Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
24th October 13
Guest Author: Tom Uglow, Creative Director, Google Creative Lab
> No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse. – Theseus
On the 21st to 23rd June 2013, the Royal Shakespeare Company put on a unique, one-off performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in collaboration with Google’s Creative Lab. It took place online, and offline – at the same time. It was the culmination of an 18 month project looking at new forms of theatre with digital at the core.
Midsummer Night’s Dreaming occurred as a live performance in 4 locations over three midsummer days, following the time structure of the play (which, it turns out, meant mainly at night. Clue is in the title apparently). Simultaneously, an universe of 30 new characters were created on Google+ (i.e. Hercules, Theseus’s best man, Phoebe the Moon & Bottom’s Mum). Their role was to illuminate and augment the play. We didn’t really expect them to go spinning wildly off from the play into their own fractured and fragmented narratives online. But that happened. Even fictional characters like to document their mundane (fictional) experiences: a concept that an audience member described as “like a live online soap opera wrapped round the drama of the play”.
This piece isn’t about what we did or why – for that see about.dream40.org/why. Our collaboration on Midsummer Night’s Dreaming was an experiment for Google and an experiment for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It wasn’t really marketing or sponsorship, it wasn’t a live stream; it was a trial, a rehearsal, an attempt to do something new. #dream40 was an experiment in online narrative for the digital creative world from local theatre through to global agencies. It wasn’t a passive broadcast of a play and it was always meant to be more about questions than answers – so that is why we want to share our thoughts, what we learnt. It’s for you, if you are interested in this sort of thing.
We soon discovered that our experiment had two paradoxes buried firmly at its heart.
1. Until we saw what we were creating we didn’t know what we were creating.
2. Until new paradigms for interaction are defined it is impossible to interact within them.
And finally a truism: An audience with no idea what to expect can only have their expectations confounded. People ‘watch’ plays, they don’t ‘perform’; cultural consumption is traditionally passive. I personally realised that physical theatre is magical, transformative. It is a form of virtual reality.
“We learn through doing” said Sarah Ellis. Wisely.
And what did we learn? Well, we learnt a lot. There is almost nothing that could not have been done better, but there was also nothing wrong with what we did. And if it were a rehearsal we would be able to change up for the big night – instead of which (alas) these ‘notes’ are for other players with similar ideas.
Fail once, fail twice, fail better said Beckett. Although I am not sure who was there to hear it. Maybe Mrs Beckett tweeted it.
This project started out as an essay for Sarah Ellis’s MyShakespeare project of 2012.
It began as a question: What would theatre look like if you invented it in 2013? Would this new theatre would be physical, with a stage, un-augmented by the dominant technology of the day? A format uniquely unaffected by the profound shift from static to fluid information?
Then, we thought the essay would work better as a single scene translated via social media. This became a single act. Then a whole text, perpormed live, in real-time, in Selfridges, with cctv, and celebrities. But we never quite got to that. Google finally committed to the dream in Jan 2013 and a more modest schedule that involved a full RSC production performed over three days in the middle of the night, a creative team of five writing 2000 pieces of material for 30 new characters to be shared online non-stop for 72 hours, and a digital team of three.
Our expectations also scaled up as the project became more visible; the more people we brought in the grander the vision became. We all know how that story ends. Several things didn’t change: 1) the principle – to illuminate a traditional play with online augmentation; 2) the core team (Geraldine Collinge, Sarah Ellis, myself and James Boyce); 3) the budget.
Looking back what we achieved seems unimaginable.
Energy and reach – the ability to reach so many people worldwide on our terms was unexpected.
Theatre – the RSC’s ‘scratch’ performance was transcendent and mesmerising.
Behind the scenes – the transparency of RSC process (e.g. Hangouts) was a special win.
The RSC went from 0 to >300k followers on Google+ moving them into the top 1k brand pages globally. Their page has 375,000 +1′s (‘likes’)
We assembled a community of more than 1k creators as part of the project.
On twitter we reached more than 20m people; we assume similar reach on Google+
#dream40 trended 4th worldwide on G+ for two days
The project lives on in as a timeline and in archive form at http://dream40.org
We made a film
What people said: storify.com/tomux/dream-quotes
Behind the scenes: storify.com/tomux/dream40
What would we do differently?
