Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
24th October 11
Posted in culture
We regularly fear living in an echo chamber (this is especially true for us because our blog serves as a feedback forum from regular participants, even if many of the inputs driving its content originate from industries unrelated to marketing). In fact, the foolish, mutual reassurance of ad folks is one of the most common criticisms of our industry. But recently a study came out that got me to reexamine the so-called echo chamber.
The report was authored by Sinan Aral (NYU, Stern School of Business) and Marshall Van Alstyne (Boston University, School of Management) and ran in the American Journal of Sociology. It can be downloaded here.
The historical thinking around how one gets new, diverse information via their networks has placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on “weak ties,” those people you don’t know very well and don’t speak to very often. The most often cited study in this work is by Mark Granovetter and was done in 1973, before the invention of the web and digital social networks. Letting an outdated study drive our thinking in this space is an issue, as it assumes technology is simply facilitating what was previously true about relationships, rather than evolving it.
What’s more modern and practical about Aral and Van Alstyne’s study is that it accounts for bandwidth. In a world of unprecedented connectivity and content generation, the format of information shared (say 140 characters of text) and the frequency with which it’s consumed have to be accounted for. It seems ridiculous this day and age to think the depth of my relationship with people is the determining factor of getting new information from them. Aral and Van Alstyne ask a more contemporary question than simply where new information comes from. They ask “where does one find the most novel information per unit time?” In other words, they’re accounting for bandwidth. You talk to closer ties more often and distant ties less often, a critical issue neglected in the previous thinking about the value of weak ties. Bandwidth is simply too important a factor to ignore in a world where contact across miles, economic classes, and belief systems is easier than ever—especially when said contact is frequently asynchronous.
Aral and Van Alstyne also discuss a point about strong ties I found interesting: those who know you well know what type of information is novel for you. That’s a filtering mechanism we know most readers of this blog employ regularly (just glance at how community members caveat and source what they share back to us as the managers of the blog).
This natural filtering is what’s really the heart of the matter because it addresses homophily (the idea that we surround ourselves with like-minded people, or more colloquially, “birds of a feather flock together”). People who think like us, seek out our blog. We do the same, following twitter accounts, listening to speakers, taking meetings with those we think are similar to us. Thus, the echo chamber, right? We all just tell each other what we want to hear, limiting our new thinking.
Wait a minute. As someone who has a core job responsibility of innovation (i.e., “the introduction of something new”—in this case to BBH), I should fear an echo chamber more than anyone. Instead, I’ve found this supposed echo chamber is inhabited by people that are my most efficient means of learning something new. When I find time to be in the stream, I’m inundated with novel information. That’s partially because I’m forced to filter people based on how frequently I expect to be engaged (“I want to hear anything she says, but she says so much I have to tune her out”—efficiency decisions relating to bandwidth). Simultaneously, the very people I choose to listen to are filtering for people like them (or should I say “us”?), wanting to avoid saying something they can only assume I know—otherwise I may just have to filter them.
It may be an echo chamber. But at its core is a virtuous circle.
29th June 11
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
‘Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is.’
I remember the first time I heard Peggy Lee singing the classic Leiber and Stoller number, ‘Is That All There Is?’. The heroine relates how, through the course of her life, experiences that may initially have been exciting, had in fact turned out rather tiresome. From her home burning down, to going to the circus, to falling in love. It’s a hymn to disappointment and apathy. Like most teenagers I had spent large chunks of my short time on the planet lying in my room being incredibly bored. In amongst the bubble gum pop and dinosaur rock of Radio 1, a song that celebrated ennui was a rare and precious thing.
I remember the first time I heard the Clash sing ‘I’m So Bored with the USA’. I was simultaneously shocked and excited. Could one really so publicly proclaim disappointment with the home of rock’n'roll, the land of the free, the country that had given us Barry Manilow, Boz Scaggs and The Sound Of Bread? Was that acceptable? Was that legal?
I remember the first time I saw the painting Ennui by Walter Sickert. The bored couple cannot be bothered to look at each other. One stares into space and the other at the wall. The blank generation. Tedium in oils. And yet so utterly compelling.
It’s a curious thing. Apathy, boredom and tedium seem such dull, passive, inert qualities. Yet they can be exciting, inspiring, disruptive.
