strategy

Not Doctors, But Psychoanalysts

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
This is an edited version of a piece I wrote a while back for the APG. Reprinted with permission. 
 
Image: Sigmund Freud (AP Photo/Sigmund Freud Museum)

Image: Sigmund Freud (AP Photo/Sigmund Freud Museum)

It is a melancholy truth that the more expert I have become, the less my expertise is valued. I recognise that this may be because my dusty tales of Levi’s watchpockets,strategic chords and yin yangs lose a little of their lustre with every passing year. And I suspect I’m not pronouncing SXSW with convincing emphasis. But it may also be because Clients no longer come to me for expertise. Or at least not the expertise I imagined I had to offer.
 
I had always thought that we Planners were akin to strategic doctors. We assessed the patients’ symptoms, we prescribed treatment, we arrived at prognoses. I imagined that sitting in four reviews a day, year after year, gave us a special authority on the anatomy of communication. I’m sure there was a time when my Clients nodded gratefully as we offered sage counsel. The blinding insight, the lyrical proposition, the Damascene conversion…There was, wasn’t there?… But modern Clients are more strategically and creatively confident than ever before. They have their own strategy departments, they’re closer to their own data, they work across more channels than most of us.They go on creative role reversal courses…I’m really not sure they come to us primarily to listen to our opinion. And I have to say sometimes nowadays it’s difficult getting a word in edgeways.
 
It’s true, I have considered an alternative career as a bus conductor. And when the 25 year old Millward Brown consultant’s opinion carries more weight, I find myself yearning for a passing Routemaster. But advertising people are inherently positive. And so I reconsider…
 
I am increasingly of the view that Clients don’t come to us for medicine; they come to us for therapy. And I suspect that our value resides, not as strategic doctors, but as strategic psychoanalysts.
 
Often a successful modern Client engagement is not unlike a session of analysis. Clients begin with problems. They verbalise their thoughts, they make free associations, they express their fantasies and dreams. We listen, we interpret, we consider the unconscious conflicts that are causing their problems. We help them reach solutions through a process of self realisation.
 
Freud, in addressing the unconscious, talked about the need to ‘unearth buried cities’. This doesn’t sound too alien to brand planning.
 
I should at this point issue a health warning. I’m a Planner from Romford. Whilst I enjoyed Keira Knightley’s performance in A Dangerous Method, I can’t claim any particular knowledge of psychoanalysis . For me it’s just an illuminating analogy. Besides, if we were too literal about this, we’d never look a Client in the eye. And I suspect that’s a sure fire way to lose business…
 
Let us nonetheless consider some of the basic principles that would derive from a psychoanalytic approach to Client engagement…
 
Set out on a quest for meaning, not cure. The answers to most problems reside in the minds of the Client. We are enabling self knowledge,helping them to create their own narratives.
 
Behave as a participant observer, not a detached expert. Analysis only works if we embark on it together, as willing equals.
 
Embrace free association. Often we are too quick to impose order on our Clients’ challenges. Bear in mind that fantasies and dreams can illuminate unconscious conflicts.
 
Remember, everything has meaning. Be attentive to behaviour,body language, choice of words and phrases.
 
Look for meaningful patterns. Consider consistencies,symmetries,repetition. Probe for the meaning within the pattern.
 
Our time is up..
 
I used to believe there was only one correct answer to every problem. Now I believe there are many correct answers. The challenge is to establish the correct answer that best suits the Client’s character and personality. Anais Nin famously once said: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are’. I’m sure this maxim applies as much to strategy as it does to creative.

Cows in Space: a question of sustainability at #sxswi

The second of series of reports from Austin, by a few lucky BBH SXSW survivors.

