Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
29th April 14
Author: Richard Helyar, Head of Research, BBH London
Last week Disney’s icy fairytale Frozen became the 6th highest grossing film of all time. It had already taken more money at the box office than any other animated film in history, relegating Pixar’s Toy Story 3 to second place. Incredibly, a two-man leadership team is behind both films and their respective studios: Ed Catmull and John Lasseter.
So BBH was highly animated when we welcomed one half of this duo, Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder and President of both Pixar and Disney Animation, to talk to us last week on his two-day visit to London promoting his new book Creativity, Inc.
Together with the backing of Steve Jobs, Ed and John built Pixar from scratch and I doubt if anyone reading this hasn’t seen, and loved, one of their films. Pixar’s 27 Oscars and $7bn revenue is a pretty compelling demonstration of the creative and commercial yin yang, but what is truly remarkable is that when Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, Ed and John were put in charge of Disney Animation, then on its knees, and pulled off the same trick again. Frozen is testament to their methods and it’s these methods that were the subject of Ed’s remarks.
What I found fascinating listening to Ed was that he talked more of failure than success. Sure, we’re all well versed in the merits of failing fast, it’s practically an internet meme, but the scale here is epic and the anecdotes are richer. Ed shared stories about how so many iterations of new movies suck. Really suck. “On Up, the only thing to stay the same from the start was the bird and the word Up”.
He went on to talk about how the best people know how to rip up months of hard graft and start again if it’s not working and how there has only been one film when the reset button was not pressed (Toy Story 3 for the record). He concluded that “failure isn’t a necessary evil. It’s not evil at all, but a necessary consequence of doing something new”.
Ed went on to describe Pixar’s ‘Braintrust’. Basically a steering committee, but one where absolute candour and a shared investment in success, ensure that even the gnarliest problems are worked through and solved.
And what made him most proud? Not Toy Story or Frozen, nor the awards and the revenues, but how his people react when things go wrong. Like for instance an employee accidentally deleting 90% of Toy Story 2 during production. Two years work by 400 people gone and the back-up failed (you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened).
Another topic he warmed to concerned people and process. “Give a great idea to a poor team and they’ll screw it up. Give a poor idea to a great team and they’ll either fix it or throw it away and start again”. People trump process every time. His barometer for how a movie is progressing? Not the quality of the work (it will probably suck, see above), but the spirit in the team producing it.
And it was a person not a process that Ed talked most passionately about. No-one worked with Steve Jobs longer than Ed Catmull and he was clearly moved when talking about the compassionate side of Steve that never made the biography. Ed finished with an observation that was pure Steve Jobs: “Making processes better and more efficient is a vital task, but it’s not the goal. Excellence is the goal”.
7th June 13
Author: Nick Fell, Strategy Director
Last week we launched the Storytime Hangout app for Google+. Built in collaboration with Penguin, it allows families to share the story of Three Billy Goats Gruff over a hangout, whether they’re at home or away from one and other. Not only that but everyone participating can become characters in the story with masks overlayed onto their faces.
It’s early days but the app seems to have caught people’s imaginations and we’re excited about the potential to adapt further stories to be read in this way.
The project was driven forward with unwavering determination by a team of people at BBH and Penguin. We’ve also had great support from the team at Google.
We wanted to share with you our experiences of developing the app and highlight three things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Proactive projects require a laser-focus
We developed Storytime Hangout without an official brief. A small group of us at BBH had been discussing the massive potential of Google+ Hangouts to bring people closer together in some new and interesting ways. We were all passionate enough about the opportunity to spend some of our own time exploring ideas that would augment the experience of a Hangout even further. Storytime Hangout was the best idea of a long list. Proactively developing, building and launching an app in the spare moments in our days has been even more challenging than we expected. We’ve learned the hard way that to succeed means getting behind one idea early and be ruthless with the feature set.
2. Insight before tech
With such a wealth of technology at one’s disposal, it’s never been easier to create and launch an idea. The trap is to build something just because you can. What makes one experience more successful than another still comes down to an understanding of people; their hopes, dreams and behaviour. In our own experiences and in talking to other parents, it was clear that story time was one of the most enjoyable and important moments a parent can share with their children. The problem was that distance and other distractions often got in the way. It’s early days, but we’re hoping that a focus on problem-solving and not tech experimentation alone will encourage people to keep coming back to the app on Google+.