1. Do all the new writing a long long long way in advance. Like a long way. Really long. We hurt the production through the anarchic chaos of having creative arriving simultaneously to the performance, and trying to incorporate live content via the audience, and having creatives live-write for their characters. Having said that, it was great fun.
2. One vision directing every aspect. We had digital, artistic and creative directors without oversight of the other teams. It was a miracle the three parts came together at all.
3. Have a strong, obvious over-arching narrative that brings in the online characters. In television a show-runner makes sure every line, every character feeds back into a topline story arc. So photos, responses, quotes should all be part of a grand whole. Keeping it firmly in the world of the play and with characters who digress less wildly onto their own orbits.
4. We didn’t let the main characters speak (which was correct,) but we should have involved them more. The play must be real, and have integrity and you shouldn’t break from the words Shakespeare wrote, or their characters — but those characters needed to exist more online and interlink with the new cast more intelligently.
5. A story requires the audience to see themselves revealed through a character. Action: Have a hero online, as well as on stage. Puck got closest to this for us and created the most interaction online. He was brilliant but we could have made more of his part.
6. Create strong media channels. People understand how to share news and gossip. We allowed too much content to be led by the characters not the events. This is the thing I feel we did least well.
7. Introduce your characters more slowly and clearly. Clarify the characters and introduce them easily. (Big profile pieces).
8. Know your content. Build a content library (including imagery & video) which can be drawn on – digital content needs significant pre-production to make sure it responds to the original text appropriately.
8. Have a stage performance that made sense of the online characters. It was a shame that the online characters did not ‘appear’ in the live performance – which in turn could have made the use of their phones make sense in the context of the play.
9. Contrive opportunities to ‘show’ the live action more, ‘Film’ must be contextual, you can’t just ‘live-stream’ – but we could have done this better than just letting audience members film and share raw from the room.
10. Screens break the wilful suspension of disbelief. When we physically sit together as a collective audience (simultaneity) this we become part of that moment; the actors transport us as a whole (transformation) to another world. But operating a phone or ipad drags us out of that world into a solitary world connected to our lives. Which is not where we should be at that moment. Mediating a shared reality or fantasy through a screen removes the possibility of being present in the reality/fantasy. This probably applies to life in general. Ban screens unless they are integrated into the dynamic of the performance.
11. The power of music. The live musical arrangement created magic and drama and tension – right down to the blackbird at daybreak in Act II – we completely failed to transfer this to the online. Which was a shame.
12. Know your tools better. I came away impressed with Google+ but we should have used it more widely beforehand. It has endless confusing but epic properties. Communities, Events, Circles, Photos, Q&A, Hangouts, +1′s, Pages, API’s etc. Fb wasn’t a focus but Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Storify were all great tools.
13. The digital stage confounded some, annoyed others, and delighted a few. It suffered from trying to show too much, yet also carried too much exposition. Trying to show the story but also not baffle first-time visitors.
14. To ‘watch’ the play, the online audience took a ‘research’ approach. While the site was pretty, the audience indicated that the play worked best in conjunction with their native G+ and Twitter i.e. as if they were browsing a news event, rather than watching a channel. Allow and encourage multiple ways to experience the action online (and maybe offline).
15. Don’t confuse the hell out of your audience. However much we hide behind the “first time” or “experient” argument, clearly the structure was baffling to some we could have done better at guiding our audience. Create catch-up trailers and hold the hand more.
16. Ask clearly and make it easy. When we specifically asked people to do something it worked well. Yet we had a community of 1k people who actively signed up yet we didn’t successfully ‘ask’ them to do as much as they clearly wanted to. Choose clear activities, create roles and jobs and assign those roles to users.
17. We obey 4th wall dynamics even when told not to. It was optimistic to imagine that our audience would disobey the natural instinct to ‘watch’ a play rather than interact. Those that did found it rewarding but those that didn’t found the fragmented, fractured and intentional disorganization off-putting. We could have helped them more. Don’t fight the desire to consume passively – give easy ways to ‘just watch’.
18. Know your level. Working with the RSC actors was incredible and perhaps highlighted the distance between 10 years of social digital and 500 years of theatrical practice.