And I wonder whether this particular truth is lost on us and our world. We claim to be consumer experts. But are we not in denial of the fact that most consumers, most of the time are just not that into our brand or category? They just don’t care. We sustain a myth that the primary communication challenge is lack of attention, when really, more often than not, it’s lack of interest. Read full post
7th February 11
For those who don’t live in the UK or haven’t heard of it, Skins is a scripted show that promises a real depiction of Teen lives including the drugs, sex and rock-n-roll. This was a very popular show with Millenials 18-24 in the U.K. and appears to be just as popular here in the States. I’ve been fascinated by the advertisers who are scrambling to remove themselves from the MTV version of Skins due to the lack of ‘brand fit’ and backlash from Parent groups.
These Parent groups are calling the advertisers who are running ads in Skins sponsors, or co-presenters of ‘filth’. Let’s be honest, very few brands have values that would align with the values of the show. It’s easy for marketers to make a case not to place an ad in programming like this, even when the eyeballs are there.
10th November 10
For years we’ve been talking about and developing communications for the shortening attention spans of consumers. We are bombarded with statistics about the average dwell time on a web page (43 seconds according to Comscore) or the lifespan of a tweet which, if it isn’t retweeted within 60minutes, will never be, according to Sysomos.
Today, we’re ascending the slopes of Mount Sinai, the computer ready in our pockets and the promised land of ubiquitous always-on connection is on the horizon. But before we get there maybe there is a place for long-form communications to occupy us at those times where we can devote our attention to a piece of content but cannot easily surf away when our attention wanders.
Certainly the uptake of instapaper and its integration into all sorts of web and mobile apps suggests that people are saving more articles to read later and longreads recent revamp makes it even simpler to get long form textual content onto your mobile device.
So is the decline of attention as inexorable as previously thought? As well as video we are both producing and consuming more text than ever and today’s devices allow comfortable on the go reading of long-form narrative.
Time to consider whether a digital communications strategy needs to allow for both a wide, shallow spread and a long, deep dive.
Long live attention.
20th October 10
We’ve discussed “wind tunnel marketing” quite a bit recently. As a result, we’ve been thinking more and more about one particular facet of the issue: the misuse of metrics and data. Few industries more regularly confuse their objectives and metrics than marketing. I’m referring to when marketers take digital proxy indicators of progress, and make them the destination, even when they’re multiple degrees removed from the objective. This is distinct from our use of data to adapt our efforts. Maybe it’s karma for collectively turning to display advertising in the late 90’s to save our business, unknowingly opening the Pandora’s box of click-thru-rates that’s held us back for over a decade since.
We reject the notion that is due to some psychological need for validation. If it’s about validation, there can only be an empty feeling elicited from the knowledge that the metric isn’t the objective. Thus began our Inception-esque voyage into the psyche of marketers.
Operating under the assumption we’re rational at some level, it was easy to see the correlation between this seemingly irrational behavior and a code of conduct prevalent throughout our industry: self-preservation. Maybe most professions exhibit this behavior to some degree, but the level of self-preservation in marketing is extreme. Scientifically speaking, Cover Your Ass Syndrome is an epidemic amongst us. It couldn’t simply be that opportunistic, self-preservation obsessed humans just naturally tend to find their way to marketing, right? We couldn’t possibly be like baby geese following the first thing that moves, in our case another human that shows as much self-centered focus as ourselves— suddenly and inexplicably asking “what do you do for a living and how can I start?”
Perhaps we’re victims (wait, is that the self-preservation talking? We’re in too deep to tell). Maybe this misuse of metrics isn’t, in fact, innate survival behavior to ensure we’re not left holding the bag when things go wrong. Perhaps this is a learned behavior we’ve created as a result of our environment. Our environmental analysis turned up three factors that seem to be directly responsible for our rampant metrics abuse. The first is the obvious reality of impatience, prevalent throughout shareholder demands and modern human nature. Let’s put that one aside as it’s been discussed ad naseum via analysis of CMO tenures and the fault of modern capitalist markets. It’s the next two factors that are more interesting- and more productive- to analyze. At the surface, they don’t appear linked to our misuse of metrics, but in fact they are due to their impact on behavior and culture within marketing organizations, from clients to agencies. Both are addressable, but would require an organization’s senior leadership to operate in very non-standard ways.
