BBH

Making the Right Magic Win

A BBH LA POV on Trump’s America and the post-truth media world.

If you’ve read Paul Feldwick’s latest book retracing the history of our industry, you’ll know that the debate on whether logic or magic is best at building successful brands has been raging ever since the lights were turned on on Madison Avenue.

The hard cold facts or the emotional bond? Cold or warm? Speak to the head, or charm the heart? USP or ESP? System 1 or System 2?

But until recently, outside of the advertising world, it was quite clear who was in charge of logic (journalist and news outlets) and who in charge of magic (novelists and film directors). And it was also quite clear than on most important subjects, logic would win. After all, both free market capitalism and democracy are based on the premise that citizen-consumers are all rational individuals that make informed decisions on the basis of their self-interest, right?

Well, think again, because:

MAGIC IS WINNING (even on the grown-up stuff)

Magic trumps logic, pretty much all the time. We always knew that rational discourse alone wasn’t enough to build a brand. But now it looks as if rational superiority amounts to nothing, unless it isn’t powered up by emotion, even on the most critical topics.

Brexit officialized and legitimized the triumph of feeling over fact (for more on the subject, read this). And as of this year, we live in a world where editors and politicians openly admit that they care more about affecting opinions than realities. And then of course, there is the fact that a man whose business smarts couldn’t outperform an index mutual fund just beat history’s best prepared candidate to the top job.

But hey – we’re the creative guys! We like to tell stories and impact culture! So surely this is great news?

(IT’S THE WRONG KIND OF MAGIC THAT’S WINNING)

It’s not all sweetness and light in the world of emotions. Fear, anger, and jealousy lurk in the shadows.

Obama gave us Hope, but since then Farage, Le Pen and many more have given us Fear, and Trump is getting ready to give us back segregation, isolationism, and patriarchy. Sadly, recent history has proven Yoda right (not that it needed to): ‘the Dark side is more seductive. It is the quick and easy path’.

WE NEED TO TAKE A COLD, HARD LOOK AT HOW WE DO OUR JOBS

Why is this all happening? In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes about our species’ unique ability to generate affiliation, commitment and action on a large scale through powerful imagined cultural constructs (faith, nation, even family, have no biological basis or equivalent in the animal world). He identifies it as the single most important factor in our success: our capacity for collective fantasies is what allows us to get shit done. It could also be what destroys us.

But the media industry has a lot to answer for. This excellent long read from the Guardian does an outstanding job at explaining how social media has blurred the lines between truth and fantasy, by effectively devaluing the expertise of journalists in favour of a click-bait economy. In the words of Hossein Derakhshan and as written in the article, ‘the diversity that the world wide web had originally envisaged’ has given way to the ‘centralization of information’ inside a select few social networks, and the outcome is ‘making us all less powerful in relation to government and corporations.’

When we focus on share-ability, when we talk about being user-centered, are we implicitly creating a world where knowledge and truth weigh nothing against the sensational? By signing up to emotion, have we effectively signed away the value of fact?

NOW IS THE GREATEST TIME TO BE CREATIVE

If your agency is like mine, then the last weeks have been particularly tough. The results of this election have many of us asking “Why?” and “How?” What’s been so hard for many people who work here is, they’ve been very involved in process – taking buses to Phoenix to get the vote early, volunteering time to phone bank, or hitting the streets in protest.

And now we find ourselves at the end of 2016, and our world has been flipped upside down once again. Not unlike the “Upside Down World” in Stranger Things, we find ourselves in a dangerous place. But it offers you an opportunity, to wipe the blood from your nose and get back to work.

If something positive can come out of this, it’s the fact that we can’t ignore the issue any more. There’s not ‘back to normal’. More people, young and old, will now know what happens when you don’t take responsibility. They will be compelled to roll up their sleeves. We have the opportunity to create an age of mass awakening. People are listening: so what will we choose to talk about? Race, gender, walls, bullying, privacy, media, police, guns, pussies, weiners, age, tic tacs, the environment and tanning booths… It’s up to us.

You have the most powerful, creative tools this world has ever known at your disposal. In your hands and at your desks. Use them. They can be more powerful than any bomb and more piercing than any bullet. If the revolution won’t be televized, it must be mobilized by you.

