Just Build an App and They Will Come – Busting the Myth

So, you’ve built an awesome app. People love it and they even tell their friends to download (as you’ve read on several forums). Why on earth bother with App Store Optimisation? Bah! BOOOORING! Build it and they will come baby! Not so fast. News flash: There are now over four (4!) million apps on the five (5!) largest app stores combined. Every month 45,000 new apps are submitted to the iOS app store – it’s shockingly easy to drown in the sea of apps for any app developer on a slim budget. Since the dawn of the App Store, BBH Stockholm, has designed, built and rolled out north of 100 apps. In this article they reveal some of their hard earned growth techniques.

Do you really have the insights about from where your new customers are coming? Hint: They won’t magically appear out of the blue. The sustainable answer isn’t to launch a sassy advertising campaign or spur witty PR. Just because you’ve upload that awesome app idea and written a press release, downloads won’t start pouring in. The truth is far from that. It seems like this knowledge has been locked away into the towers of a handful of tech unicorns. So, how do you actually build a large user base over time without pouring in potential profit into huge advertising budgets?

Let’s get back to the basic: The number one reason for downloading apps is not rave reviews, peer recommendations or Google Adwords. It is people aimlessly browsing the App Stores. Help these people find what they are looking for and you will both prosper. We learned this lesson the hard way.

For Volvo, one of our biggest and oldest partners, we developed a state of the art car configurator. In fact, it’s the most downloaded car configurator on the Swedish App Store, but our client asked us to aim higher on the top charts. So we took a look at our App Store presence and determined it was time for a rewrite using all the tricks in the ASO book. Soon, the app soared from top 100 in Lifestyle to solid top 10. 

Even though app search makes up for the vast majority of installs, we’re still encounter a lot of app developers who overlooked even the easiest of techniques to boost search rankings.

There are a number of factors in play to make your app rank higher in the app store searches

  • your app will outrank your competitors if it has a large volume of downloads
  • if it’s currently being downloaded a lot
  • if your conversion rate is great between the actual app store search, ‘install page’ view and download.

Other things that help your app rank high are if you end up top 3 in the keywords that you’ve picked, if it’s not too heavy MB wise, if you update it often or if your users aren’t deleting it too frequently.

It’s wise to chose a less crowded app category and to optimize your app’s ratings.


1. Keywords: Choose your characters wisely
You’d be surprised to see what searches people are running to find your app, it’s not just your app’s name. Use Mobile Action’s free keyword tracking tool to test your search volumes and how high your app is ranking within those. On the App store you want to switch out those keywords generating low search volumes and the ones you’re ranking bad on (3rd result or worse). Be creative and test different keyword hypotheses. With Volvo, we found that people were searching for model numbers such as xc90, xc60 and v90. These were relevant searches in which we even didn’t turn up in before. All that lost potential traffic.

You’d be even more surprised to see how few developers actually use their app’s title to rank higher on searches. On iOS you have 50 characters and on Google Play you have 30 characters. Once you have your ‘keyword heavy weights’ lined up: Choose your characters wisely. On Google Play you don’t have a keyword box so here you have to bake them in the title and the description to turn up in the search results. A tip is to add a keyword section in the bottom and iterate your way forward. For Arla Köket, a recipe app we’ve built, we listed all their recipes, listing the app for long tail searches. For Bruce, a gym and studio membership we listed all the their possible work-out locations. 

To further demonstrate the power of keyword optimisation on iOS, we ran a quick US sample using the mobile analytics tools App Annie and Mobile Action comparing two very famous running apps exposing their daily downloads and to which keywords these downloads were attributed. Runtastic received beyond 18.000 iOS downloads a day in the US, where as adidas MiCoach only saw 800. When we looked closer we saw that MiCoach was wasting keywords by using gut feeling rather than data, not picking the ones with high search volumes and the ones where they ranked either first or second. On the other hand Runtastic had ruthlessly picked keywords with higher search volumes as well as optimised for ranking above the fold within the top 2 results. The irony of the experiment is that Adidas later strategically acquired Runtastic for €500M. Probably because of the millions of users, but also for that elusive mobile expertise to deploy across their suite of apps.