3. Stick by your principles
Technology is transforming publishing. Books are being bought and read in new ways and publishers have to adapt to how they market and distribute their intellectual property. Children’s literature is a particularly dynamic industry. Parents now have access to a wealth of content, apps and games to keep the kids entertained, much of which is freely available on the web. In adapting a children’s story for consumption online we wanted to ensure that we promoted the magic of storytelling. This informed our entire approach to developing the app. Words are central to the experience and we have tried to use technology in a way that augments, not distracts from, the reading of the book.
20th May 13
As a product of the first dotcom boom in the mid-nineties I have always been digitally minded. I found my way to advertising through a decade of working in some of the finest interactive studios. More so than ever those two worlds have collided. Earlier this year I set out to write a book that took some of that learning and the mindset of working as a creative in a digital world.
The format of the book took on the look and feel a children’s book for learning the alphabet, with each letter referencing a way of thinking or an insight into the modern creative process. The book was lovingly illustrated by 26 of the industry’s best, and to introduced the book, I asked a simple question of five of advertising’s top creative minds. What does it mean to be a contemporary creative in today’s modern world of advertising? Below are three of the responses I received, the remaining responses can be found by reading the book itself.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” What does it mean to be a creative these days? It’s almost impossible to answer this. The tasks of a creative are unrecognisable from as little as five years ago. You must decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly the days of easy three week shoots in the Caribbean are long gone. But when has an advertising creative ever had the chance to make a physical product from scratch? To really make something? Some would argue clients have never been more conservative but some guy just fell from space for a can of pop with no guarantee that his brains wouldn’t splatter across a million screens. It seems it’s wise to be foolish. One thing a creative does need to be is a hustler. There are no easy briefs any more. You have to fight for the crazy stuff. But I honestly believe in a more uniform and conservative world weird stands out, weird – like ‘Greed’ – works. Look at GaGa. When the going gets weird the weird turn pro. Is that what we are, professional weirdos? I can live with that. - James Cooper
“Creativity” is a loaded word – like “war” or “god” or “child.” It has a lot in common with these words too – for it’s a mix of heavy burden and a blinding belief in our own potential to invent. “Creative” is too often reserved for people who are quirky, strange, tattooed and/or mustachioed. But in truth, everyone is creative with the way they solve the needs of the contemporary world – be they juggling numbers, whittling a good spear, or even in the conjuring of creative design and advertising. What we’re talking about here is indeed creativity in the visual, interactive and social-psychological senses. The Contemporary Creative has the ability to excite all of these with ease, telling stories and inciting action. Those before us molded clay, steel, and wood, but we flex our power with pixels and clicks, flash frames and light, code strings and sensors. We are manipulators – hopefully for good. The one trick pony creative no longer exists; instant death comes to those with narrow-minds, parochial interests or inflexibility. Inquisitiveness, fearlessness and an insatiable thirst for The New are the only real mandates for today’s creative minds. So feed your inner child. Create something from nothing. It’s a war of the senses. - David Schwarz
You can’t be of your time creatively if you’re behind in how you can express it. Nice sound bite, that. And like most sound bites, half true, half full of shit. Why it’s half shit: you can be and do whatever you want creatively. There is absolutely no right or wrong, just expression or no expression. That’s the goddamn beauty of it. Why it’s half true? If you want to have an impact, to have other people see or hear or experience your creativity, it’s a good idea to understand the times you’re living in, the mediums and formats are resonating with people – and understand the tools are available to bring your expressions to life. Know those, and all that creativity inside has a chance to be seen, experienced, and shared. Which makes you a creative person of your time, a ‘contemporary creative’ so to speak. - John Patroulis
The printed version of the book is set to be released on June 6th, however in the spirit of the open Web, I have published the book in it’s entirety as a tumblr blog. You can scroll through it contents at this url: abcbook.tumblr.com
28th March 13
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Why assign your own name to a brand? What drives the founders of eponymous brands? What lies behind the success of the successful?
These are questions addressed by Branded Gentry, an engaging new book by Charles Vallance and David Hopper. The book comprises a series of interviews with people who ‘made their name by making their name into a brand’. The likes of Johnnie Boden, the founder of the casual clothing company, James Dyson of the innovative household appliance brand, Jonathan Warburton of the baking dynasty, and our own John Hegarty.
I found it a refreshing read. Conventional business books encourage us to think of commercial success in terms akin to scientific case studies. We isolate key learnings, critical success factors, best demonstrated practice. We are introduced to models, mantras and metaphors. We are given a picture of achievement which is ordered, constructed,
Branded Gentry invites us to consider the psychology of the founders of successful brands. Their relationship with their parents, the view from their childhood bedroom, the emotional milestones that mark out their career. Each chapter is a character study, an elegant pen portrait of often charismatic, compelling individuals. Consequently it paints a picture of success that is disordered, spontaneous,
instinctive. And of business that is personal, passionate, human.