Author: Helen Lawrence, Strategist, BBH Labs & BBH London

The most recurring topic of conversation in Austin during SXSW isn’t the future of technology, it isn’t the principles of responsive design and it certainly isn’t what makes something viral. It’s meat. What meat to have in your breakfast taco, what meat to choose for your lunchtime ribs and what meat should top your dinnertime hot dog (I can’t believe Tim didn’t mention this in his SXSW reflections!). This is a town dominated by BBQ joints and smoking shacks. I fear that after five days there I may have the incredibly sexy combination of scurvy and gout:

Helen goes to a rodeo http://instagram.com/p/WyTwazGhJY/

Helen goes to a rodeo http://instagram.com/p/WyTwazGhJY/

However, we have a problem. One hundred thousand years ago humans still needed 2000 calories a day to function. Back then, to produce that 2000 calories we’d get through 1800 to find and produce something to nibble on. Fast forward to today’s brisket loving era and it takes 200,000 calories to produce those same 2000 calories. Our food production habits are screwed up. We waste everything: energy, resources and it even the food itself once we’ve got it to that juicy, edible point. It’s not at all sustainable. We’re messing it up, and we’re doing it quickly.

So – who is the obvious person to turn to in order to solve this problem? An astronaut of course. Nothing beats an astronaut. Ahem.

The 100 Year Starship project is using the question of interstellar space travel to get to an answer:

“We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. We unreservedly dedicate ourselves to identifying and pushing the radical leaps in knowledge and technology needed to achieve interstellar flight, while pioneering and transforming breakthrough applications that enhance the quality of life for all on Earth.”

If we’re going to have to consider exploration outside of our solar system we’re going to have think a little beyond a simply bigger rocket. One self sustaining pod hurtling through the sky; it has to keep a bunch of humans alive for a century, stop them killing each other and prevent them from getting hungry.

The space race in the 60s was a tangible one: getting to the moon is a challenge that could be imagined and solved. The 100 Year Starship Project wants to set a challenge that trickles down solutions into our own fuzzy planet in the same way. The space race has given us some of the biggest everyday technologies we use now: scratch resistant lenses, GPS and water filters for example. By posing some of the biggest societal and sustainability questions out there and considering how we’d achieve them to last 100 years in space, we can hope for properly realistic solutions to the things we’re messing up at the moment.

Image via 100 Year Starship Project

Image via 100 Year Starship Project

Meat is a big one, clothes are another. It’s a terribly energy intensive hobby. We make too many, we own too many, we wash too many and we don’t recycle nearly enough. 100 years at our current clothing rates would need a lot of wardrobes up on our space ship, not to mention cotton fields, plastics factories and silk worms. We can’t take clothes to space, despite them being such a core part of our creative identity as humans – one solution put forward by the 100 Year Starship project includes reusable sheets that we project clothes onto, allowing us to change them whenever we like.

Back to the bovines. As much as I love the idea of cows in space, wearing little cow shaped astronaut helmets, it just can’t happen. ‘Fake meat’ companies are popping up all over the place, even Twitter co founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams are investing. That’s one possible solution for our 100 Year Spaceship. What else is there?

I like the 100 Year Starship project. It frames a problem into a great story. Mae Jemison, a brilliant astronaut, told the SXSW audience that we should tell better stories, ones that inspire and ones that can bring about social change. The project neatly frames sustainability into something we can picture. There are no cheats when you’re somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. So many of our so called sustainable solutions aren’t that at all. We feel we’re doing well when actually the problem is just popping up somewhere else. You can’t do that on a spaceship.

This makes me ruminate a bit on brand strategy – we talk a lot here about strategy being the art of sacrifice. What would you sacrifice in your brand armoury if forced to focus on the essentials? And would your brand get a spot on the starship in the first place? Is it ducking and diving, pushing superfluous issues elsewhere? Perhaps not being quite as sustainable or transparent as it could be? Whack it in a bubble and put it in space: it’s a good way to test it.

I’m excited about the 100 Year Spaceship. The hippies and the astronauts are getting it on. And damn, it’s even sexier than gout.

Craft, the Journalist and the Agency Strategist

The Guardian’s Editor, Alan Rusbridger, came into BBH earlier this year and spoke to a group of us about what it takes to deliver open journalism. In particular he described how one of his most awarded journalists, Nick Davies, operates day-to-day. He shared three or four articles Davies had written recently, breaking down the anatomy of each story in meticulous detail. And it properly sank in that “open journalism” doesn’t just mean simply laying the news bare, unfiltered, checked or analysed, nor does it mean opening up a new fire hose of information in the hope someone will make sense of it.