2. Screenshots: Communicate clearly what your app does

Remember: the first three screenshots are the most important. On iOS they’re even so important that the two first turn up in the search result. It’s as if you could design your own meta tag on Google search. It’s wise to communicate your edge here as in this search returning the ‘Arla Köket’ app.

Clicking through to the install page, it’s best practice to communicate the app in the screenshots as the users tend to look at screenshots rather than your description. Especially since most copy is written on a computer and never optimised for the small screen. Puzzled about Apple’s App store guidelines? There are more apps featured by Apple with annotated screenshots, than without.

If your background is bright, choose a white phone to bring back the noise. Your app’s beautiful design becomes clearer. On Android the screenshots are smaller so optimize the font size and use less characters. In the developer console there’s a brilliant tool for A/B testing screenshots and copy – use it.

3. Reviews: Find the magic zone for asking
It’s not polite to nag reviews when a user is in the middle of something while using your app. We see a lot of developers and apps just prompting reviews randomly. Asking for reviews randomly usually will get you 1-star reviews.

On the other hand, Rebtel’s app, making international calling affordable and borderless with a 25M strong user base, is timing the review dialogue. After a call they ask the user to rate the quality of the call, ranging 1-10. Review dialogues are only triggered if the user says 9 or 10. This is brilliant not just because the user is finished doing what they are doing, but they are in a happy state, so the likelihood of them giving Rebtel a 5-star review is probably higher.

 Work out the magic zone. This is where your users are finished with what they were doing. You know when you’ve performed a task inside an app and you feel gratified for a split second? That’s the magic zone. It’s logical, the earlier in your app’s user journey you place it, the more reviews will follow. For Volvo we found 3 magic zones, placed the review dialogue there, giving the Volvo app 47 reviews with an average of 4.9 within the first month.

Mobile is now the main digital access point. In the US 65% of all web traffic comes from mobile phones. In Japan mobile e-com purchases exceeds their web counterparts amongst the top retail players. Mobile grew up so big over night it eclipsed all time consumers spent online. This is mainly because of apps. People spend 18x more time inside apps than they do on the web using their phones.

– $143Bn: What the total estimated market size of the entire app industry is including all surrounding service layers.

In other words: The app competition has become fierce. If you want users to find and download your app, you need to think ahead: implementing the above mentioned tactics will make sure you have optimized your app ruthless laser focus on the most efficient tactics to drive organic growth. Drop us a line if you need any more help in your quest for a user base.


Author: David Prentell & Ulrika Schreil @ BBH Stockholm


Written by: Lucian Trestler, Strategy Director, BBH London

As our last post hinted at, we’re getting a little obsessed with feeling here at BBH.  Nigel Bogle has always said ‘sell through the heart’.  We’ve always known it.

The problem with feeling is it can get a little vague – make people happy.   Make people cry. But I believe we can get way more precise about this.

Here’s a little repartee between myself and Byron Sharp:


The more we pursue success through consistency, the more important it becomes to precisely analyse what made that first ad so amazing. So often this question is misdiagnosed and the tricky second album flops.

The drumming gorilla was all about joy right? A big, abstract, pure expression of joy in that quirky Cadbury’s tone of voice right? WRONG. It was all about a very specific type of orgasmic joy. The type that you can only experience after an outrageous build up. The release was the important bit there. Kind of like that release of sensory joy that can be experienced when you finally sink your teeth into that chocolate you’ve been craving. The build-up and release that wasn’t in any of their other ads.


Epic strut. That was all about a bloke dancing outrageously in public right? WRONG. We have all imagined how awesome it would be to burst into a power walk like that on days when we are bossing life and Queen B comes on shuffle. No one has imaged expressing that feeling on the pole. Ok, very few of us have imagined that.

Understanding exactly what that feeling was that made that ad so good is crucial, I would argue, in rolling out hit after hit.

The Under Armour ad with Misty Copeland (I will what I want) was all about that feeling when self-belief puts you on top of the world. Then came Giselle. Then Phelps. Each one a masterclass in spine tingling self-belief.

