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Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

  • Singing in the Cemetery

    26th February 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Insight

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
    Bob Marley

     

    Bob Marley, photographed by Jill Furmanovsky

    Bob Marley, photographed by Jill Furmanovsky

    I recently saw the Bob Marley documentary that came out last year. Insightful, inspirational, touching stuff.

    I was quite struck by a story relating to The Wailers’ early career in Kingston. Their manager would take them to rehearse late at night in the local cemetery. He believed that if they could conquer their fear of ‘duppies’ (spirits), they could also conquer any stage fright.

    We often talk of advertising as a business fuelled by confidence. And it’s true. Confidence gives you the courage to be honest, to be different, to challenge conventions. Confidence is the foundation of sustained success.

    But I have also found that the reverse is true: agencies run on fear.

    Fear of corporate change, competitive threat and Client whim. Fear of forgetting, of fluffing one’s lines. Fear of fashion, of falling behind and falling apart. Fear of failure. Fear that the latest success may be the last. Fear of complacency, of hubris. Fear of lost relevance. Fear of irrelevance. Fear of redundancy. Not just losing your job, but losing your utility. Fear that your best years are behind you. And your worst meeting is in front of you.

    As Nigel Bogle has been wont to warn, even in the good years, ‘We’re three phone calls away from disaster’.

    I still go into every presentation with an awkward feeling in the pit of my stomach. And under sustained pressure I develop painfully itchy shins. Hardly the romance of a saint’s stigmata. Faintly ridiculous really. But nonetheless a physical manifestation of stress, anxiety, doubt.

    John Hegarty once bumped into our Levi’s Client in Reception. The Client said he was worried because the proposed print route was a bit risky. Rather than reassure him that it wasn’t at all dangerous, John said, ‘You’re right. It is risky. I’m worried it might even be a mistake, possibly a disaster.’ And then he marched briskly on to his next meeting.

    I think a successful business should be fuelled by confidence, but oiled by fear. The one delivers ambition, the other insures against complacency. I’m drawn to the same qualities in people too: I like enthusiasm, appetite ,optimism; tempered by a little self doubt, angst and humility. (‘Once a Catholic…’, I guess…)

    “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
    Bob Marley

    But whilst fear in moderation may be useful, attractive even, fear in excess is paralysing, corrosive. You see it in the eyes of the team whose competence has been questioned, whose business has been put up for pitch, whose job is on the line.

    So I suspect we could still do with a little singing in the cemetery. We still need a means to confront our darkest paranoias, to defeat our deepest doubts. Of course in teen porno a modern, sanitised age we don’t have ‘duppies’, ghosts and ghouls. Maybe, post Freud, just articulating our misgivings is healthy. Maybe we ought to give more time to sharing our angst, anxieties, apprehensions.

    Maybe I’m just singing in the cemetery right now…

  • The Mirror Crack’d

    10th January 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in culture, Insight

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    ‘The mirror crack’d from side to side;
    “The curse is come upon me,” cried
    The Lady of Shalott’

    Alfred, Lord Tennyson – The Lady of Shalott

    Image: William Holman Hunt -The Lady of Shalott

    I attended the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at Tate Britain. Not entirely my cup of tea. Rather flat, two dimensional narratives of a romanticised past. Curiously the Pre-Raphaelites were regarded as radical in their day. It’s perhaps very English to express revolt by looking backwards…

    I was nonetheless quite taken by a Holman Hunt painting of The Lady of Shalott. It seems to show a beautiful woman caught in a bizarre knitting accident. In fact it refers to a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

    In the poem the mysterious Lady of Shalott is imprisoned in a tower, cursed to weave imperfect impressions of the world outside from the reflections she captures in a mirror. She weaves images of the traffic on the road to Camelot, the shepherds, knights, market girls and page boys that pass by her castle prison. But the curse denies her direct sight of life outside and ultimately she is unfulfilled.

    ‘ ”I am half sick of shadows,” said
    The Lady of Shalott’

    One day The Lady of Shalott steals a glance out of the window at the noble, handsome Sir Lancelot and with that glance the mirror cracks. She escapes her imprisonment in the tower and takes a boat down river to Camelot. At last she can see the world as it truly is.

    This may sound daft, but I couldn’t help thinking about market research.

    My first job was as a Qualitative Researcher and I guess I was engaged in a form of reportage. Relaying to Clients what consumers thought and did, summarising their behaviour, interpreting their opinions. Like the Lady of Shalott I was weaving imperfect impressions of the world. Reducing culture to basic bullet points, pithy Power Point, vivid verbatims. We were all well aware of the shortcomings of this approach, but it was the best we could do at the time. I recall how, a few years into my career, the introduction of even the smallest piece of video stimulus to a research debrief could revive Clients’ flagging attention. It was the late arrival of actual consumers in the room.

    ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’

    1 Corinthians 13:12

    Perhaps with the social web a mirror has cracked. Disintermediation is the order of the day. We can gain fast, cheap access to raw, unfiltered consumer opinion. We can tame big data to animate culture. We can demolish the distance between concepts and customers. We can bring consumers into the creatives’ office, the innovators’ lab. We can workshop ideas. We can test real time in beta. We can see the world as it truly is. Live and direct. It’s invigorating, fooxy porno liberating, revolutionary. With one bound we are free. Read full post

  • “Differentiate – or Die”

    22nd August 12

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Brands, Insight

    Author: Chaz Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific

    It was about 2 years ago that Emma, Jim and myself started talking and writing about the ‘marketing wind tunnel’ that we as an industry seem to have gotten ourselves into (this blog has plenty of past pieces). The thinking being that, because we all broadly follow the same consumer insight led and validated process, we produce far more sameness than difference.

    In the light of this, it’s fascinating to see Tyler Brule’s latest ‘Fast Lane’ piece in the FT where he inveighs against the same issues, but this time in the context of magazines, airlines, hotels and shops. It’s well worth a read for those who haven’t yet seen it (and always gratifying to see an FT journalist cry ‘Bullshit !’ on corporate excuses):

    “Spend a bit of time at a US newsstand and it’s clear that the crisis in the magazine industry isn’t so much about plastering covers with hash tags, the problem is that everything looks and feels alarmingly the same.. We’ve come to a point in our popular and consumer culture where uniformity isn’t just stifling innovation, it’s also making consumers number and dumber.

    …Magazines should focus on what their most loyal consumers are looking for – something new to read.”

    From Tyler Brule's column in the Financial Times, August 18/19, 2012

    From our point of view, many presentations and a number of articles later, the response we get from marketing teams is a consistent ‘Yes we agree, but how do we change things within the context of my organisation?‘ (sub-text: ‘where I don’t feel I have the power to do so myself ‘). Quite possibly the subject of our next initiative. Bring on the organisational change consultants!

  • Laughing Together, Weeping Alone

    2nd April 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Insight

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London


    I was at home watching a film when it happened again. A drying of the throat, a tightening of the vocal cords, the involuntary dab at the side of the eye to discover a bead of moisture forming. Yes, I was crying again.

    I’m no motor racing enthusiast, but I was cracking up over the Senna documentary. The potent cocktail of youth, beauty, talent and tragedy. The story of a genius half expressed, a life half lived.

    It’s a curiosity of middle age that one finds oneself weeping more frequently. Sometimes it’s prompted by the profound. But often it’s the incidental, the humdrum, the everyday. A fay costume drama, a moderately emotional screwball comedy, a random memory of Dylan, the springer spaniel, watching sparrows on the summer lawn.

    I sat next to a guy on the plane a while ago. A formal, serious looking man with one of those bulky lawyer’s briefcases that mean money and business. He obviously travelled a lot. After take-off he set out his paraphernalia for in-flight comfort: his unguents, earplugs and blindfold. He refused food, switched on a monitor and proceeded to cry profusely all the way through Four Weddings and a Funeral.

    I’m not sure about the psychology or physiology of Middle Aged Weeping. Could it be the remembrance of things past, the wisdom of age, the diminution of testosterone, the proximity of death, the fear of apocalypse? Or all of the above simultaneously tugging at the heart strings and demanding a tune?

    I’d like to say I’ve gained some lasting benefit or resolution from my weeping, that I am more in touch with my emotions,more at one with myself. But, whilst I am certainly curious about it, I don’t feel any farther down the road to self knowledge. Tears are not enough.


    I cry alone
    When no one else can hear me
    When friends come by to cheer me
    I smile and say I feel OK.
    Maxine Brown, I Cry Alone

    With the exception of a few funerals, like Maxine Brown I have always cried alone. Context evaporates, time stalls, the world closes in. Melancholy is a matter of silent isolation.

    Conversely I only laugh with others. To share the joke, to join the fun, to feel peels of laughter rippling through the crowd. The greatest highs are the ones we share. And solitary laughter is the surest sign of oncoming madness. As the guy on the 19 bus giggles out loud at the contents of his book, one edges along the seat a little farther, grips the handrail a little tighter. I suspect more people write LOL than do it.

    Take a look at anyone’s Facebook photos and you’ll see a curiously hedonistic sense of self. The laughter, smiles, gatherings and getaways of friends and family. Darker thoughts and feelings are generally suppressed. It’s a redacted life.

