Mel Exon

Running BBH Labs, based in London.

#WaterRun: For The Win-Win

Author: Mareka Carter, @marekacarter, Creative, BBH London

What’s #WaterRun?

Many people living in villages in Sub-Saharan Africa have to walk c. 5 km every day just to collect clean water.

#WaterRun is about running (or walking, if that’s more your thing) the same distance, our aim to raise enough money to build 30 new wells in the region.

5 km takes about an hour’s walk a day; for many of us it’s the equivalent of walking or running into work, instead of taking public transport – see what we did there?

Log your runs and donate here: If you’re a Water Runner, you could donate the money you’ve saved not using public transport, if you’re a Supporter you can donate, well, as much as you feel able.

It’s something for everyone, not just the creative and tech community: we’d love everyone’s Mum and Dad, Mom and Pop, Mama and Papa to get involved too.

Think of it as a win-win, ‘pre-tox’ cleanse before the debauchery of the holiday season kicks in – or, if you’re in the States, a quick post-Thanksgiving fitness drive – a chance to do some good towards others and yourself in the process.

Why are we doing this?

You will have seen news coverage of the widespread famine in East Africa and very possibly heard about the 50/50 project launched in response by our friends at Made by Many, hatched with Good for Nothing. If you haven’t: each project on the collaborative platform combines fund-raising with digital goodness, aiming to engage a network of supporters to help spread the word and generate as much money for as possible for UNICEF famine aid. Like our brothers and sisters at BBH NY, we knew we wanted in the moment we heard about it.

Those links again:

Log your runs and make a donation here:

Follow us on Twitter: @Water_Run, #WaterRun

Find us on Facebook here.

And check out the raft of other amazing initiatives for 50/50 here:

#WaterRun starts now, but you can join in whenever you want. Do it once, or you can do it every day for the next few weeks – it’s up to you. The main thing is to keep logging your distances on the super simple website and telling the world about it, so together we can send the total raised sky high.

Thank you. Happy Water Running!

99% Attitude

Kotka @ Club Re, Krakow

Author: Nicky Vita (@stellavita), Strategy Director, BBH London

A few weeks ago, I was at the Temple Synagogue in Krakow’s historical Jewish district, Kazimeirz. It was the closing night for Unsound, an avant-garde music festival with the central theme of “Future Shock”.

As a whole, Unsound deliberately defies expectations – about how music should sound, how music genres should/ shouldn’t fit together, who should be collaborating, whom we expect to create modern music or art and even what ‘modern music’ actually means.

This – along with the music – got me thinking about a project I’ve been working on for client of ours, around ‘the lofty subject of human progress’ and what this means today. In a recent international survey, 96% of respondents agreed that‘It is important for me to continually improve as a person’. Ordinary people wanting to do extraordinary things.

While the desire to move forward is not new, the context or the approach required to achieve this has shifted radically. In the past, the key ingredients were focus, stamina and the wherewithal to keep slogging until the finish line. Tow the line.

And now? Well, there may not be a clearly defined ‘there’ or final end goal. There are fewer linear paths, one-way ladders and singular directions. The “tried & trusted” is no longer appropriate and all the rulebooks have been ripped up. Seemingly more than ever, people want to advance themselves. Technology is an especially great enabler. However, what you actually need to do to achieve this progress is less clear than ever before.

At a global level, this thought is either hugely terrifying or massively exciting. And what emerges is that the key to ‘success’ today is having the right attitude. Glancing at modern role models and entrepreneurs across the world, it isattitude that they have in common. No rules means you can try anything, explore everything, break things up and put them together in completely different ways.

Much of what I saw at Unsound reflected this attitude, so I thought I’d outline a few underlining principles for progressing in today’s modern world…

Retain a youthful mindset.

1960s pioneer Morton Subotnick & 1980s synth performers Chris & Cosey (ex-Throbbing Gristle) belonged at the festival as much as young, incoming acts such as Pontone (Poland) and Laurel Halo (USA). Curiosity, creativity and experimentation do not age.

Keep it open.