Your voice, your ideas and your actions can be the change this world so desperately needs.

Bring in ideas that start with profound human insights, sharp points of view and teeth. Gnarly f***ing teeth that cut through anything in its way. Craft like your life depends on it, because life as you know it will never be the same. Sweat over every detail, every syllable and every thought. Because the world needs your art, words and vision more than ever. To say what we are feeling, make sense of what we are living and heal what we’ve been through.

AND IN PRACTICAL TERMS… HOW WILL WE MAKE THE GOOD MAGIC WIN?

Strategists: come back to the roots of your craft, to be the voice of the people. What can you do to ensure you genuinely understand your audience? If you ‘didn’t see Trump coming’, then you fundamentally don’t. Work harder to ensure you are truly getting insight from real people – not just the real people of the Lower East Side of NYC and Santa Monica, California.

Creatives: you have the power to shape representations in a subtle, and yet insanely powerful way. Big ideas won this year’s elections, powerful emotive ideas capitalizing on the appeal of nostalgia, fear and conservativeness in the context of a tumultuous globalized world. How can you tap into collective emotions to create momentum towards progress, generosity and optimism?

Producers: Casting, location, choice of directors… Your decisions have the power to challenge stereotypes. Could this mum be a dad? Why couldn’t the CEO be black? How about shooting in Arizona? Could a female director shoot this comedy script? (I hear some women are funny)

Agency leaders: are you actively creating a culture that’s ‘open-hearted and inclusive’? What are you doing about diversity? Are you creating space and time for your teams to embody the values they believe in?

Media buyers: what future of journalism and media are you creating through your investment decisions? How much are you spending with Facebook, and can you use this lever to talk to them about their responsibility as the new gatekeepers? Do you spend money with titles that spread hatred or untruths?

Commit to fighting for truth. Do not let this crisis go to waste. It won’t be easy. Nothing great ever is. Progress is never perfect. But it’s the only way forward.

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Written by Agathe Guerrier (Head of Strategy BBH LA), Frances Great (Managing Director BBH LA), Zach Hilder (Executive Creative Director BBH LA) & Pelle Sjoenell (Worldwide Chief Creative Officer BBH Group)
Picture Credit: KSENIA_L via Favim.com

Can we really make a difference?

Written by Lilli English (Head of Strategy, BBH London)

I woke up in the early hours of Wednesday morning and immediately looked at my phone. There it was, Trump in the lead. I check Facebook shortly after.  My feed is having a meltdown.  Outrage, disgust, emoji-sobbing, mocking.  I consider joining in.   And then realise: it’ll make no difference.

Whilst I’ve enjoyed all the satirical Trump films, fact checkers, and Hollywood celebs imploring America to vote Hillary (and not be ‘a steaming dump’ about it), I’ve also felt a little uncomfortable about it all. Or rather – uncomfortably comfortable.

I recently read a brilliant piece that asked whether too many businesses today are run like boring dinner parties: ‘The risk with running our businesses like our dinner parties is that we begin to create corporate echo chambers: organisations that repeatedly support the same sentiments…and reinforce the same rules’.

To borrow this analogy, I can’t help feeling I’ve been sat in one long, loud, rather smug political dinner party this year.  Britain stormed out half way in the evening which was awkward, but the chatter soon happily turned to another topic we’d all vehemently agree on – the US election.

In his latest film HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis looks at how ‘we have retreated into a simplified and often completely fake version of the world’, made worse by the disconnected, ideological echo chambers of the internet.  We’re essentially talking to ourselves.   All the time.   It’s not just a boring dinner party – it’s scary one. (I’ve watched too much Mr Robot, forgive me).

We can draw a number of parallels between Brexit and the US election.   People are angry.   They’re feeling desperately disenfranchised.  They’ve born the brunt of crumbling infrastructures and intractable social issues.  The world’s accelerated at a dizzying speed and many feel left behind.   Bigotry abounds and trust deteriorates.

But it’s not the first time voters here and in the US have given the Establishment a kick in the teeth, nor is the sentiment of anger driving the mood of these countries a recent phenomenon.  It’s been building for quite some time.