    I wonder what does this mean? Are we instinctively predisposed to share life’s highs and keep the lows to ourselves? Are some feelings inherently more private and others more public? Are there natural limits to the social?

    I’m aware, of course, that some societies cry more freely than mine. Perhaps others laugh more privately too. And conventions are changing. We live in an age where the instinct to share has extended beyond the joyous and celebratory. Oprah’s openness, misery memoirs, celebrity confessions. Some have speculated that the  social era may lead us to happier personal lives, that in our free expression on the web, we’re engaged in some kind of mass therapy: we’re producing the best adjusted generation since before The Fall.

    Nonetheless, I share the growing concern that our transparent world poses challenges in the area of privacy. Hitherto much of the debate has centred around personal data, unsolicited targeting, embarrassing photos. I suspect privacy may represent a more profound issue than this. Privacy is a matter of personal porno tv identity. And in order to prevent identity theft in the truest sense we need to protect the arcane, opaque, mysterious elements of our own lives. In her new book, Quiet, Susan Cain suggests that the ‘world that can’t stop talking’ underestimates introverts. I agree.

    Van the Man once sang about the  ’Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’. I had grown up thinking that any belief needed a justification, that an emotion wasn’t properly felt unless it could be articulated, that one couldn’t recover from a trauma unless one could describe it. Now I treasure the unexplained, the unspoken, the unthought.

  • Pretentious? Nous?

    10th February 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Insight

    Philosophy, Salvator Rosa

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    When I went to school there were the Sports Guys and the Music Guys.

    The Sports Guys liked doing circuit training, spraying Ralgex and making noises with their studs in the shower. The Music Guys wore heavy tweed overcoats, pored over the NME crossword and argued about the relative merits of Joy Division and Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King. I liked both categories, but fundamentally I guess I was a Music Guy.

    I went to college equipped with Country Born hair gel, ‘fu shoes and Radio London mix tapes. I covered my walls with album covers from Wah, Defunkt and Echo and the Bunnymen. I danced all night to James Brown and Washington Go Go. (Mine was an awkward, heavy-shoe shuffle that alienated girls more than it attracted them.)

    I confess I became somewhat pretentious. But I imagine it was an innocent sort of pretentiousness. A love of words and ideas and debate. Of music, books and film.

    Obviously pretentiousness is somewhat silly and self-important, but that’s part of its charm. Look at Salvator Rosa in the self portrait above from the National Gallery. He’s painted himself as a sensitive, brooding philosopher , braving a dark, stormy world. He’s carrying a Latin inscription (natch) that reads ‘Keep silent unless you have something more important to say than silence’. How absurd, how pretentious, how cool…

    Self Portrait in a Turban, Duncan Grant

    Last summer I visited Charleston, the Sussex country home and social hub of the Bloomsbury art set between the wars. They painted the walls and furniture, they painted each other, they discussed pacifism, ballet and the global financial crisis. They made a show of drinking coffee rather than tea. To be honest I didn’t love all the decorative artwork and I wasn’t too sure about their sleeping arrangements. But I had to admire the fact that they had a view about the world, a design for living.

    When I left college I fell into advertising as I thought it was one of the few professions where we Music Guys were welcome. Advertising is an art not a science, it’s creative persuasion, lateral thought. Advertising folk cultivated curious facial hair, absurd spectacles and MA1 Flight Jackets. I felt at home.

    In the ’90s our Agency produced the Levi’s campaign and I recall it referencing Ansel Adams, Hunter S Thompson, Rodchenko, Bill Brandt, Burt Lancaster and more besides. Pretentious perhaps, but also bracing stuff.

    Now let’s be clear. I’m certainly not a subscriber to the view that advertising is art. At its best it’s creativity applied to a commercial end. But I do believe that creativity needs to be inspired, catalysed and nourished by a broader set of cultural references and ideas.

    Of late I’ve begun to  wonder whether we Music Guys have lost our way and our voice a little. I’m concerned that there may not be enough people discussing arthouse movies, German dance troupes, experimental theatre. Shouldn’t the Agency be abuzz with fevered debate about Hockney and Hirst? Shouldn’t creative reviews be inspired by more  than YouTube? I worry in fact that we have become less pretentious.