Music genres don’t sit in boxes. Or rather, amazing things can happen when you don’t assume that they should. Hype Williams threw together R & B, techno and dark ambient, coupled with constant strobe lights, to create a visceral, challenging performance. Trying different things and putting them together in unusual ways can create something special.

Lantern Awareness.
A wonderful term I picked up from Google’s Tom Uglow a while ago, speaking passionately about the wonderful things that could happen if we stopped focusing & opened up our awareness to the things going on around us. Every artist had taken a deliberate step away from his or her known individual sound and had nicked, borrowed or repurposed from the experiences around them. To capture this spirit, we’ve created team ‘Lantern Sessions’, as simple as a quick chat about the things that are exciting us or a good excuse to get out of the office and to an exhibition. Less focus creates more enhanced encounters.

Be bold.

With experimentation and exploration comes inherent risk. Some of what I saw and heard was massively improvised. Leyland Kirby’s mad video of his life on the road, wrapped up by a mimed rendition of Elton John’s ‘Can you feel the love tonight?” could have gone horribly wrong. It didn’t. Trying new things means allowing yourself to be at least a little open to potential failure.

Live in the moment.

For me, the entire festival was an immersive, immediate experience. This may sound obvious (being a music festival), but I came back feeling more excited about life because I’d allowed myself to be completely absorbed in an experience. If everyone there came away with this same feeling, you can feel confident that this will soon be manifested in a future performance, track or video. Soak up every encounter.

Go with your gut.

Everyone at Unsound was passionate about music. Not in a rational ‘let’s think about why this works’ way. It was much more of an emotional ‘how the music makes you feel’ way. Things were being put together in ways that were intuitive and based on gut impulses. Great things can happen when you go with the rhyme instead of the reason.

It’s about substance.

There were few ‘big names’ and while many of the artists were successful in their own right, at Unsound they were respected for their spirit, energy & experimentation in the moment. What you do matters more than what you have.

Act like an entrepreneur.

What makes an entrepreneur great is a bit of charisma. While many artists were there to perform, they were also there to create opportunities for future collaborations & endeavours, to show a difference side to themselves. Curiosity and a ‘can do, will do’ attitude is what made them interesting. Not so difficult is it?

The closing down party…

None of this might strike you as particularly groundbreaking. Steve Jobs spoke openly about the importance of connections, of being allowed to fail, of the opportunities that come up when you’ve tried different things. Einstein believed in experimentation and playfulness. Tom Uglow wondered what could happen if we all quit our jobs, played more and got closer to the edges. What is striking for me is that this attitude is shifting the way people think about progress at a universal level. This is not about the super elite, the super eclectic, the technologists at Google or Facebook or Labs, even. Sure, I am referencing some edgy artists, playing at a festival you’ve never have heard of. But we’re also talking about ordinary people wanting to apply this attitude to create extraordinary things.

I think it’s tremendously exhilarating. Can you even begin to imagine the great things that would happen, the progress that would come about if we all lived this way?

Tale Torrent – The Prologue

Author: James Mitchell (@jamescmitchell), Strategist, BBH Labs

Preparations for our night of storytelling for Internet Week Europe are almost complete. And with less than a week to go until Thursday the 10th, we thought we’d share a little preview info of some of our speakers. Tales will include…

Simon Sanders – “Postcards ‘n’ mix-tapes, Skype ‘n’ status updates”
Creative Strategist /

Basheera Khan“Tales from the Crypt-ograph”
UX Architect, EMC Consulting /

Katy Lindemann“Ye olde days of (web)logging: when it still began with a ‘w’ and people thought it would never take off…”
Freelance Strategist /

Rishi Dastidar / Matt Busher“Self Portrait Postcards”
Senior copywriter, archibald ingall stretton… / Designer, mandatory thinking

Claire Burge – “From Mud Pies to Geek Chick”
Photographer /

It’s looking to be a lot of fun. It looks like we’re at capacity, with a heavy waitlist – but there is still one way to get in. We’ve still got space for a few micro-stories: that is, tales of five minutes instead of ten. So, if you have any internet incidents that you think might amuse and enthrall and you want to come, drop me an email at in the next few days.