What is striking is this total disconnect in both nations between what ‘we’ thought would happen and what actually happened; between the media and its audience; between our algorithm-happy ‘echo chambers’.   The fact is, we haven’t a clue how the ‘other’ thinks or feels.  The same goes for the people governing us. We’re all too busy admiring our own reflections.  ‘So much a part of the system that you were unable to see beyond it’[1].

So how do we see beyond it?  How can we better understand the reality of our world? And what’s all this got to do with our industry?

The ‘wisdom of crowds’ can only possibly work if the crowd shares and is exposed to different perspectives.  We know that diversity of experience, education, temperament, intelligence, ethnicity, gender and age, leads to better ideas, better solutions, better societies[2].  Lack of difference essentially makes us stupid.  It makes us boring.  It makes us complacent. Me and my Facebook feed included.

This has implications not only on the way we build brands but also the role brands – and therefore our creativity – can play in people’s lives.

As a marketer, you look at what’s happened this year and revisit what you always knew: feeling trumps all else.  You can throw out all the facts and rationale you want, if you don’t get how different people feel and how to make them feel, you’re nowhere.

You’re also reminded of our own marketing echo chamber.  We’ve built a sophisticated system around us, which we ceaselessly tinker for efficiency.  It feels comfortable in here. But not much changes with comfortable. And perhaps like the pollsters, we can now justifiably question what we’ve been comfortably measuring.

Very deliberately making space for and seeing difference is important.  It matters for political brands – the likes of Trump have undeniably understood and exploited this, far better than their opponents. And it matters for our creativity and the brands we’re busy building.   Difference has the power to make a difference – a mantra we at BBH strive to live by for the work and, as heads of planning, a mantra Will Lion and I encourage every strategist to go out and feel for themselves, beyond these walled gardens.

But can brands really make a difference in society, beyond ‘doing their bit’? It’s easy to feel squeamish about mixing good with commerciality, but I believe brands can and should play a more significant role.

People are feeling a profound lack of trust in governing bodies, the media, even their own social echo chambers. This makes the more ‘transactional’ relationship they have with brands seem rather more straightforward.  Buyers know we’re here to sell and seduce, and they know brands have the power to be better and do better – and will reward them for it.  That’s the deal. And it’s in many ways a more transparent and accountable ‘deal’ than exists between voters and leaders.  Or even Givers and charities.  Brands have the permission.  It’s up to us what difference we want to make.

We’ll hear a lot now about uniting and coming together, and of course that’s the noble thing to strive for, not least for the brands we serve.  But before that, let’s hang on to the importance of seeing and hearing difference, outside ourselves – because that’s what’ll make the difference ultimately.

 

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[1] HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis

[2] The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Scott E. Page

Photo credit: The Infinity Mirrored Room By Yayoi Kusama

Lilli English is Head of Strategy at BBH London by day and illustrator by night.

 

BBH goes Back to the Future

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October 21, 2015 is the date of BBH’s digital expo, SXW1 (yes, a terrible pun-slash-homage to SXSW, based on our postcode in London) and this year we’re going Back to the Future. Some of us are old enough to be obsessive fan girls and fan boys of the film and the date on the clock in Doc Brown’s DeLorean at the very end of the film was, well, just too good to resist.

So on Wednesday, this agency is going to be festooned with Back to the Future memorabilia, listening to a killer soundtrack courtesy of BBH’s own Black Sheep Music and most of us dressed up as the cast from the ’50s, ’80s or Robert Zemeckis’ vision of 2015. Across his trilogy, Zemeckis helpfully dropped into just about every century, so we have options.

As much as it’s fun to park a begged/borrowed/stolen DeLorean outside our doors and dress up, this also happens to be the third, annual instalment of our digital expo. SXW1 is designed to be a day when we down tools as a company and just learn through doing; immersing ourselves until we bleed in the cutting edge of technology and interactive creativity, together. Three years ago this felt like a bit of a risk (“um, you want to close the company for a whole day?”), now it feels normal and necessary.

Under the leadership of our newly minted CXO, Adam Powers, this year the theme is largely – and naturally enough – about looking to all our futures. The future of photography (drones), the future of online advertising (the ad-blocking debate) to the future of TV. We will then close the day with a look at the future of religion, with the amazing Louisa Heinrich talking about faith in Elon Musk replacing faith in the Almighty.

