BBH Labs

Zero History – Notes from a n00b

Skateboard

I know that I’m late to the game on this ‘five things I’m thinking about’ meme and very new to the game in this advertising business, so here’s hoping that the two things balance out here, in my first nervy post.

1) Where is knowledge stored?

OK – so just a week ago I was posting farewell on The Penguin Blog, trying to distill a few years of digital publishing thinking into a couple of hundred words and now I am in a new office with new people doing a completely different thing in a new industry. So my short term goal is to find the well(s) of knowledge and drink deeply.

In preparation for this transition I’ve read a couple of books and redirected my RSS and twitter streams adwards. But already in 4 days I’ve learned more from a few concentrated conversations than from hours of reading. So maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books and blogs, or reading them badly.

But perhaps it’s a very analogue notion that knowledge is stored on paper and a digital notion that knowledge is amalgamated in crowds. Everyone is an expert in something, everyone has a specialist subject or a unique take on an issue – the challenge is finding them and unlocking their knowledge. And face-to-face beats distance learning every time.

2) Is there still an edge?

The publication of any new William Gibson book is always a good opportunity to think about the edges of things and, of course, the places in between, which in our upside down topsy turvy existence must be edges of a sort. My favourite Gibson passage is from All Tomorrow’s Parties where the disappearance of bohemia is explained thus: “We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious.

Of course, as a new entrant to the world of advertising I need to start rapaciously appropriating the edge as swiftly as possible, which is why I should start finding out where it is.

3) Skateboarding

(Actually, specifically, the sound of resin on concrete, or even more specifically the difficulty in finding good skateboard sound effects)

Don’t get me wrong I am not and have never been a skater but I have always loved skate videos and watching this yesterday (via Ruby Pseudo) it struck me that it is the sound that I love especially. I was born in a city and have lived most of my life in the same city and can’t really imagine not living in a city. Cities, as far as I’m concerned, are where stuff happens, and I am a huge fan of stuff happening. And, since skating demands ‘crete perhaps there is no soundtrack more urban than the sound of skating. If there are other, even more urban soundscapes I should be tuning into, let me know.

4) Flickr and careful curation

Every now and again it’s worth remembering what a lovely and valuable discovery engine flickr really is. Of course for simple image search it’s great but there is also the joy-inducing serendipity of discovering that there are others who share the same interests as you, whether these interests are craneporncontrol panels or failure. A friend of mine describes internet pornography as having the same serendipitous effect – all of a sudden you discovers kinks that you didn’t know you had. But with flickr the quality of a group is in the care of the curation. A good group will have clearly communicated criteria for submissions and submissions that fall outside certain boundaries will be rejected, so preserving a curatorial, yet crowdsourced, integrity. It strikes me that there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from flickr and curation and community are good places to start.

5) The Idea Thing

A change in profession is a good opportunity for some good old fashioned introspection and navel gazing. So, is there a difference between what I did (getting things made and selling them) and what I now do (communicating ideas about things other people have made and want to sell)? Who is the customer for an idea, the client or the audience or both?

When ‘things’ encapsulate ‘ideas’ do they stop being purely things or purely ideas? I am less interested in *the social object* than I am in *the idea thing*, a digital or physical object that captures and communicates an idea about the world. Can idea things sell stuff, or are they the stuff that sells?

I guess I’m about to find out.

Our Ten Top Reads from Last 7 Days, 26 July 2010

Every week Mel Exon (@melex) & I pull together 10 stories or links that we think are in some way inspiring, relevant, challenging, or just plain interesting, & we send them to BBH-ers in our six offices around the world.

It’s of course heavily based on the BBH Labs (@BBHLabs) Twitter feed & blog, but recognizes the reality that not everyone is hooked up to Twitter 23.5 hours per day.

Anyway, we thought we’d share it. So here it is. Feel free to pass on. As usual, ideas on making it more useful always welcome.

Summary of the how agencies are pushing to evolve & become more digitally literate, & how ‘digital shops’ are losing lead – ‘Closing the Tech Divide’ (AdWeek) – http://bit.ly/9dI94r

‘Google is not making us stupid, & the Internet is not really changing our brains’ (a riposte to Clay Shirky, in the LA Times) – http://j.mp/c1RBYU (via @chrisgrayson)

Will Zynga Become the Google of Games? On the rise & rise of Zynga (of Farmville fame), in the NYT – http://nyti.ms/dzJhFQ

‘Digital agencies are the new dinosaurs. If they don’t evolve quickly they will lose their 10yr headstart’ (written by Daniele Fiandaca, chair of Creative Social) – http://j.mp/9L2ICM

‘Digital Tools for Making Brilliant Mistakes’ – on Hipstamatic, Vintage Video Maker & why they appeal (explain to your kids why all your photos of them look crap) – http://j.mp/b5T2pg

‘Facebook is beginning to look & act like a sovereign state’ – from The Economist – http://j.mp/dggyN2

Refreshing to see augmented reality work where there’s genuine reason for the AR; new work for Olympus, by Mullen – http://j.mp/deytQl

‘What Makes A Good Creative Director?’ – a fairly solid list of attributes here + a good discussion – http://j.mp/cN46me (via @ckburgess)

‘We Need To Rethink How We View Creativity’ – great post by @neilperkin – http://j.mp/bRPoyX

Thought-provoking stuff from @brucenussbaum – Is Humanitarian Design the new Imperialism? – http://j.mp/dkq6H8

plus a bonus 11th . . .