19. Be in the room. We made it so hard by having the digital, creative and theatrical teams on different sides of the planet. That was dumb.
20. If you don’t tell people, they won’t come. Online advertising works. I know you think I would say that, but it is true.
21. Involve everyone. Alix Christie brilliantly suggested (the day before) that a journalist would have wanted a hangout round-table on issues around subjugation and misogyny in Athenian/Fairy marriage. Talk to everyone about your idea, all the time. No one will steal it.
At the end of the project we must re-examine the hypothesis and interrogate our ambitions.
Have we explored? Certainly.
Have we reached new audiences? Yes.
Was it successful? No idea.
We believe it was a blueprint for something with enormous potential. As a kindly friend put it, something that shouldn’t have worked, did sort of work – and for that reason we are very happy with the outcome.
There is more we could have done with the content and activating passive audiences. This is the power of retrospect. Also I disliked the way we used phones and cameras. They broke something – so we need to integrate the hardware, more intelligently. They need more context to be less clumsy. The actors were unperturbed, nor was everyone in the audience bothered – so possibly just me.
Throughout the project I was astonished by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it’s bravery and energy, it’s ability to conjure fairy worlds, and its belief in trying. Both from the board but also the people there, everyone was so many passionate, courageous, involved – so I would like to offer a one-person standing ovation to the entire Company. Bravo.
This was a disruptive experiment and a hugely successful one if judged simply on what we learnt and where we now move forward from.
My hope is that the next time someone wants to have a non-linear play that leaks across multiple realities in real-time performed physically and digitally simultaneously to a global audience they will not have to explain it from the ground up to blank looks and puzzled faces. They can point at the RSC’s seminal 2013 production and say “like that, but much better”.
26th September 13
One of the more innovative corners of the Web, is a dark and somewhat unscrupulous place. That does not mean that it cannot contain a wealth of innovative thinking, once you scratch the surface.
Since it’s launch in 2011, The SIlk Road has pushed the value of bitcoins (the digital currency underpinning its operation.) by over 200 fold, to today’s worth which is over $100 USD. Since the rise of the Internet, no other online marketplace can boast so high a demand, that it lifts a digital currency to become the world’s most valuable. Aside from its huge product demand, there are a number of innovations on The Silk Road that will likely be adopted by the rest of online retailers in the coming years.
US Senator Chuck Schumer summed up the site nicely as “the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen… by light-years.” He demanded that the website be shut down in 2011, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has yet to find a way to do so.
To an outsider, how such a site still exists may not make sense: the buyer and seller are anonymous, they sell illegal drugs, and do so with an online currency. However, the mechanics to make this work so seamlessly are in fact, light years ahead of their time.
The transaction process on The Silk Road is one of the most innovative systems on the Internet today and the population’s trust in the economy allows for an extremely simple system.
Here is the user experience of a transaction:
A buyer decides to make a purchase, they notify the seller of the quantity and their bitcoins are transferred from their wallet to The Silk Road. Their bitcoins are then held with The Silk Road, which acts as an escrow agent for the transaction. The bitcoins are only released to the seller after the buyer has received the product and leaves a review on the seller’s page.
This very simple mechanic of mandating product reviews is an extremely smart step when dealing with a black market because the market becomes more intelligent with every single transaction. This mandate naturally lessens the risk of scammers and builds the trust in the market that it requires to operate. Quite simply, The sellers with the better products get the best reviews and buyers shop with more confidence.
Online retailers like Etsy, Airbnb and Craigslist could benefit from implementing The Silk Road’s review-dependent transaction system. A major barrier for small vendors is garnering enough trust, which usually takes years and several purchases to gain. Although notorious for it’s drug-trafficking, beneath the pavement of the Silk Road lie a number of amazing innovations. happening in this surreal environment that we can all learn from.
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
5th March 13
Posted in culture
Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, Google Glass all of a sudden made all kinds of sense. Being able to record experiences in the moment unencumbered by a camera or phone, share them in the moment, navigate through a city without reference to a map (digital or paper), augment real live experience with the power of search – all these things seem to be requirements of living a frictionless digital duality. While I’m not sure that using a mobile to access the web is exactly ‘emasculating‘, I do think that Google are tapping into an important behavioural realisation – experiencing the world through the screen of a phone is not optimal living. As Sergey Brin says, “You want something that frees your eyes.”