Perhaps the clue is in the phrase “Open Journalism”. As they say at The Guardian, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. The Guardian staff are information omnivores, analysts, fact checkers and storytellers. And, as Rusbridger put it to us, there are 3 characteristics that define ‘craft’ in journalism. Very few journalists master all three (Nick Davies is perhaps a rare example), but here they are:

1. A relish or hunger to find out new intelligence
2. The intellectual ability to see patterns in that data; see the big picture and understand the facts
3. An ability to write beautifully

It sounded strikingly similar to what makes a truly great Strategist in an agency. Three things a Strategist usefully might aim for, either way.

Good weekends, all.

I Will Not Follow

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London


In 1983 Celtic troubadours The Waterboys released a song called “I Will Not Follow”. I’m pretty sure it was a response to U2’s anthemic “I Will Follow”. Answer songs have a rather mixed history (though I’m grateful to the category for providing us with Roxanne Shante and Althea & Donna…), and I suspect “I Will Not Follow” was not The Waterboys’ finest moment  Nonetheless, I admired their courage in taking on the emerging Titans of Rock. And I loved the sentiment. The determination not to go with the flow, not to follow the masses, not to get lost in the crowd. A passionate rejection of passivity. A celebration of the power of negative thinking.

When I was in my last year at College, thoughts turned to possible careers. It was the late ’80s and , in the wake of the Big Bang, there was a magnetic pull towards the Big Job in The City. It was natural, obvious, exciting. The dark satanic thrills .. I recall my decision not to apply for a City role felt more significant to me than any subsequent active career choice.

I used to interview young graduates looking for a job. I found that their CVs were curiously similar. When asked what they’d achieved in life, they’d say they’d travelled to Asia, captained the hockey team, and they liked skiing and reading. But when one asked what the candidate had chosen not to do, more singular answers were forthcoming.

Some of our most important decisions are the paths we choose not to take,the roads we refuse to travel. Our lives can often be best understood by mapping the things we didn’t do, the words we didn’t say. Perhaps we should more often consider a brand’s unspoken truth, quiet regret. Because in its silence and inaction may reside its strength and identity.

‘If you gave me a pound for all the moments I’ve missed,
And I took dancing lessons for all the girls I should’ve kissed.
I’d be a millionaire, I’d be Fred Astaire’
ABC – “Valentine’s Day”

My first job after College was as a Qualitative Researcher. ‘Brand elasticity’ projects were very much in vogue. Could this everyday family margarine perhaps be a cheese, or a biscuit, or a ready meal or a jam? With a sip of Chardonnay and a nod of assent, my respondents would consistently give the green light to a whole host of reckless innovations and insane brand extensions. And over the years the song has remained the same, even if the lyrics have changed. Could my brand be an experience, a portal, a membership club? Could it be a hotel, a hub, a content provider? Could it release a clothing line with rugged check shirts, boxer shorts and rain resistant outerwear? Isn’t my brand more a lifestyle choice than a yellow fat?

Curiously perhaps, research respondents find it easy to endorse our grandest aspirations. But then it’s not their money and maybe they’re just being polite. Sometimes it seems we need to be better at defining the limits of our ambition, at identifying the red line, the point beyond which we will not go. Sometimes we need to demonstrate more restraint, more discipline, more negativity.

Many Clients are instinctively suspicious of the negative perspective. Surely it betrays a lack of confidence, enthusiasm, ambition? In order to sustain consistency they develop processes and platforms, models and matrices, funnels and formats. But best demonstrated practice is often worst demonstrated imagination. Over the years negative thinking has inspired truly exceptional communication by the likes of Dunlop, Audi, Marmite, Volvo, Stella and Guinness. What would a world be like without this brand? Who are its enemies? What is its weakness? Whenever one is confronted by the bland, boring or undifferentiated, it’s always helpful to reach for a liberating ‘not’.