New @BBHLabs post by BBH New York’s Seth Weisfeld – ‘The Best Camera is the One You Have With You’ . . . introducing the iOScars’ – http://j.mp/iOScars

A Quick Glance Back – 10 of Our Favourite Posts From 2009

black-labrador-photo

What a year. Here within the BBH Labs team we’ve had our ups and our downs. But we’ve been facing only forwards. We thought today might be the one day of the year we allow ourselves a sneaky peek backwards. In particular in regard to our little blog.

This blog’s grown from nothing, through embryonic to, well, at least something approaching pre-pubescence. Whilst we’ve not shared as much as we had hoped in these pages, since launching on April Fool’s Day 2009 we’ve managed around 70 posts.

Looking back through the content it’s reassuring (at least to us) that we’ve managed a fair degree of consistency in terms of the topics we’ve  posted on, with some key themes emerging as core areas of Labs’ interest. We didn’t plan this when we started, it just happened. (We outline these themes – with links to example posts – underneath this list of our Favourite 10 from 2009.)

What made most of the posts even remotely interesting to start with was the commenting and opinion shared on the blog in response to them. We’d like to thank all those who took time not just to read but to improve our thoughts. We massively value your contribution, and we always look forward to reading your input, however challenging or provocative.

More than anything, even more than the 900+ comments on these posts, what we’ve taken out of this first eight months of Labs blogging are some great new friends, partners & teachers. Long after the frothy excitement around this app or that platform recedes, and even after the buzz around great work might fade into Awards annuals, it’s this side of the blog that we will value most highly.

Happy New Year. See you in 2010. Mel, Pats, Ben

* * * *

So, we thought we’d fish out ten posts that we either particularly enjoyed putting together, or that triggered a debate from which we learned a lot (often, it was both). Here they are, with links (via titles) to the originals & original comments.

1. The Battle Between Art & The Algorithm

The onset of increasingly ‘perfect’ information would suggest that the content we are served is ever more relevant, the choices we make are ever easier, and our levels of satisfaction should never have been higher (think the ultra relevance of Netflix, Fresh Direct, SatNav, Amazon recommends, Facebook suggests, Google search). We argue here, however, that this rise in relevance amounts to nothing less than the ‘end of surprise’, and that comes with a cost (think The Truman Show meets Minority Report). We focus on the opportunity: a role for genuinely inventive, interactive and surprising content and experiences in an era where the rough edges are too often being smoothed away.

(more…)

We are the Robots!

In eager anticipation of the new Terminator film, I’ve done a little poking around into what’s happening in the world of robots.

The main action in this area is clearly in Asia. And while Korea pushes ahead with plans to build robot parks, even going so far as to introduce legislation for a robot code of ethics to “Prevent Android Abuse and Protect Humans,” it’s the Japanese who appear to be in the quickest sprint to building a creepy robo-future.

Due to strict immigration laws and a quickly aging population (its expected that 1/3 of its citizenry will be over 60 by 2050) the country is racing to realize a day when robots can provide care for their elderly, clean homes and provide administrative office tasks. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is actively involved in supporting the development of intelligent robots and hopes to introduce many of the models in development into the marketplace by 2015.

Here’s a cross-sample of what’s in store…

PARO
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Paro is the “World’s most therapeutic robot.” It uses an array of sensors to respond to audible, visual, and tactile stimulation. Each Paro attains a unique personality of sorts due to its ability to be trained to execute (or refrain from) specific actions. Pet Paro and he knows he is being rewarded for good behaviour, smack him and he will do his best not to repeat that behaviour.
(For full post click below)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx8mv87e6wE[/youtube]

(more…)

Effective CRM you won’t read about in Adweek

I saw my friend Joshua Ramos for a drink the other evening. He was telling me about his new book The Age of the Unthinkable in which he details all he learned from Hezbollah’s new media guy on how to run an effective communications strategy against a better-funded adversary. Remember, this is the same team that turned an impossible-to-win military campaign against Israel in ’06 into a perceived victory. And if you agree that in today’s media frenzied environment that perception is reality… then the round went to Hezbollah.

Though we were discussing Mid-East policy, my mind went immediately to brand marketers who essentially faces the same issues: how easily a single crafty teenager can ju-jitsu multi-million dollar budgets and turn big business assets into liabilities.