The decision to give one’s own name to a brand is significant. If brands are fundamentally about trust, then a brand that carries a founder’s name has a particular sense of integrity. The tag-line of Warburton’s bread is: ‘We care because our name’s on it.’ And as Boden puts it, ‘If you don’t believe in your name, how can you expect other people to give you money?’
Inevitably perhaps, there is a consistent theme of ‘failing forwards’. Tripping up on the way to success, maybe being humbled by mistakes, but also seeing in them learning and experience. The eponymous brand owners come across as enthusiasts. They’re often breezily confident and positive about life. Many of them seem more emotional than you might expect, more active listeners.
But there’s also a dark undertow. A wariness of good fortune, a suspicion that bad times may be round the corner, a fear of debt (which many of them have experienced). The Branded Gentry are restless souls. Listen to James Dyson: ‘I’m not satisfied; I’m still not satisfied. The moment you’ve done something, then you’re onto the next thing, which is full of new problems you’ve got to solve …It’s a life of failure and dissatisfaction whatever your private wealth’. Or as the potter, Emma Bridgewater, puts it: ‘The trouble with being an entrepreneur is that you never think you’ve finished. You’re always thinking of things you haven’t done… I’ve got a lot of parallel lives unlived, but you suddenly realise it’s probably not going to happen. It’s the inherent sadness of ageing.’
I guess I had imagined that success came easily to the successful; that they had had a leg-up from life, a helping hand to get them started. In fact I was rather struck by the fact that, whilst some of these entrepreneurs were born into material wealth, most of them had rather tough childhoods.The broken home, the unsympathetic father, the parents that passed away before their time. Illness and ill fortune seem never too far away. (Dyson points out that over 80% of British Prime Ministers lost a parent before the age of 10, compared to only 1.5% of the general population.)
I grew up committed to a clear separation between work and life beyond it. Of course in the modern age it’s increasingly difficult to sustain the divide. For these Branded Gentry life is work and the eponymous business is fundamentally an expression of self. According to Dyson, ‘I had developed a latent desire to make things around me better and that desire was the very part of whom I was.’ The authors conclude that their subjects ‘didn’t go out into the world to fit in with it. One way or another, they set out to make the world fit them.’
Branded Gentry is very well written. There is a commendable amount of descriptive detail and direct speech. One often feels one is in the room with the interviewee, observing his or her furniture, inflections,
physiognomy. I welcome the book’s commitment that business is about people not just processes, passions not just practices. For Vallance and Hopper the personal is professional.
3rd June 11
Posted in Books
“Do not go gentle into that good night, but rage against the dying of the light”
~ Dylan Thomas, quoted in Hegarty in Advertising
Sir John’s book, “Hegarty on Advertising”, goes on sale on Monday.
He would be first person to say this is no ‘how-to’ manual, but rather his own story: packed with no holds barred opinion, behind the scenes anecdotes and strongly held principles to work by. There’s no crystal ball gazing, instead a distillation of what he’s learned in 45 years in the business. As such we found it a dose in humility for the here and now: a grip on history that, as ever, sets the future in context.
Despite his protestation this isn’t a manual, several ideas and themes emerge that have a hell of a lot to teach the rest of us: what makes a successful start-up, the humanization of the workplace, how to approach technology and stay abreast of innovation, the role of difference and ‘creative destruction’, the impact of globalization, why ideas matter and more.
We asked him to shed a little more light on some of these themes. In doing so, we thought we’d see if we could put one of his most firmly held views to the test; his belief that “words are a barrier to communication”. We have no idea if this is going to work, but here goes – our first interview response without words.
What do you mean by “creative destruction”?
“Creativity isn’t an occupation, it’s a pre-occupation” – can you explain what you mean by this?
If you started an agency today, what would it be like?
Is there a single piece of work you think defines you?
Where do you look for inspiration?
You say the way creative thinking gets deployed “will always be a continually moving target.. to nail your colours to any particular medium or technology will sow the seeds of your destruction”. So how should we engage with technology?
And, finally, you say you can’t name all the people you’d like to thank, but if there had to be one (okay, perhaps a couple), who would it be?
Sketches are by Sir John Hegarty
For more about the book: www.hegartyonadvertising.com