Of course in the age of the social web possibilities seem infinite. We want campaigns to be all embracing, 360º, holistic. We want to tick off platforms like some bizarre game of I Spy. We want all the colours in all the sizes. Yet I wonder if the democratisation of knowledge and opinion creates a kind of accelerated conformity: the Consensus of Crowds. Surely brand behaviour on the web would benefit from a little more negative thinking? Perhaps more discipline and self denial? Maybe we need to see more of the brand that likes to say ‘no’, the brand that will not follow…

Every morning I face the horrors of commuting as I change Tube at Kings Cross. Crowded, crushed, compressed. Downbeat, dour, depressed. In order to get onto my teeming southbound train into the centre of town, I walk along the less cluttered northbound platform. Periodically empty northbound trains stop and then recommence their journey out to the quiet leafy suburbs. I’ve always promised myself that one day I’ll jump on one of those empty northbound trains, make my way to the end of the line, find a caff and settle down to The Guardian, bacon, eggs, tea and toast. One day…

Swimming in the shallow end

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

Portrait of an artist, by David Hockney

My father worked for a time at a gasket factory in Romford. One Christmas he presented me with a corporate diary he had been given by an industrial felt supplier. Inside they’d printed their slogan: ‘You need the felt. We felt the need.’ I loved that line. I thought it was so funny, clever and beautiful at the same time.

I was at school studying for my A Levels: Latin, Greek, Ancient History. It was a robustly academic diet. I found that, having immersed myself in Homer, Horace and Herodotus, I was increasingly distracted by Essex fashion and soul music, pub banter and puns. I was drawn to the facile, frivolous and foolish. I guess it was a kind of mental displacement.

In the early ’80s, pop was revered anew in the UK. In the wake of the ponderous rock and precocious punk of the ’70s, we embraced ABC, Haircut 100 and Dollar with gusto. We believed in the beauty of the three minute pop song: shiny lyrics, shallow sentiments, shimmering production. We believed that there was an integrity in pop that raised it above the pretentious posturing of the indie crowd; that there was a kind of perfection in its brevity and wit. We believed that love itself was fragile, funny and transient.

Around about that time I determined that I’d one day like to work in advertising.

‘And all my friends just might ask me.
They say,”Martin, maybe one day you’ll find true love.”
I say,”Maybe. There must be a solution
To the one thing, the one thing, we can’t find”’

The Look of Love, ABC

In my 20s I noticed my social circle was narrowing and deepening. I was spending more and more time with a tight knit bunch of close friends. Although I greatly enjoyed their company, I became concerned that my conversation was increasingly predictable, that I was reinforcing my own prejudices and opinions. And so I set myself the task of developing a broad but shallow social set. I endeavoured to ensure that I saw a lot of friends infrequently. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this particular game plan. It was frankly rather exhausting).

Nigel Bogle once complained that Planning had a nack of digging down to Australia to discover the meaning of a paper clip. In my brief, and I have to say less than successful, tenure as Head of Planning at BBH, I endeavoured to address this. I transposed my ‘broad and shallow’ strategy to Planning: I encouraged the department to experience more things less profoundly; to work on more projects less intensively. Broad and Shallow Planning was to be my legacy to the strategic community. Strangely it was never widely adopted…

I guess I have always felt a little uncomfortable with the elevated status we afford brands nowadays. We talk of trust and love and ideals. Loyalty, passion, faith. Visions, missions, purposes. It sometimes strikes me as faintly bombastic. Brands as Wagnerian heroes. The Emerson, Lake and Palmers of consumption. The high concept action movies of marketing. Roll the credits. Lighters in the air. Cue the helicopters. Cue the smoke machines. Cue Coldplay. Cue Ghandi…

Surely not all soft drinks can save the babies, not all toothpastes can launch a thousand ships. Surely many brands have more modest roles to play in people’s lives. The fleeting glance, the quiet companion, the casual acquaintance. Shouldn’t we of all people be celebrating the inconsequential, the insignificant, the incidental? For these foolish things are truly the stuff of life.

‘A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces,
An airline ticket to romantic places.
A tinkling piano in the next apartment,
Those stumbling words that told me what your heart meant.
These foolish things remind me of you’

These Foolish Things, Eric Maschwitz & Jack Strachey

The fall of Icarus, Baglione

Finally, a word of caution. We have all learned to ladder up to higher order concepts and social goods. Ordinary, everyday brands get to leave behind base functionality, to sup with sages and kings. And often it serves a brand well to give it a higher purpose and social resonance. But beware the Icarus Effect. You may be playing with the Pomp Rock of Planning. In a Creds meeting once, I told a High Street optical retailer that his brand gave consumers the gift of sight. He excused himself and said he was due back on Planet Earth.

