Archive for the ‘culture’ Category
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’…
23rd November 11
Wouldn’t it be nice to smell the internet? Well, thanks to the clever chaps at Mint Foundry this might soon be possible.Their concept product, the punningly named Olly (details at ollyfactory.com!) will convert tweets, checkins, likes or other digital notifications and blast out an arduino-powered whiff across your keyboard. So now every William Gibson tweet can smell like a long-chain monomer and every checkin at a Starbucks like fresh roasted coffee. Sadly you will need two Olly’s to experience the double hit of Testosterone and Smug released whenever Piers Morgan tweets @Simon Cowell.
The interesting thing about the Olly is that it is an attempt to add texture to wholly digital experiences. A decent proportion of my last job was spent arguing with people about page-turning animations in ebooks – I felt that they were a legacy metaphor and had no place in a purely digital experience. There are definitely things about the physicality of a book that would be great to transfer to an ebook. For example, knowing when you are nearing the end of a book by the distribution of weight in your hands feels different from the knowledge that you are on page 1324 of 1346. Such additions would add both context and texture to the ereading experience, wheras the page-turning animation is texture without context.
Brett Victor’s much-discussed rant (his word) on the ubiquity of the finger-swipe in visions of future interfaces suggests a disquiet with what is being sacrificed in the quest for frictionless interaction. As touchscreens increasingly become our interface to the web it is healthy that there are those out there documenting what we are losing whilst everyone else, including us at BBH Labs of course, celebrates the gains. Will the sound of an optical drive go the way of the rotary phone dial or an analogue tape rewinding or these other disappearing noises?
So, are we adding textures such as smells and page-turning animations because digital is less sensuous than the physical world? When we create new digital experiences should we think about adding textured UX as well as intelligent UI? And as brands transition more and more to digital marketing initiatives, should we worry about what sensory experiences they and we are losing, out here in meatspace?
Update 9 jan 2012: If you want your workstation to smell like teen spirit every time @justinbieber presses ‘send’ then you should head over to kickstarter where there’s a month left to back the project to make the dream reality!
11th November 11
Author: Nicky Vita (@stellavita), Strategy Director, BBH London
A few weeks ago, I was at the Temple Synagogue in Krakow’s historical Jewish district, Kazimeirz. It was the closing night for Unsound, an avant-garde music festival with the central theme of “Future Shock”.
As a whole, Unsound deliberately defies expectations – about how music should sound, how music genres should/ shouldn’t fit together, who should be collaborating, whom we expect to create modern music or art and even what ‘modern music’ actually means.
This – along with the music – got me thinking about a project I’ve been working on for client of ours, around ‘the lofty subject of human progress’ and what this means today. In a recent international survey, 96% of respondents agreed that‘It is important for me to continually improve as a person’. Ordinary people wanting to do extraordinary things.
While the desire to move forward is not new, the context or the approach required to achieve this has shifted radically. In the past, the key ingredients were focus, stamina and the wherewithal to keep slogging until the finish line. Tow the line.
And now? Well, there may not be a clearly defined ‘there’ or final end goal. There are fewer linear paths, one-way ladders and singular directions. The “tried & trusted” is no longer appropriate and all the rulebooks have been ripped up. Seemingly more than ever, people want to advance themselves. Technology is an especially great enabler. However, what you actually need to do to achieve this progress is less clear than ever before.
At a global level, this thought is either hugely terrifying or massively exciting. And what emerges is that the key to ‘success’ today is having the right attitude. Glancing at modern role models and entrepreneurs across the world, it isattitude that they have in common. No rules means you can try anything, explore everything, break things up and put them together in completely different ways.
Much of what I saw at Unsound reflected this attitude, so I thought I’d outline a few underlining principles for progressing in today’s modern world…
Retain a youthful mindset.
1960s pioneer Morton Subotnick & 1980s synth performers Chris & Cosey (ex-Throbbing Gristle) belonged at the festival as much as young, incoming acts such as Pontone (Poland) and Laurel Halo (USA). Curiosity, creativity and experimentation do not age.
Keep it open.
Music genres don’t sit in boxes. Or rather, amazing things can happen when you don’t assume that they should. Hype Williams threw together R & B, techno and dark ambient, coupled with constant strobe lights, to create a visceral, challenging performance. Trying different things and putting them together in unusual ways can create something special.
A wonderful term I picked up from Google’s Tom Uglow a while ago, speaking passionately about the wonderful things that could happen if we stopped focusing & opened up our awareness to the things going on around us. Every artist had taken a deliberate step away from his or her known individual sound and had nicked, borrowed or repurposed from the experiences around them. To capture this spirit, we’ve created team ‘Lantern Sessions’, as simple as a quick chat about the things that are exciting us or a good excuse to get out of the office and to an exhibition. Less focus creates more enhanced encounters.
With experimentation and exploration comes inherent risk. Some of what I saw and heard was massively improvised. Leyland Kirby’s mad video of his life on the road, wrapped up by a mimed rendition of Elton John’s ‘Can you feel the love tonight?” could have gone horribly wrong. It didn’t. Trying new things means allowing yourself to be at least a little open to potential failure.
Live in the moment.
For me, the entire festival was an immersive, immediate experience. This may sound obvious (being a music festival), but I came back feeling more excited about life because I’d allowed myself to be completely absorbed in an experience. If everyone there came away with this same feeling, you can feel confident that this will soon be manifested in a future performance, track or video. Soak up every encounter.
Go with your gut.
Everyone at Unsound was passionate about music. Not in a rational ‘let’s think about why this works’ way. It was much more of an emotional ‘how the music makes you feel’ way. Things were being put together in ways that were intuitive and based on gut impulses. Great things can happen when you go with the rhyme instead of the reason.
It’s about substance.
There were few ‘big names’ and while many of the artists were successful in their own right, at Unsound they were respected for their spirit, energy & experimentation in the moment. What you do matters more than what you have.
Act like an entrepreneur.
What makes an entrepreneur great is a bit of charisma. While many artists were there to perform, they were also there to create opportunities for future collaborations & endeavours, to show a difference side to themselves. Curiosity and a ‘can do, will do’ attitude is what made them interesting. Not so difficult is it?
The closing down party…
None of this might strike you as particularly groundbreaking. Steve Jobs spoke openly about the importance of connections, of being allowed to fail, of the opportunities that come up when you’ve tried different things. Einstein believed in experimentation and playfulness. Tom Uglow wondered what could happen if we all quit our jobs, played more and got closer to the edges. What is striking for me is that this attitude is shifting the way people think about progress at a universal level. This is not about the super elite, the super eclectic, the technologists at Google or Facebook or Labs, even. Sure, I am referencing some edgy artists, playing at a festival you’ve never have heard of. But we’re also talking about ordinary people wanting to apply this attitude to create extraordinary things.
I think it’s tremendously exhilarating. Can you even begin to imagine the great things that would happen, the progress that would come about if we all lived this way?
24th October 11
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.”
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