And if you just can’t make it but want to tune in, watch this space – we’ll try to get a stream up and running on the night, right here.

Until then,


Tech interns, we need you.

Authors: Gabor Szalatnyai (Creative Technology) & James Mitchell (Strategy), BBH London & BBH Labs

Here at Labs, we make a lot of stuff for other people and brands, but, now and then, we like to build experiments – additional stuff we love so much, we take extra time and pull late nights to see it done. We do this because sometimes, we want to test a theory,  because we want to test our capabilities, and because we want to make something cool.

With one very special project, we’re ready to begin the making and we’re going to spend the next three months doing just that.  Which is why we we’d like some inspirational new talent to come and intern with us in London to help out.  We are embarking on a project with Rails and MongoDB on the backend and HTML5 on the front.  We would expect you to have previous projects using these, and if you are confident with CoffeeScript, Sass and Javascript game engines (craftyjs, gameQuery, renderEngine,) you’ll enjoy the coding even more.  We are managing source code with git on GitHub, so prepare your branching and merging skills too!

But this role is about more than the build.  We’ll work iteratively on this, so we’ll be testing and learning as we go.  This means you’ll be working with the team to prototype, test, bend and break – modifying and bettering the experiment at every stage.  We’ll expect you to have a major impact on the idea itself.  You’ll have the freedom to implement any technical solution that solves the problem, to work with the entire team to make sure the thing doesn’t just happen, but happens better.

Why work with us? Because we hope you’ll agree the project is cool, the team is a diverse and interesting one, and the use of data is, as far as we know, something that’s never been tried before.  And, at the end of it all, you’ll get to put your name against something very special.

To apply, please send a nice message (with your GitHub username and/or some work) to ****, and we’ll have a chat about what we’re trying to build.  If you have any more questions, drop them in the comments.  Thanks!

Internet Trends – Mary Meeker’s 2011 report

Author: Adam Powers, Head of UX, BBH London

KPCB Internet Trends (2011)

This week ex-Morgan Stanley research analyst, now at KPCB, Mary Meeker delivered her latest Internet Trends presentation. As always, Mary’s distillation of trends is always good value and genuine insights are peppered throughout.

For the time starved amongst you, here are some highlights:

World view:

• Though still with some ground to make up, it’s striking the number of Chinese and Russian internet companies popping into the global top 25.

• What’s more, between 2007 and 2010 China accumulated 246million new internet users – that is more than exist within the USA.

Mobilising the people:

• Mary notes that even in recessionary times breakthrough technology and services can breakout. One need only look at the extraordinary first weekend sales of Apple’s iPhone 4S to confirm this.

• 2010 QTR 4 saw more mobile devices (which includes Tablets) sold than PCs and signs that Smartphone sales outstripping feature phone sales in US/EU

• That said. still enormous unconverted user base with 835 million Smartphone users against 5.6 billion mobile device subscribers.

• Apple getting plenty of headlines right now, but it’s Android mobile devices with the remarkable quarter on quarter ramp up – jumping from 20million to 150million units shipped in between quarters 7 and 11 post-launch.

• Global mobile success story continues with app/ad revenue up by a factor of 17 between 2008 and 2011 to a figure of $12billion.

Touchy, feely:

• Meeker calls out the latest trend in the evolution of human computer interaction being from text command lines to graphical user interfaces (GUI) to natural user interfaces. Yes, Steve gets a name check too.

Cash is no longer king?:

• E-commerce story continues to be one of growth through tough economic times but plenty of room to grow.

• Again the big story is growth in mobile commerce with ebay and PayPal doubling or more their gross mobile sales/payments since 2010.

• The uplift in mobile e-commerce activity has been of particularly benefit to local commerce through the plethora of location aware discount offer aggregators.

Power to the people:

• Meeker identifies overarching mega-trend as the empowerment of people via connected devices.