In previous years, our stage has been graced by the likes of Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy and Ian Livingston, the Gamers’ Godfather. We’ve had Vine & YouTube workshops, Game of Thrones Oculus Rift courtesy of Framestore and pre-release gaming consoles. We’ve drawn gratefully on our many partners and friends – Google, Twitter, Vice, Buzzfeed and many more – to provide sessions that are hands on and get-stuck-in beyond the keynote speeches.

Most years there have been surprises. I imagine this year it will be no different. And if you fancy coming back to the future with us, we have a couple of tickets we’d like to give away. Just ping @bbhlondon or @bbhlabs on Twitter, or leave your name in the comments below.

For now, we leave the last words to Marty McFly: Time circuits on… Flux Capacitor… fluxing… Engine running… All right!

See you on the other side.

 

What Kind Of Leader Do You Want To Be?

Author: Ben Fennell, CEO, BBH London

BBH Leadership course, Class of 2012

BBH Leadership course, Class of 2012

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?’

The Return of the Barn – BBH NY Summer Session

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Author: Sam Jesse (@sam_jesse), Strategist, BBH NY.

It’s hard to believe the Barn is turning four this summer. During its short existence, the Barn and its interns have had some big moments. From the very first project to receive national attention (http://datingbrian.com/) to another which won two Lions at Cannes (http://underheardinnewyork.com/), the Barn keeps moving onward and upward. We even expanded beyond our borders as the global BBH family embraced the Barn, leading to inspiring work from intern teams in London (http://keepaaroncutting.blogspot.com/) and Singapore (http://www.madebymigrants.com/). And now, BBH New York is looking for the next wave of interns ready to make some noise in the summer of 2013.

This isn’t your typical advertising internship, so we aren’t looking for your typical advertising candidates. We want the mavericks, the ones who would rather do amazing things than talk about them, those who can see the future and make it happen. We especially want the ones who think and create in tech and code. Know how to code a site in html5? Know how to build an app for iOS? Know how to bring a film to life in Final Cut Pro? Great. If not, don’t worry. We want the resourceful ones too. The ones who will learn new skills on the fly in order to get the job done. The Barn is designed to empower these kinds of people. There will be plenty of rolling with the punches along the way.

Now, on to the details. The Barn internship program accepts six students or recent graduates every summer. Interns are split into two teams of three, which are then briefed on the same assignment. Over the next 10 weeks, each team develops a unique idea and brings it to life to answer the brief with a budget of $1000. Both teams will have full access to BBH talent and will be working on client business throughout, so it will be a busy summer. The goal for each team member is to end the program walking away with tangible public-facing work to showcase in their portfolio.

Applications will be accepted until Monday, April 22nd at 9AM EST. If you’d like to apply or know someone who would, check out the application site at www.bbhbarn.com, or follow @bbhbarn.

The Barn NY internship program: open call for Summer 2012

BBH NY's Barn Opens for Summer 2012

Author: Andy Ross, Account Manager, BBH NY

As the Winter 2012 Barn session came to a close with interns presenting digital platforms directly to UNICEF clients, something dawned upon us – we need to get the next round of the Barn rolling.

In short, the Barn is back. Please consider this your invite.

It goes like this: Two teams of three resourceful, slightly sleep-deprived interns compete against one another on a brief that belongs solely to them. They’ll also work on live projects within the walls of BBH and score some direct interaction with and mentorship from folks in nearly every department here, including BBH Labs.

The skills we’re looking for are varied, and none are mandatory – but guidelines might help. Do you know Final Cut Pro, PHP, C++?  Ever heard of Open Source? Are you hyper-organized? Do you have a penchant for human behavior studies or a highly developed sense of smell that you have leveraged into a successful truffle company? Bottom line: we want people who can get things done.

Our role here is to empower you, not to ask you for coffee. That’s why previous Barn teams have managed to win everything from Lions to Pencils during their 10-week internship.

So you have it, the Barn’s hiring criteria are as follows: We want people who are good and nice. Apply at BBHBarn.com and follow @bbhbarn.  Applications are due May 11th.  We start June 4th, 2012. We cry that it’s over August 10th.

Good luck.