1. Pre-defined Bonuses
When companies define bonuses of marketing executives based on specific metrics like site visits or total audience engagement or- gasp- product sales, it’s human nature to pursue that bonus at any cost. In fact, the existence of black and white bonuses regularly takes a metric for success and makes it someone’s personal objective. What’s best for the company, calculated risk taking and long-term innovation planning go out the window when considered against school tuitions or new drapes.
Although controversial in many business cultures, why not solve this environmental issue by creating subjective bonuses– ones where employees are judged on rational, subjective contribution to the company? Did the risks they take make sense? Did their approach add some broader value? If the objective is what’s best for your initiative, rather than a metric that is only one of many proxies for that success, shouldn’t a bonus be tied to that?
Compensation subjectivity makes people uncomfortable, but with good leadership in place at a company, it’s likely a more intelligent option. Those that truly want what’s best for the organization will trust their leaders.
2. Crediting Systems
In today’s marketing landscape, the way ideas manifest is complicated. All the various executions of an idea involve more moving pieces, multiple partners and blurrier lines between disciplines. Yet, somehow we employ the same crediting system- from awards to inter-company recognition- as we did 30 years ago.
Our credit list may be extensive, but it’s still partitioned by execution: creative, strategy, production, media (assuming media people even get credit). This is true external to the organization (award shows, press releases), but also true internally at most organizations (departments, recognition).
Why? If lines are blurry, why must we categorize contribution? If this sounds ridiculous, please interview young talent in our industry. They have a tough time defining their role by agency verticals and almost always pride themselves on their organic contributions to an agency output. We love that, and in fact look for T-shaped individuals when hiring.
It’s when marketers credit by specific discipline that metrics become disproportionately emphasized. We may call it a team effort, but we take a Hollywood approach to “team,” defining it as a collection of individuals. So, digital-era metrics like sharability, clicks and participation must be measured because they reflect individual contribution (“my part of the project”). As a result, we make decisions that emphasize metrics instead of simply contributing to the broader objective. Credit is needed for survival in this marketing habitat. As a result, metrics are exaggerated and the overall objective goes by the wayside, the remaining vestige of community achievement in a market that deals in only individual currency.
At the end of this pseudo-scientific examination, it’s clear the environment is polluted. The result is a cyclical reality that few companies and brands transcend; even fewer do so consistently. The environment impacts the inhabitants and the resulting means of survival requires substituting metrics for objectives. That said, we remain optimistic that in the near future, leadership of marketing organizations will nurture a culture that shifts our archaic approach to incentives and crediting. This will cleanse the environment itself, breaking the cycle of rational argument for or against the use and application of metrics. The work will no doubt benefit as a result. Ironically, the beneficial impact of the change toward correcting our use of metrics may at first go unnoticed.
Hey, maybe we should put a measurement in place for it….
26th July 10
This post is adapted from a piece written for Campaign magazine (22.07.10), also available online at campaignlive.co.uk later this week.
Founded in 1984 as a one-off event in California, TED (Technology Entertainment Design) has come a hell of a long way. The numbers tell their own story. Since the launch of TEDTalks online in 2006, over 700 talks have been viewed 300m times and the non-profit has, in keeping with its tagline “ideas worth spreading”, expanded into a family of conferences and content available on an ever-growing number of platforms. The latter now include the TED Open TV Project (allowing broadcasters to incorporate TEDTalks into their programming without license fees) launched in May this year and an iPad app out in a couple of weeks. As they put it, TED is becoming “an organising principle for ideas.”
Read full post
19th May 10
Author: Heidi Hackemer (@uberblond), Planning Director, BBH New York
We just went through recruitment for our upcoming internship program, the BBH Barn, and since we announced our six interns from the 150+ applications we’ve received a lot of questions about our selection criteria.
Whether literally or figuratively, the candidates that made the cut had a two-column resume. In column A, we saw an interest and understanding of advertising and/or consumer and brand interaction. It doesn’t mean that these interns are advertising experts by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean that they have an appreciation for it and may know a bit of their way around our world. 98% of the applications checked off this column quite well.
The second column is where things got interesting: we also looked for candidates that had a bit of “mess” in their resume, i.e. a curiosity, a drive to think about and do things beyond pursuing the perfect advertising career. As a result we have filmmakers, activists, dancers and a guy that has worked in third world development.
