘Innovation Isn’t Easy, Esp Midstream’ – @nickbilton on why Kodak were incapable of making Instagram: (via @Malbonnington)

Is this the digital fin de siècle? Has the old thing run its course? A provocative must read: (via @jayanandrajog)

“Meaninful” startups – @cdixon on evolutionary vs transformative entrepreneurialism:

‘Instagram as an island economy’ – @genmon asks how do you value a closed system? (HT @PatsMc)

‘We have confused productivity with acceleration’ – from interesting@lifehacker piece ‘Email Is Not Broken; We Are’:

Spectacular long read, nonfiction from 2011 – in Byliner:

The makers of ‘Welcome to Pine Point’ share what makes it work as a piece of interactive storytelling: and check out the story itself too: (HT @jamescmitchell)

Battle for the Internet: – @guardian‘s 7 day investigation into the future of the open Internet

How would a computer scientist go about solving the issues facing journalism? Headlines on Nieman Journalism Lab blog here: (via @jeffjarvis)


And a bonus 11th link, kids send Go Pro 3D cameras into space (does Space Battleship Yamato beat Lego Man?):