• She references the Twitter traffic patterns post Japanese earthquake, the fact that 200million Indian farmers currently receive government subsidy payments via mobile devices and 85% of global population are now covered by commercial wireless signals versus 80% being on electricity grid.

Google #Firestarters 3: Building A New Agency OS

For the third event in the Google #Firestarters series its curator extraordinaire, Neil Perkin, chose to tackle the issues of “legacy structures, processes and thinking” head-on with the question: “what might the operating system for the agency of the future look like?“.

It’s a hairy, humbling monster of a question, not least because talk of new agency structures and ways of working so often teeters precariously on the edge of empty buzzword bingo (check out Tim Malbon’s post last year on Agile as a cargo cult).

On Tuesday night, Martin Bailie, James Caig and I were given 20 minutes to share a response. I attempted to avoid painting a picture of an agency built of silicon, and instead set out to describe something rather more prosaic. These days, perhaps more than ever, agencies are almost ALL about culture; their operating system a set of programs designed to encourage creativity and responsive behaviour, not codify inflexible structures and processes. Get the culture right and the rest follows. So the question becomes: what sort of agency culture do you want to create or be a part of? And what about all the contextual stuff we perhaps need to consider first?

[slideshare id=9473564&doc=melexonfirestarters3-110929094559-phpapp01]

A simple take on the impact of technology

We’ve known for years that the opportunities to buy mass attention are shrinking by the day, just as the opportunities to earn and measure attention become ever more enticingly available. If today Google’s Panda algorithm places ever more pressure on businesses to boost the signal not increase the noise and Facebook’s EdgeRank reduces the visibility of brands that send users to sleep, imagine what this will be like in future. At its simplest, it adds up to the same thing: ALL marketing – not just the rare handful of brands that regularly win awards – needs to be *genuinely* useful or entertaining. If  not, marketing will become that thing that marketers and agencies fear the most: unseen and unheard.

If we can just wake up to this fact, this is a show-stoppingly great moment in time for our industry. There simply isn’t room for me-too, clutter-up-your-life, half-baked ideas, or one way messages dumped on the web dressed up to look “interactive”. However, there is lots of room for marketing done with skill and purpose, that people want to share, remix and make their own.

I’m calling this Marketing Singularity – an absurd title, which I’ll explain it in a second. For now, I just want to restate how it feels that we’re at a tipping point in our industry’s life cycle. If we can just set ourselves straight, it’s going to be epic. Let me explain why and how…

Is the pace of change exponential or logarithmic?

Let’s start with a question that’s at the root of why we’re having this conversation in the first place: the oft-discussed pace of change. Jeremy pointed me to a speech made earlier this month by Ben Hammersley, who spoke with provocative eloquence about an incumbent generation of leaders losing ground on a ‘Internet era’ revolution racing away from them. Around the same time, Matt Edgar wrote a spirited rebuttal to the common assumption that the pace of change is accelerating.. It feels important to decide where you sit on this debate, because if the pace of change is exponential, then it follows we need to have systems in place that encourage us to plan a lot further ahead – or react more nimbly – than we have currently. Or perhaps that isn’t the point. The pace of change may or may not be accelerating, but the pace of life is de facto faster than it was, say, five years ago. And whilst Matt questions whether technology’s exponential rate of change actually impacts on our lives to the same degree, I find that a peculiar assumption. Technology doesn’t sit on the sidelines of our lives these days: it’s embedded, root and branch. What’s more, the technology companies themselves regard speed as a competitive advantage (“Better products, faster” – Larry Page, Google shareholders’ meeting, 2011). Last week’s avalanche of tech news (again) is a case in point.

Marketing Singularity?

In fact you could argue we’re approaching Marketing Singularity: the point at which marketing is forced to become exponentially better, until it is so useful or entertaining it ceases to be a separate, stand-alone, one-way message and instead becomes indistinguishable from the product or service it promotes.

It might be content, it might be a framework or a game that invites participation; or even participation that gets displayed as a game. Platforms are brand operating systems, campaigns are applications. As Ben pointed out earlier this year, these are not binary.