But, inevitably, now that the application date to become a ‘Glass Explorer‘ has passed, some reasonable, inquisitive voices are raising questions about whether Google’s version of ‘documentary vision‘ is as desirable as it first appeared to be. Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computing, asks whether Google have learnt from his experiments in augmented vision – he raises important practical concerns about the design and safety, short and long-term, of Google’s solution. He also touches on important privacy issues, asking whether this technology will ‘turn us into so many Little Brothers’.
The privacy issue has huge implications, not just for societies already coming to terms with near-ubiquitous surveillance, but for individuals living in those societies. ‘Google Glass will live or die solely in the experience it creates for people,’ says Steve Hurst. But the people Hurst worries about are not the users, but ‘everyone other than the user‘, everyone viewed and potentially recorded, snapped, reverse image searched, Googled, by a Glass wearer. This is, obviously, a big deal. There are rules about how surveillance camera footage can be used. Google itself has had to modify streetview imagery according to national privacy laws. How are we going to legislate for Glass? Will social norms keep up with the march of technology? Who do I send a takedown notice to if I don’t know that I’ve been recorded and who that recording has been shared with? As Hurst says, ‘The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.’
Any new tech idea comes with caveats and warnings, sometimes reasonable, other times hysterical linkbait. At Labs we’re incurable optimists, and it feels, from here, that this is something big and important. Admittedly our excitement for the possibilities of Project Glass is tempered with plenty of unknowables, not least when we’re going to be getting our hands on a pair. The current $1500 pricetag and clunky design doesn’t change the fact that Project Glass, in some form, in some timeframe, is coming. As The Verge say in their positive ‘eyes-on’ review, ‘the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’.
15th June 12
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
I attended a talk by the top Royal Ballet choreographer and dancer, Liam Scarlett. He is only 26, but he has already choreographed two exceptional ballets for the main stage at Covent Garden. And he still finds time to dance in the company.
Scarlett was discussing how he approached creating his 2011 work, Asphodel Meadows, around a particular piece of music, Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto. One could be intimidated, he said, by the scale and complexity of the Concerto. Where to start? How to break into the task? Whereas with narrative ballet there is a natural sequencing to follow, with an abstract work there is no obvious entry point. He explained that his own process was first to identify the ‘epicentre’ of the music, its emotional core. He knew that if he could just design the pas de deux around a particular romantic passage in the second movement, everything else would follow. Having got to the emotional heart of the music, he could work outwards to the rest of the piece.
I am often in meetings nowadays when a Client demands an idea that is media neutral, that extends across every channel, region, product and form of engagement. All the colours, in all the sizes. Such a panoramic demand can be rather intimidating. And I have found that telling the Creative Department we need to cover the walls with ideas is not entirely helpful.
I suspect that, following Scarlett’s lead, the key to cracking this kind of challenge is not to consider it in its totality or in the abstract. Ideas tend to be born in the specific. The key is to find the epicentre of the task, to find its emotional heart. Read full post
21st May 12
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty,water colored memories
Of the way we were.
~ Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were
I attended the Damien Hirst show at the Tate Modern. Flies and fags, butterflies and bling, spin and spots, drugs and death… There. You don’t need to see it now.
I walked away somewhat hollow. I felt a pang of guilt and recognition. Guilt because Hirst was in many ways the adman’s artist. Art that came with a nudge, a wink and a knowing punchline. Art as quick hit, shiny bright, paper thin. Recognition because, yes, that was Britain in the ’90s. Spin doctors and Spice Girls, boy bands and man bags, heroin chic and Shabba Ranks, lads and Loaded, puffas and Prozac, Wonderbra and Wonderwall, alcopops and Posh & Becks. Fool Britannia…. There was no god, no beauty, no other. Just money and death and irony. Things could only get worse…
I’m not sure I blame Damien Hirst. I suspect he’s a very good artist. He was very effectively holding a mirror up to us and our values. Or lack of them. And I suspect each generation gets the art it deserves. Flies and fags was maybe all we were good for in the ’90s.
