BBH Labs

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

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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

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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.

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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]

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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)

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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.

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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.