Marketing as a profit centre, not a cost

Taking this to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t we aim to create marketing products and services that are so good, people are prepared to pay for them? Even if this approach isn’t what’s required (perhaps a Freemium model is the way to begin), I like the responsibility it places upon our shoulders: make marketing valuable to people. Looking further out, we may look back on the days we spent millions of dollars just paying for the privilege to reach people as a little odd. Brands like Audi and Red Bull are early experimenters in the guise of brands as committed media owners / publishers.

The kind of agency OS this demands

A few programs for starters:

Reductive thinking everywhere

At Labs, we admire the ruthless economy, flex and energy of a great start up as much as the next person. Kickstarter and Instagram are two of the better known examples of Minimum Viable Product thinking. For any agency worth their salt, the fundamental principles of MVP should not feel new. Great brand strategy and creative have *always* been about the art of sacrifice. The task now is to apply that mindset throughout agency departments: reduce to MVP, then listen (data) and pivot as required. This becomes all the more important when we look at shifts in business stability: from long periods of stability and short periods of disruption, to the reverse. This is a model for marketing too – let’s get comfortable with an environment that needs to flex and morph.

Silicon vs carbon

As Rishad Tobaccowala said a few days ago, ‘the world may be digital, but people are analog.” Any agency OS needs to be built around people, not technology.

‘Big is a collection of smalls’

People habitually join agencies like BBH from colleges and smaller agencies because they want to do something at SCALE. Accordingly, the very last thing we need to do is shy away from growth. Instead, the best agencies are increasingly breaking into nimbler, cross-functional teams, often with hybrid skills and collaborative in mindset. As Nigel Bogle puts it, ‘big is a collection of smalls’. Teams with autonomy, but access to shared services.

Whilst we should cast for the client or task in question (don’t take the team structure I sketched too literally), it’s worth drawing attention to the ‘broker’ role. If you’re interested in non-traditional media partnerships and thinking, you need a deal maker in your team.

Networked, versus in a network

We cannot do everything ourselves. With every layer of complexity, comes a deeper requirement to nurture and build strong external partnerships. Labs is a product of its network, plain and simple.

Foster Renaissance (wo)men

We’ve said this before, but we’re living through a Renaissance period. To be successful, we need fearless people who want to collaborate and learn from other industries. Deal makers, entrepreneurs, makers.. The people who never hold back from making the thing they dream of, just because the tools don’t exist today. Because they know they’ll exist tomorrow.

Make real things

You don’t need a 3D printer to make stuff or experience the benefits of making a proto-type of your idea. Making an early version of something – even if it’s rubbish (many years ago, I remember taking a mockup of a Boddingtons Tetra pak to a client meeting, to sell the idea of ‘Fresh Cream’. They hated it) – teaches you stuff you don’t find out if you stay in theory mode. So go buy a soldering iron and make something… There’s also a non-too-subtle shift going on between experiences that live entirely online (potentially interesting) and those that straddle the real world too (potentially fascinating). Check out Russell Davies’ piece for Campaign and the brilliant Marc Owens’ Avatar Machine if you want to read more.

Stay curious

Adopting and encouraging a culture of constant learning sounds exhausting, but it may well be the only way to stay sane. Learn to code, get comfortable in the wild, stay open, stay curious – I’m enjoying playing with my Weavr thanks to @zeroinfluencer – create your own here. A phrase used often at BBH and which turned up on our login screens this summer is perhaps an apt way to close: “Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you.”


We’d love to hear what you think – what are the other programs you’d want to include in an agency OS?

Check out Martin’s presentation here and James’s here.

Thank you to Neil, James, Martin and everyone who came and contributed… as always, the discussion got most interesting when the formal presentations stopped and everyone piled in. Aside from following the conversation here #Firestarters or nicely storified here, there have also been several thought provoking response posts (check out this one here from Simon Kendrick or this one here from Shea Warnes for starters). As always, Neil’s follow-up post will be one to look out for too.