A day in the life of BBH

Every now and again, we get the chance to stop and draw breath, to reflect a little. Today is BBH’s 30th birthday and, to mark the moment, Nigel Bogle wrote to everyone who works here. It’s a personal perspective on the story of BBH, sure, but in reading it, it struck us this might be something of value beyond these four walls. A celebration of – and provocation to – our industry, not just this agency.

We hope you enjoy it.

Hi Everyone,

Today BBH is 30 years old. Happy birthday to one and all.

As this day approached I found myself reflecting on what the last 30 years has taught us about running an advertising agency. We have learned a lot, obviously. Thirty years is a long time. A lot about the importance of attracting and developing  the best people, creating the right environment, having clear beliefs and values. But for me, above all else we have learned one simple thing:

It’s all about the work. Or, as John puts it: ‘All roads lead to the work.’

I know this is a blindingly obvious thing to say. An advertising agency’s reason to be is to produce work. But the fact remains that when we singlemindedly put the quality of our work above anything else, then everything else falls into place. And when we say it’s all about the work, we are talking about the relentless pursuit of creative excellence. Game changing creativity that has the power to change the fortunes of brands and businesses. Ideas that break out of the confines of their category and enter popular culture.

That is not easy to do. It not only requires talent, it requires trust. It is harder in some categories than in others. It requires an environment that inspires trust in the clients who entrust their brand communication to us. That is a responsibility every one of us shares, not just those directly involved in the creation of our product. It is why I have said many times that all of us are involved in the work. The way a client is greeted on entering the building, the efficiency with which we handle their financial affairs, even the quality of a cup of coffee, these things all help to create the environment where we can be the best we can be and our clients will trust us to take the calculated risks we need to take.

Over the last 30 years we have been more consistent than many of our competitors both here in London and across our network. But on closer inspection you will see that we have had our ups and downs. The quality of our creative work has not always been top drawer by the high standards we judge ourselves against. And, reflecting upon the reasons for that, more often that not it has been because we got distracted. By obsessing about new ways of working, shipping in armies of consultants, (one of my bigger mistakes) too much introspection, coping with growth, dotcom madness, whatever. All well intentioned, but in their pursuit we took our eye off the ball that matters most and our product quality dropped. And then our confidence drops too and that is not good because the thing that you put in the fuel tank of an agency is confidence. And as the doubt creeps in you can start to question your belief.

BBH was built upon a set of beliefs, many of which others did not believe in. 20 plus years of no creative pitching, a policy  the Financial Times called “suicidal.” The belief that we could build a strong global network that competed with the big boys, with a tiny number of offices. A holding company chief said “not in my lifetime” when I told him years ago that was our vision. He’s still alive.

We have chosen to zag while the world zigs. We have nailed our colours to our first belief, “The Power of Creativity and the Primacy of the Idea”. It is not easy being BBH. We have chosen a demanding path. A path that relies on confidence and self belief. And  we have learned from those ups and downs that nothing reconfirms belief and builds confidence better than doing great work. Hence the lesson we have learned above all others. It’s all about the work.

Consider BBH London’s work for The Guardian. (And I could reference many other fine examples of BBH work over the years). A brilliant piece of communication, rooted in a fundamental truth about the brand, created by a team of talented people working with a visionary client. It has spread like wildfire and the concept of open journalism is being talked about from here to Australia. It has become news in its own right and entered popular culture. It is game changing.

But with all that come other good things. People want to know who created the film. People want to share it. Most people love it. Some hate it. That’s okay. Many of our clients admire it. It increases the interest people have in working at BBH anywhere in the world. It puts a spring in our step. It makes us proud. It makes us confident. It reaffirms our belief in ourselves. It makes the phone ring with calls from prospects wanting to meet us. And, perhaps most importantly, it inspires us to try even harder in all we do to reach for that level of excellence. So many other things fall into place when all we do is focus on the work.

Thirty years. One simple lesson. Running an advertising agency is a very simple business that on occasions we can make complicated. As long as we remember all roads lead to the work then the next 30 years can be even better than the first 30.

There is one other very important lesson that John, John and I learned before we started BBH. You cannot create a great agency or do great work without great people, working well together. We have been privileged over the last thirty years to have brilliant people join us all over the world and in many cases build their careers with us. Everything we have achieved as a business is down to all of them and all of you. Thank you to every single one of you for making BBH the very special company it is today.

All the best.

Nigel