We believe the mess is just as important as the “proper” education and inputs: advertising is one of those fields that should collaborate not only internally, but with culture at large – to be relevant and human we should inhale the world around us, circulate it in our lungs a bit and then exhale our response. The minute that we get too obsessed or spend too much time focusing on what happens within our walls or the minute the great love in our life becomes a widget or :30 second idea is the minute we lose the oxygen that we need to make great work.
Let’s face it, the people that are purely obsessed with advertising (and we all know them and have phases in our own lives where we’re guilty of being one of them) aren’t the people that contribute much to a truly sparkling dinner party or a stupid fun night out or bring a perspective that really changes things. So we wanted to make sure our Barn was filled with the dinner-party-rockers of the future. We think it will make for a more interesting summer and better work.
So here’s where it gets cool:
We were thinking of the above criteria, that we applied externally, and we thought we’d check internally how well we were doing. We asked BBHers in the NYC office to send along their personal, out of office, projects. We had a whole bunch of stuff submitted. Some highlights included:
Calle Sjoenell @callesjonell wanders around new york and puts up basketball nets where there are none. http://www.flickr.com/photos/callesjonell/sets/72157621869375075/
Harper Reitkopf @itsharper pretty much lives at the honey-space gallery to help artists do their thing http://honey-space.com/
Dane Larsen @dlarsen is documenting the life and times of his Brooklyn backyard this summer http://bklynbkyard.com/
Brad Haugen @hoogs throws his passion into being the Director of Marketing and Brand for Pencils of Promise, a non-profit that helps build schools in third world countries http://www.pencilsofpromise.org/blog/2010/04/bring-out-lead-forth/
Zach Hilder keeps an awesome blog of his drawings and photographs http://deathfrom.blogspot.com
Kris Chu @kris_chu documents his struggle to banish cable from his life: http://suckitcable.blogspot.com/
Colleen Leddy @colleddy blogs tips about being the impeccable bridesmaid http://holdthebouquet.squarespace.com/
Kenji Summers @kenjisummers gives time to the Marcus Graham Project, a network of diverse advertising, marketing and media people @MGProject
Kirsty Saddler @keava has taken her personal passion for corporate social responsibility and started a think tank/action group within BBH called the Hive @BBHhive
Chris Araujo @cornfedchris is working on a soon to be unveiled project that’s all about making the world a better place and that’s all I can say about it right now upon fear of death.
Miranda Kendrick @mirandakendrick has two culture grabbing blogs: http://workingitatwork.tumblr.com/ that shows off the beautiful people of BBH and http://nyink.blogspot.com/ that shows off the beautiful tattoos of the world.
Hal & Masa have been busy working on the follow up to their Webby-winning music video for “Hibi no Neiro” (Tone of everyday) by “Sour” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfBlUQguvyw (watch this space)
And me? I’ve started the Wilhelmine Project, a mini-gallery that is hosted in the display window of my converted storefront apartment in the East Village http://thewilhelmineproject.com & @wilhelmineprjctThe most striking thing about all these projects is that people just did it. Google have their awesome and rightly famous 20% policy; we don’t have that at BBH, at least not formalized. So what makes the above particularly cool is that people just went out, made time and did. No one told them to, no one asked for the time. No permission was sought, or given. We think this is emblematic of the kind of creative business we strive to be, that the energy, thinking and output from these personal projects explicitly and implicitly makes BBH a more interesting and smarter place professionally.
So our question today is, what’s your 20% project?
Are you busy waiting for permission?
Or are you busy just getting on with it?
Let us know what you’re up to. You never know, there might be some common ground; we could collaborate.
12th May 10
Post by Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
It was going to be the most important Election in a generation.
It was going to break the mould of British Politics.
It should have been so exciting.
So why did it all seem so unfulfilling? Why did our eager anticipation of the first debate turn to a stifled yawn by the third? Why did our ardour for the new kid turn so quickly to complacency? Why did we shrug at the glossy manifestos, put the recycled thinking straight into the recycling bins?
This was the Sunblest Election. The Election when all the mighty forces of Marketing created three soft, medium sliced, plastic packaged loaves. Designed to please, guaranteed not to let you down. Perfectly pleasant on their own terms, but curiously unsatisfactory.
You see, all three candidates and campaigns had been put through the same Marketing Wind Tunnel.