BBH London is looking for a UX Principal

Author: Adam Powers, Head of User Experience, BBH London

The User Experience (UX) Principal will have responsibility for delivering world-class UX for BBH London across a diverse, valuable portfolio of clients.

We are looking for someone with a tenacious, entrepreneurial spirit; someone who’s happiest rolling up their sleeves in the relentless pursuit of useful and beautiful solutions in an often dynamic and changing environment. They must also be nice. (more…)

ASOS Urban Tour: An Experiment In Shopping Culture

Author: Lucia Komljen, Strategist, BBH London

This week saw the launch of ASOS Urban Tour – a shoppable, cultural experience in the form of an interactive platform promoting ASOS A/W 2011 menswear collection.  It invites the audience to watch some of the world’s most skilled urban musicians, dancers, designers and artist in action across the world and to explore what – and where – inspires their craft and their style. The centerpiece is a dynamic, shoppable video set in London which can be paused and explored at any point, presenting the user with more information on the dancers and enabling the purchase of their looks.

Overall, we hope Urban Tour is an example of what can be achieved when you push technology and design in an attempt to seamlessly combine entertainment and service for e-commerce brands. Furthermore, it’s another demonstration of just how powerful it can be when technology enables ambitious creativity throughout the customer journey.

Here’s the story behind the work so far, we’d love to hear what you think. (more…)

Keep Aaron Cutting

Author: Pablo Marques (@pablo_marques), Creative Director, BBH London & BBH Labs

Please donate here:

A few weeks ago we started the UK edition of The BBH Barn program (@BBHBarn).

The Barn is a program for our interns: its aim to expand and mix both the power advertising wields and youth’s inherent energy, then channel both for good.

As our team went about trying to find a problem they felt passionate about solving, we were all surprised by the absurdity of the past week’s riots in the UK.

With the riots came all of the negativity towards todays youth and the use of social media technology to mobilise people.

There it was, we had our problem. We wanted to show the world that youth and technology could also be a force for good, this was exactly what The Barn was about. The team came up an idea. Why not use the force for good to help someone that was neither young nor technology savvy.
We set up Keep Aaron Cutting.

Aaron is an 89 years old barber who has been in the Tottenham area for 41 years whose business was ransacked during the riots. He has no insurance and no way of rebuilding his shop. His livelihood is devastated.

“I will probably have to close because I haven’t got insurance and I can’t afford the repairs,” – Aaron

If we could restore Aaron’s faith in youth and technology that might not solve the problem, but would be the perfect way to start.

If you want to help, please donate or share. And if you’d like to, follow the story via the site and via #keepaaroncutting on Twitter.

If you have any questions about BBH Barn in the UK please contact me @pablo_marques or via email.

For media enquiries about BBH‘s involvement, please contact Sarah Pollard.

The Team:

BBH Barners

Bjorn and Sophie @bjornandsophie
Omid Fard @OmidFard


Kimberly Gill @kimmeh_gill
Mareka Carter @marekacarter
Simon Pearse @ThisIsMurray
Ben Shaw @BenShaw
Mel Exon @melex

What People in Brands Can Learn From People in Bands

Author: Neil Barrie (@neilbazza), Director, ZAG

Images via and

I spent the first half of my adult life to date, playing in bands and the second half planning brands, most recently at Zag, the brand ventures division of BBH.

After an awkward adjustment period where I tried to deny all existence of my previous life and its accompanying streaked mullet jpegs, I’ve recently been finding that I actually learned a lot of useful things in those years in the Highbury Garage. Here they are:

# 1 Develop your dynamics

Listen to any AC/DC, song, especially Back in Black and you are listening to a lesson in dynamics. The space, the drums, the shifts, the CRUNCH – you can’t help but be moved by it. Loads of massive rock tracks owe a lot to soft/loud dynamics from Babe I’m gonna leave you to Teenage Dirtbag. Boys in particular like this sort of thing. The laws of rock dynamics are directly applicable to any presentation.  It’s a good discipline to think “where’s the bit where the chords come crashing in?” and “how can I make this section feel more like ACDC?”