strategy

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.

(Best viewed by clicking MENU and FULL SCREEN)

How Do Agencies Move Upstream?

Author: Griffin Farley, Strategy Director, BBH New York

Image Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

I have returned from the promise land, a place of myth and fable among ad agencies. We have many names for this place but I tend to call it… upstream.

It’s a question we as an industry often ask ourselves: “How can we get more upstream in our client’s business?” and this isn’t an uncommon theme here on the Labs blog (if you’re interested in reading some related material, check out Ben’s post So What Exactly Might Adaptive Brand Marketing Be? and Mel’s Marketing Mashup).

We’re just wrapping up a consulting project with a client where we had the opportunity to work more upstream than agencies typically work. We were asked to help a client develop an investor presentation that would allow them to raise funds to hire an ad agency. Before I get into that story I wanted to take a step back and share how agencies move upstream and what steps need to come first.

1. Moving from Execution to Strategy:

Having a dedicated strategic planning department is the first step. This isn’t as easy as it sounds for all agencies. Many agencies in smaller ad markets want to hire planners but struggle to find them. As an industry we have done a poor job training and cultivating young planners over the last 10 years, which I believe is the reason we have a shortage of Senior Planners in the States today.

The question inevitably comes up… Can we cross-train somebody to be our planner? I have worked with many strategic account managers and the biggest difference between an account manager and an account planner is the time planners get to think about strategy. It’s hard to be conceptual and strategic when your time is filled with other aspects of agency business like hounding the client to sign production estimates.

Being strategic by itself isn’t enough to hold your own as a planner. Schools like VCU and Miami Ad School help with this transition. They provide the fundamentals of research, moderation and creative inspiration. Some of the best cross-trained planners that I have met include Pam Scott who worked at Goodby years ago, and Laura Scobie who currently works at Fallon.

2. Moving from Strategy to R&D:

In the agency world we are told that meeting with the ad agency should be your clients best meeting of the week. However many brand managers might say meeting with the R&D folk makes the best meeting of the week. Some industries are more prone to employing brand managers that get excited about R&D than others. In my experience these categories include Toys, Consumer Package Goods, Casual Dining Restaurants and Technology to name a few.

Sometimes strategic and creative time is best spent thinking of new product or service innovations for clients. Ad agencies have developed amazing innovations for clients, and I think the best example of this is the Happy Meal for McDonalds. Just this week I heard CP+B is testing a new product for Kraft Mac and Cheese for the Grill.

3. Moving from R&D to Venture Capital:

Like I mentioned at the beginning, BBH Zag is helping a technology start-up develop an investor presentation. The goal of presentation is to raise a large sum of money that will allow them to hire an agency, be first to mass market and own this developing category.

Rarely do agencies get a chance to work this far upstream with a brand because the resource and time risk is too great. However, if agencies want to live in a world where ideas rule, there is no other place like venture capital. Understanding how to pitch an idea in 30 minutes or less, understanding what investors have to see and correctly size the marketplace for new market categories are unusual assignments for most agencies.

MIT has a program that teaches students how to pitch venture capitalists and if you do some searching on YouTube you’ll find videos that get students excited about the program like this one:

These are just a few thoughts. We don’t have all the solutions and would like to hear what you think: Do agencies belong upstream? Have we earned the right to be more than a vendor… to be a true client partner? Are we professional enough to make commercial recommendations? Do we demonstrate daily a habitual, deep-rooted interest in their business? Are there other ways for agencies to find themselves upstream?

The Planner Survey 2010

Heather LeFevre has just published her annual survey of planners and strategists. It’s most definitely worth a read. And not just if you regard yourself as a planner or strategist.
Of course, we’re particularly honored to see BBH named joint top as one of two agencies with the ‘strongest planning group’ (& congratulations to W&K).
View more documents from Heather LeFevre.
From Heather’s blog:
The moment at least some of us have been waiting for! The results have been tabulated, analyzed and even designed this year. I’ve posted them on both SlideShare and Scribd so you can download them from whichever you prefer. All of my commentary is in the report, but please comment here after you’ve had a chance to read it. Would love to know what you think.