Our industry moves fast and naturally this means we obsess about the next big thing. And that’s a good thing. But we don’t stop to look back and reflect enough. By taking the time to ask – why exactly was that ad so good? – we (especially strats rustling up briefs) can pinpoint the exact feeling that needs replicating and help crack that tricky second album.


Written by: Lilli English & Will Lion (Heads of Strategy, BBH London)

Here’s a useful squiggle. It’s a model of how things change.


For the last few years it’s felt like we’ve been in the cauldron: a bubbling, unpleasant mix of low client and marketing confidence; a procurement culture that sees our services in the same way it sees the staples; talent with exciting options extending far beyond agencies; an ever increasing media and technological complexity; a reliance on testing work that raises the floor but limits the ceiling; a collective impatience to deliver results faster than they might be able to arrive; and a culture of extreme rationality to make sense of it all, which is sure to balloon as we deal with the uncertainties now ahead of us.

So in response everyone’s been scrambling to create the perfectly optimised marketing machine. Data, science, accountability, logic, technology, utility. These are the heroes. These are the things we reassure clients with now.  And rightly.

But frankly, that’s not enough.  Only focussing on the machine is drying out the work. It’s become sterile, mediocre, samey, complex – across the industry. It’s no wonder the world is blocking us out.

Even Google’s feeling it:

“I have a colleague who is writing a paper on the future of marketing: it’s data, data, science, science. I’m like, “it’s not!” Or rather, it is those things, yes. But if you fall down on the art, if you fail on the messaging and storytelling, all that those tools will get you are a lot of bad impressions” Lorraine Twohill, Global VP Marketing at Google.

And it’s just not working as well for clients. As the IPA discovered last year, thinking only short term and rationally has made our creativity half as powerful in the last few years. Half!

Truth is, anyone can build the machine and churn out lukewarm porridge – but that’s not good enough. There’s a better way. A way that makes more of a difference. So yes we must build the most fearsome set of pipes but we mustn’t forget to fill them with the magic.

Finding our feeling

That’s been our mantra to BBH strategists for the past year. For us the answer lies in going back to one of the great timeless truths of how our creativity works:

We make a commercial difference by making people feel.

It’s painfully simple, we know. But fundamental – and all too easy to forget.

Just look at what’s happened last year: FEELING TRUMPED ALL ELSE. We learnt that 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.  The likes of Trump have undeniably understood and exploited this, far better than their opponents.


Go back to our own industry, and the data tells us the same story. We know that when people feel emotionally connected to a brand they are 52% more valuable (HBR), they create more profit for companies, and they do so more efficiently (IPA).

It’s no surprise – making someone feel ignites their brain, earns you a small corner of their memory, which in turn drives their behaviour.

Making people feel. It’s essentially our safest marketing strategy.

But for us this goes beyond confidence in the foundations of marketing – it’s a vision for how to build differentiated brands in the modern world.

Every corner of a modern brand’s experience, from comms to counter, needs to be smoothly connected and efficient now.  Of course it does. But bring more feeling to those moments – more beauty, surprise, warmth, awe – and you elevate yourself into greater difference. Especially as experiences gets more commoditised, feeling will pay back. It always has of course, but now it just has more places to play. And as nerdy as it is to admit it, we think that’s incredibly exciting.

6 things to try out:

