Battle Of Big Thinking: Mobile


Posted by Peter Sells (@sellsy), Head of Mobile, BBH London

Ed: We loved Peter’s winning talk on mobile for the UK APG’s Battle Of Big Thinking (#bobt) at the end of last year so much, we managed to persuade him give us a little more background to his thinking. For the slides and unmissable video of his presentation on the day, please go here.


The Context

The annual APG Campaign Battle of Big Thinking event puts the fear of god into its participants. Speaking to 200 of your peers is bad enough, but then having them vote on whether you were any good – well, it focuses the mind somewhat.

Knowing I would be the 18th presenter of the day, and the audience would have just enjoyed a decent lunch with a glass or two of wine, I suspected that a slightly less sober approach might appeal.  I think I hoped a little humour might impair rational evaluation whilst promoting positive feedback. That’s my excuse for being light on intellectual content.

The Title

Most of it is, isn’t it?

Year of Mobile?

Mobile Marketeers are pretty smug about their chosen medium.  They’ll present graphs going up – massive penetration…..increased usage…most pervasive technology on earth….never more than 1 metre away, 24/7. They wear these stats like a cloak of invincibility but the numbers serve only to highlight the meagreness of mobile marketing efforts to date.  It has rarely been worthy of the hype.

Perhaps though this IS the year. In the last few weeks $1 billion has been spent acquiring mobile advertising networks. The most successful advertising operation in history has launched a device to go toe-to-toe with the game-changing iphone.  C E (-reader) S was all about leveraging the ubiquity of connected life.  Apple are about to launch a mobile, 3G/Wi-fi tablet thing.  We know the turning point has arrived because the Analysts have arrived in force.

The year mobile begins to deliver on its marketing potential happens to be the same year consumers decide they can rely on the channel to be more than a pure messaging tool. We’ve now got connected services that ‘just work’.  To voice & text  add google maps, mobile facebook, twitter clients and Jamie Oliver.  Every time you reach for your iphone and check the weather/train timetables/what else that bloke from The Wire was in – congratulations you’ve just brought the year of mobile a little closer.

I remembering questioning the credibility of a company without an email address, then without a website. That will soon happen as users start getting used to optimised mobile experiences, and shun brands/services that don’t operate via the channel.

If you work in one of those traditional digital agencies prepare for a lot of work on that presentation layer.


I wish I was a futurologist.  Or an analyst.  The Mystic Megs in this business are able to fantasise with impunity.  At least Arthur C Clarke made it interesting – space elevators anyone?  Predicting the future is incredibly easy.  Getting it right is incredibly hard. A reminder: pontificating about the distant future does not establish an agency as ‘cutting edge’.  I recently read a collection of the best technology writing from last year.  None of it was about the future. In the words of the editor “who needs the future? The present is interesting enough on its own”. I’m not even sure we have the time to speculate any more.


My time as a pro gambler taught me a number of things. I don’t enjoy gambling was the main thing.  Clearly our business is nothing like gambling.  Clearly.

Advertising + Mobile

Confession.  I find banner ads quite dull. On this issue I find myself at one with the consumer.  Given that $1b has been bet on mobile banner ads this position may prove to be acutely naive and detrimental to my career development.  No matter.  Banner Ads never made any one happy.


Psychology is back in fashion. It’s cyclical.  In times of crisis we get back to basics. What do people really want?  How do people actually behave and make decisions?  There is an intuitive sense that mobile is such a personal medium that understanding human motivation is key to its use.  Isn’t it obvious? I do do stuff with my phone – it is used to fulfill some pretty fundamental needs.
I have done Csikszentmihalyi a tremendous disservice of course and one of his Optimal Experiences could never be delivered by a mere mobile campaign. However if you believe that experiences are heightened through the act of participation, rather than as a passive witness, then mobile does offer an intriguing opportunity to engage.


Moments of real delight are rare.  So rare that sharing a chuckle with your family whilst watching an animated meerkat can be a memorable shared experience.  There are a set of other experiences – delivered only via mobile – that can quite easily be created by a brand and that I believe are more powerful. I get a little kick out of driving through Spain using the phone sat nav, or watching my nephews laugh uncontrollably at a talking hamster, or knowing the time of the next train on the platform at Kensal Green (no indicators).  These experiences make me feel good. I wasn’t watching them.  I wasn’t being told anything. I was in them.  In my own physical world.

The most powerful demonstration of mobiles potential is at this crossroads of the digital and the physical worlds.  This is the place that you can create delightful experiences.  A brand can aspire to do no more than that.

Presentation slides and video of Peter’s talk at APG’s Battle of Big Thinking 2009.

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