Don’t you also think that we get the advertising we deserve? As an Agency, as a Client, as a culture ? When we hark back to a golden hued, bygone age of celestial communication, are we not condemning our own failure to create greatness now? When the disappointed Client fires the disappointing Agency, isn’t he or she shirking personal responsibility? When we rail against cruel fate and happenstance, when we bemoan the recession, or reach for the blame gun, shouldn’t we be looking in the mirror first?
I believe in commercial karma. That, broadly speaking, in advertising as in life, we reap what we sow. That what goes around comes around. Not for some spiritual, counter cultural, gaia-type reason. But because, though it seems trite to say it, in the long run, smart, open minded Clients, working with intelligent, lateral Agencies, for honest, worthwhile brands, will make better, more effective work. And vice versa.
I guess I have witnessed exceptions to this. The craven creative, the malevolent marketing director, the bullying business director have on occasion won the day. But overall in my experience fakes are found out, charlatans are shopped. Good prevails.
Instant karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
~ John Lennon, Instant Karma
Of course in the past one had to wait for hubris to be followed by inevitable nemesis. Nowadays the social web has created a kind of instant karma. Because the courtroom of public opinion is so immediate and all seeing. It shines an unforgiving,instantaneous light on the ill conceived and poorly executed. It likewise rewards the virtuous with currency and value.
I had always believed that Corporate Social Responsibility was exactly that: a responsibility that a business owed to the communities it served. I wasn’t so enamoured of more fashionable phrases like social investment because I didn’t feel ethics needed commercial justification. And I wasn’t convinced CSR had a role in marketing or brand.
Now I have been persuaded that ethics are more than a responsibility. They are fundamental to a brand’s sustainability in a transparent, socialised world. Because increasingly consumers are unwilling to buy good products from bad people. Because in a world of commercial karma only the good Clients, good admen and good brands can win.
19th April 12
Earlier this month we released a nifty little iPhone specific web app for the connected set. While we were off building it, (you see what we did there) we decided to produce some quirky promotional films to support the app’s launch.
We crafted short narratives that extended the comedic tone of the application, and helped explain the usefulness of While You Were Off through a series of possible situations may have kept you offline and away from the glorious Internet. Watch them all on our Youtube Channel.
13th January 12
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
I was watching the splendid Truffault film, Jules et Jim. There’s a scene in which Jules, courting the mercurial Catherine, endeavours to impress her.
‘Catherine, I understand you’, he says.
Catherine replies,’ But I don’t want to be understood.’
I paused for thought. Don’t we spend our lives trying to understand consumers? What if, like Catherine, they don’t want to be understood? Understanding implies explanation, logic, rationality. And, critically, it suggests control. Which is precisely, I suspect, why Catherine didn’t want to be understood.
As a young Planner I’m not sure I completely understood the behaviour, ethics and attitudes of British consumers. But I did feel a strong sense of empathy with them. I felt for them in a way. I wonder now whether I’ve lost some of that natural, instinctive judgement. I wonder whether, in a data fuelled world, we have a diminished regard for feelings in our engagement with consumers.
A friend of mine occasionally dismisses films she did not enjoy with the simple assertion that she ‘did not feel it’. As an Anglo Saxon I was originally somewhat nonplussed. Surely a fuller explanation would help? Similarly we were always taught to grill Clients on their responses to work, to demand that they account for their instinctive immediate reactions. Now I wonder whether I have been wrong on both counts: in the way I expect my friends to assess movies and my Clients to judge work.
Shouldn’t feelings always trump understanding? Shouldn’t feelings suffice?
Do you ever find it a little sinister when modern marketers promise to translate data into knowledge, and knowledge into sales? I do. I confess ‘hidden persuasion’ has never been my bag. I don’t aspire to that level of control.Of course we all want the web to be all-knowing, but should I want it to know all about me? Personally I don’t want the web to know me; I want it to feel me. And I find the prospect of an empathetic, all-feeling web increasingly attractive.
Who am I to talk? I’m generally uncomfortable with unfiltered emotional expression. I shudder at the prospect of corporate hugs. Nonetheless, I return to work with a modest resolution: in 2012 I want to base more of my judgements on empathy and feeling, rather than on logic and understanding. And I’d like the web to do the same please.
Chaka was, as ever, right all along. ‘I feel for you’…