    Perhaps people work so hard nowadays they don’t have time to develop what Denis Healey called a ‘hinterland’. Maybe it’s straitened times. We want to be seen as sensible, rational, commercial. Maybe it’s Anglo Saxon reserve. We apply a blanket pejorative to anything slightly outside the norms of conversation and thought. Perhaps it’s British anti-intellectualism. Our TV is dominated by unreality shows, costume anti-dramas, middle brow mundanity (what Simon Schama recently labelled ‘cultural necrophilia’). Our Queen prefers Lambourn to Glyndebourne. Our Prime Minister prefers tennis to Tennyson. And his favourite read is a cook book. Maybe we’re just too busy jogging.

    Whatever the source of the problem, l’ve come to rue this loss of pretentiousness. I wish people more often cited the marginal and the maddening, the absurd and sendesik the abstruse from the world of art, academia and literature. Not just because it’s interesting, challenging, funny. But because today’s obscure eccentric is tomorrow’s bright young thing. Because creativity’s favourite bedfellows are difference and diversity.

    So I’ve determined that I’m going to be pretentious in 2012. And I’ll encourage everyone else to do the same.

    Honi soit qui mal y pense…

  • The Anti Wind Tunnel Marketing Movement!

    6th October 10

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Brands, Insight

    Author: Charles Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific

    Following our series of Labs posts tackling the issue of “Wind Tunnel” marketing, the natural next step was to put the thinking out into the wild and see what we could learn… I recently ran a workshop at the SPIKES creative festival in Singapore, where solutions were brainstormed by the 100 + attendees.

    I began with a run-through of the issue as we see it:



    And the workshop attendees responded. Below are just some of the ideas that came out, we’d love to hear any you have to add.

    Some of the most popular practical solutions to the key areas discussed (measured by that highly accurate methodology of level of cheers and clapping at the end of the session) were as follows :

    The Overall Strategic Process

    - Twin team it on major projects – one that the client sees that follows the set process, the other that just has a blank canvas and no set rules

    - Follow your gut irrespective of set process – and get more skilled at post rationalisation

    Consumer Research

    - Scrap it ! – well, it was a predominantly creative audience

    - Aim off – always ensure you also  talk to people intentionally outside of the core target that everyone else is talking to. There maybe unearthed gems there

    - Ask ‘why’ more often than ‘what’ – reportage is useless, the reasons behind the actions are what people a looking for

    Client Management

    - Creatives more involved in client management – clearly there’s a lot of folk who want to come out of the back room
    pornoo
    - Stop hiring ourselves again and again – how can we build difference into our hiring policies?

    - Forced job swaps – agency people should work as clients for a while and vice – versa

    - Earlier and deeper – agencies arrive too late too often. What can they do to swim upstream in the client briefing process?

    Creative Inspiration

    - Creative speed dating – too much time working opposite the same person. Time for some new inspiration from different people in the building. Quickly. And ones with different skill sets – eg tech.

    - Stop looking at advertising – too much cannibalism. If our only influence is advertising…..then our output will be more…er…….advertising.

    - Move the office to the beach – well, that’s the audience again for you  (when they get there they’ll probably discover management has been there for a while).

    Again, these are just a starter for ten. We’d love to know your thoughts.

    ****

    Also check out Jim Carroll’s Manifesto here.

  • Raging Against The Machine: A Manifesto For Challenging Wind Tunnel Marketing

    16th September 10

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Brands, Insight

    Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

    This is the second of a two-parter by Jim. For the introduction to Wind Tunnel Marketing, check out his earlier post here or read both pieces in today’s Campaign magazine (available on campaignlive.co.uk next week). As always, we’d like to know what you think – please share any thoughts in the comments.

    ***

    1. Seek Difference In Everything We Do

    “Is it different?” has been relegated to the last question, the afterthought, the bonus ball.  But the last should be first.

    We should tirelessly seek difference in the people we talk to, the questions we ask, the processes we follow. “Is it different?” should be the first question we ask when we look at work  – both in terms of content and form.

    2. Kick Out the Norms

    We’ve become addicted to backward looking averages. But norms create a magnetic pull towards the conventional. Norms produce normal.  The new frontier doesn’t have norms, but it does have endless supplies of data, and a rich diversity of tools with which to mine it.

    We should create a data-inspired future, not a norm-constrained past.

    3. Only Talk to Consumers who are Predisposed to Change

    xhamster
    Where there is change, there are people that lead and people that follow.  In research we mostly talk to followers, because there are more of them and they’re cheaper. But ultimately they are less valuable.

    If we’re seeking to change markets, shouldn’t we talk exclusively to change makers?

    4. Embrace Insights From Anywhere

    We’ve lived for too long under the tyranny of consumer insight. Of course consumer insight can be engaging, but it can also be familiar.

    Surely insights can come from anywhere and we’re just as likely to find different insights from an analysis of the brand, the category, the competition, the channel, and, above all, the task. Read full post