So don’t get me wrong. I love a big, ambitious, high ground, universal idea as much as the next man. I love brands with vision, confidence and courage. I’ve even nodded along to Coldplay occasionally.

But, just for once, let’s raise a glass to the little guys, to the not-so-crazy ones. Here’s to the inconsequential, the incidental and frivolous. Here’s to the modest, the momentary and fleeting. Here’s to swimming in the shallow end.

Dance Lessons

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London

Asphodel Meadows, choreographed by Liam Scarlett

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. (more…)

The Planner / Creative relationship: how does it work for you?

Authors: Fran Hazeldine, Strategy Director and Pelle Sjoenell, Executive Creative Director at BBH LA

[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCHy2tAKO5k[/youtube]

In a couple of weeks time we’ll be speaking at the annual Planningness conference, which is coming to LA for the first time this year.

We were originally asked to talk about how we work as a planner / creative duo at BBH LA. But rather than share a single, narrow perspective, we thought it might be interesting to take a broader look at the planner / creative relationship today.

What do planners and creatives really value in one another? How can they best work together in a modern agency setup? Do similar or opposite styles attract? Does gender, nationality or experience make a difference? Has digital changed the relationship? Is it still a two-way dynamic or are planning and creative duties shared between more diverse teams?

We’re hoping to answer some of these questions by asking planners and creatives from a variety of agency backgrounds to fill out a short survey. If you work in either role at any level, we’d love to get your input. Results will be shared here on the Labs blog and in our Planningness talk on May 18th.

The aim is to gather some honest, practical learning about the planner / creative relationship, how it is changing and what we can do to improve it. Next up, the new business / finance relationship…

You can find the results of the survey and our follow up post here.

I Feel For You

Jules et Jim (1962, Francois Truffaut)

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’…

5 Things Agencies Can Learn From Music Labels

Author: Dan Hauck, ex-BBHer, now Planning Director at Sony Music UK

The title might sound a bit presumptuous, but that’s not the intention. Clearly, there are a huge number of things that music labels can learn from agencies, and indeed most labels are only starting to embrace things that have been commonplace in agencies for years.

Why should anyone listen to an industry that is in such obvious structural and financial turmoil? Well, partly because that’s exactly why the music industry is starting to embrace change where it once ignored it, happy to let the CD dollars roll in. Those days have well and truly gone, and that has brought a realization that if they don’t do something new, they might not be doing anything at all.

But mainly because the particular nature of the music industry has led to certain practices that I believe agencies can learn from. I’ve worked at Sony Music for a year now. We’ve tried to establish some of the basic principles of brand planning into the way in which marketing campaigns are created – proper understanding of audiences, an informed neutral approach to channel planning, artist/campaign propositions, creative briefs, full campaign evaluation etc etc.

In truth, some initiatives have worked better than others. There are factors unique to the music industry that can make planning for bands more difficult than for brands (incredibly short lead times, and the difficulty of working with a living and breathing product, to name two).

But there are also factors particular to this industry that lead a planner in music to a certain type of planning, one which I think can offer some interesting learnings for the discipline as a whole. (more…)

How to do Propagation Planning

A few years ago I wanted to be a part of the next theory in strategic planning. Connections Planning had been around for about ten years (in 2009) and I wanted to know what comes next? That’s when I discovered the work that Ivan Pollard from Naked Communications had shared around Propagation Planning.

Over the last few years I dedicated my ‘extra’ time to understanding and cultivating the theory, articles and case studies surrounding propagation planning. I shared everything I learned on my Blog. By sharing, others contributed and the ideas got better.

Sharing and generosity are very important in the advertising industry today. They make all of us better. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Edward Boches, who is in the process of formalizing propagation planning at Mullen, wrote a great post this week asking a provocative question, “Do you give content away because you want credit?” For me, I give content away to become a member of the club. A club of strategic planning minds that contribute everyday to a greater collective. This club is made up of so many people that I couldn’t possibly name them all here… but you know who you are.

So I was thrilled when Mark Lewis and the Planning-Ness conference asked if Mike Monello (Co-Founder at Campfire) and I would share our thoughts on propagation planning. I hope that you can take something away from this deck and inspire your creative and social media teams to develop work that gets spread.

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