  1. Turn the new wave of intelligence into opportunities to create magic. Learn to love DMPs (data management platform) and BPMs (beats per minute). Infuse the whole new connected brand experience with feeling, whether that’s something you see on a TV, play with on a phone or touch in store. Sure there’s a symphony of computation going on behind the curtain but make everything feel magic to the punters.
  1. Give your client confidence in feeling: Gather the hoards of evidence to prove feeling makes a commercial difference and arm clients with the framework and tools to convince their peers and bosses. A few examples for starters: IPA 2014, HBR 2015, IPA 2016, Neuro-Insight, BrainJuicer.
  1. Attract and retain talent who get the power of feeling. We need sophisticated plumbers who know their DMPs from their GRPs. But find the precious few who can do both intelligence and magic, across different ages and experience. When it comes to finding young talent, we look for CVs that balance a restless curiosity across a broad set of interests with depth of skill and/or expertise. Red flags include jargon, platform snobbery, and evangelism around one way of thinking.
  1. Stop thinking, start feeling for great work: Evaluate the work by how it makes us feel. The more precise the better – find the feeling that is proven to change behaviour and track that feeling relentlessly. For example for Audi, we pursue the feeling of desire right through to purchase, as much in TV as in programmatic. And we’re embracing new ways of measuring emotion – from facial coding to neuroscience. We know that too much logic can kill creativity, but often forget that this applies to our own internal creative reviews as much as it does client pre-testing.
  1. Sell the work with feeling. Seduce the heart and give the head reasons to follow. It’s what we advise clients do, but it’s something we all too often forget when selling to them. Simple things can make all the difference – working in proper time to rehearse (if humanly possible); planning a great client experience from the moment they walk in the agency…
  1. Prove the value of feeling. Measure the emotional response to your activity with forensic intensity, from the smallest interactions to the most epic campaign; and prove feeling delivers difference to our clients’ fortunes, again and again.

Feeling works. It’s what we can do that others (and the algorithms) can’t. And it’s what we all got into this game for, isn’t it?







At first glance these may look like three separate entities, but look a little closer into youth culture today and you will see that they are inseparably tangled together. Grime stars love gaming; they love talking about it online and they love writing music about gaming.

The gaming elite have reciprocated this inter-genre love; KSI – gamer and most influential YouTuber in the UK – has even collaborated on grime tune ‘Lamborghini’ with P Money, which has amassed more than 61m views.

This blossoming friendship between two of the biggest and hottest UK cultures has been played out publicly across a combined social network that reaches approximately 60% of the UK’s 16-24s.

So how does KFC fit into this? Where you find grime and gaming, you find KFC mentioned constantly, both in lyrics or proclaimed as the ultimate fuel for gaming, making it a natural part of the conversation.

So when KFC challenged us to create an initiative to connect with a youth audience across digital platforms, we knew that this was the cultural opportunity to go after, especially as this age group is leading the charge against online advertising, with nearly half (47%) using adblockers – up 15% in a year. (Source: YouGov 2016)

We wanted to find a unique slant on gaming that felt right for KFC, a brand that connects people in the real world. Social conversations revealed that the rise of online multi-player gaming, as cool and big as it might be, has somewhat undermined the old-school way of having weekend long gaming sessions, hanging out with your mates on the sofa, a split-screen and lots of food.

We decided to bring back the thing that made gaming great in the first place by creating the Colonel’s Couch. A gaming sofa designed to unite friends over their favourite games and food. So on the 27th November, KFC hosted a gaming tournament that saw the biggest names in grime and gaming battle it out for a lifetime’s supply of KFC.

With traditional OLA declining in reach, we wondered whether live broadcast, connecting straight to the customer, could offer us a marketing opportunity. We decided to partner with Facebook and stream the event ‘live’ so that our broader KFC audience could witness this epic game/griming battle.

While watching people game online might seem a strange concept to some, we know that eSports is one of the world’s fastest growing sports with a global audience of 256m people growing at 13% YOY (Source: Newzuoo 2016).

And the results spoke for themselves. By shortcutting traditional media, KFC reached 87% its target audience, with the live stream reaching 2.7 million people. Within the first 48 hours we had 3,800 comments, 77% of which expressed joy for what they just witnessed.

This campaign enforced the existing cultural associations between this demographic, eating occasion and KFC. At a fraction of the price of TV. The long term effect of this broadcast is yet to be measured, but we are already planning no.2. Why? Because if you create and share something that people love, you don’t have to worry too much about adblocking.



Authors: Tom Hargreaves, Strategist BBH Live & Lucian Trestler, Strategy Director 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 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’.


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?


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.


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.

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

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.



[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


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


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 ( to another which won two Lions at Cannes (, 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 ( and Singapore ( 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, 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 and follow @bbhbarn.  Applications are due May 11th.  We start June 4th, 2012. We cry that it’s over August 10th.

Good luck.