So I took a stroll through the darker alleys of the internet to peek at marketing and outreach techniques by some of society’s better-known ideological enemies. I collected a few links below (before stopping in fear of having an FBI file opened on me).

To be honest, gang members, terrorists and racial hate groups don’t seem to as technology and media-savvy as I expected. All the sites I found could have been created by the same web designer (in 1998): free hosting, terrible anthem-like music files, and lots of broken links. I get the sense many of these sites are constantly on the move, remaining one step ahead of hosting companies and law enforcement agencies whose job it is to stomp them out in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

Please proceed through the links below with caution… (MORE BELOW)

(more…)

Designer needed. Logo desired. Labs flirts with the crowd.

Tasked with exploring new models for marketers, one of our first orders of business will be to hold an “open pitch” for our new logo. All interested designers please visit http://bit.ly/39yWEd for more on the deadline, the brief and the fee.

We’re posting a brief on Crowdspring well aware of the heated discussions taking place within the design community regarding sites that promote spec work. Though the crowdsourcing business model is still clearly in its infancy, BBH Labs reasoning for giving Crowdspring a try, simply put, is because the model seems to be working (albeit, better for smaller companies).

We’ve heard the arguments against Crowdspring. We’ve heard it said that it lowers the standard of what is considered “good” design. But for the purposes of this conversation, isn’t a “good” design one that pleases the person paying for it? I think Marley and Me is a “bad” film. My niece disagrees. So be it.

Another argument is that the Crowdspring model is akin to outsourcing, putting professional design work in the hands of untrained amateurs, and in the process, driving down the price real designers are able to charge for their services. If you’re a great designer, these sites shouldn’t be a threat since aspiring designers willing to work on spec is nothing new. If you’re a mediocre designer on the other hand, then consider that new technologies will only continue to make you better: just as the mouse made you better and Adobe Illustrator made you better, competing on a larger playing field should also make you better (and add to your bottom line).

I don’t want to sound overly insensitive, but evolution isn’t always orderly: we are living in a transformational period and in order to not be put out to pasture prematurely, entire industries are having to retrain themselves and rethink how business is going to be conducted going forward. From young designers to established agency networks, change is coming.

I’ll stop rambling now and come back to why we like Crowdspring. We see these sites as giving much more than they take. By matchmaking small businesses that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise afford a custom logo with a pool of designers that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to offer their services, they are helping to grow an overall appreciation for design as well as build an entirely new market that didn’t previously exist.

Will Crowdspring deliver Labs a great logo that meets our demanding and sophisticated needs? Not sure, but we’re looking forward to fishing these new waters nonetheless.

Linking intelligently (or why I love bit.ly)

I transitioned from tinyurl.com to bit.ly earlier this year. Probably way after most people started using it. It’s awesome. But I’m guessing the reason I love bit.ly is not the reason most people would give. Yes, bit.ly delivers super utility simply by shortening a link of seemingly any length to virtually no length. And it makes it easy and quick. That’s part of it.

But I’ve become addicted to the data which bit.ly provides on every link you shorten. Because with bit.ly the shortening is just the beginning of it’s magic. If you register on the site you have a record of all the links you’ve shortened. And if you hit the ‘Info’ function underneath a link you are presented with a treasure trove of metrics & insight. Traffic (clicks) with time & date information, geographical location, platform used to access the link, conversations the link featured within, RTs, and so on.

picture-1

So one learns that a link posted on Twitter that touches on industrial design is 50% more likely to be clicked on in Brazil than in the UK. Or a link that relates to LEGO is three times as likely to be clicked on in Denmark than in Canada. Or that the optimum time to post is 10pm ET, or that actually one needs to re-post because the two peaks are 10pm ET and 10pm GMT, or that if you want to provoke an Australian audience one should post after 11pm ET. Much of this might seem intuitive, but accessing the data that proves (or refutes) some of the assumptions we work with when we share links is a revealing exercise. Above all, it provides much greater depth of feedback on what’s popular (or not) than simply the crude measure of how often your message is RT on Twitter. And it’s not just Twitter – you can add a bit.ly add-on to your Gmail (http://bit.ly/Xd1yM).

Bit.ly allows you to do a whole lot more than fire-and-forget; it promotes smart linking, and that makes it cool in my (Excel work) book.

And we’ve arrived…

So we’ve been micro blogging via Twitter for a while now, but figured it was about time we had a little more meat in our sandwich.

We’ll be sharing here anything that’s grabbed our attention of late, particularly anything that has implications for how brands and marketing will evolve in future. For now, have a look at the About Labs page or contact us if you’d like to know more. Alternatively check out bbhlabs on Twitter.

Finally, a heartfelt hat tip to our friends @ Made by Many, who designed and built this thing of beauty for us. We thank you.