26th March 13
Author: Alex Matthews, Head of Creative Technology, BBH London
As a tech boy I am always less interested in marketing per se than I am in marketing through services – solving problems and creating something useful – and this is what I was hoping to find on my first visit to SXSW. Initially though I found myself in a Comedy in Technology talk where the little fella above did five minutes of standup – he’s been created as part of the drive to make robots more human, using comedy as a barometer for their humanness – pretty impressive, but still some work to do.
The Beyond Mobile talk was a great example of what I hope is a trend towards a “less is more” mentality, suggesting we need to stop making everything ‘smart’ and instead have one or two smart devices and create many interfaces into them. Also suggesting that devices need to get ‘dumber’ is right up my street. The best solutions are not always the ones that add a million buttons and an Android OS to your microwave – instead just make your microwave remember the time after a power outage (after all, for 99% of the time we only use out microwaves as a clock).
In the same vein was a talk by Golden Krishna (who recently joined Samsung) about his premise that The best interface is no interface. In his paper he discusses the 13 steps that are demanded by car-door unlocking apps now coming to market. Is this really a more efficient system than a key? Or a better system than the non-app solution developed by Mercedes ten years ago?
The Robot in your pocket: AI powered applications talk from Gravity‘s Amit Kapur and Xobni‘s Jeff Bonforte also ran on a similar theme (and is well worth listening to here). Phones have 14 sensors typically – all of this data is available to us and to developers and yet we are still not using it to its full potential. For example, asking Siri to “call Chris” pulls up a list of the Chris’s in your address book. With your behavioural data at its disposal, surely Apple should know that most evenings at 6pm the Chris I call is Chris Smith as I try and organise a quick beer after work?
Although there were quite a few relatively pointless apps on the trade stands I must big up one app that I found – Speakerfy – it allows you to simultaneously and synchronously play a song from your phone or laptop to multiple devices that also have the app. Basically, it creates a multi-speaker system on your and your friend’s phones. It’s going to make bus journeys with school kids even more noisy I’m sure.
Finally, I have to mention the Google Glass presentation in which they live-demoed Glass and launched their Mirror API. The API seems quite open, simple and developer friendly using all the usual standard technologies, though they’re not sure yet how people are going to subscribe to apps for their Glass headset. Aside from the big question which is “will any normal person actually want to wear these?” and the fact that we’re all already entrenched in a behaviour pattern of checking updates on our phones, the demos they gave (New York Times, email, photo, sharing etc) were not all that amazing.
Personally, I think Google is in a limbo state with Glass at the moment – they’re getting people interested, providing APIs but there’s no way for the masses to try out Glass, which does leave that “will anyone really do this” question rather open. There’s a lot of talk and hype from futurology types about Glass, but I’m not convinced they’re going to change the world overnight – going back to my original points, you have to ask the question “what is the business or user problem that Glass is trying to solve?”.
19th March 13
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:
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.
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.
15th March 13
Having spent nearly a decade as a judge, panelist, or an attendee at SXSW I have witnessed massive sweeping changes in the size, scope, and tone of this festival.
My earliest experiences at South by Southwest were fueled by conversations with futurists, digital pioneers, and creative folks exploring a new medium. The festival was small, unknown, and very personal. It stayed that way, and became the annual vehicle for meeting up with the community in real life. It was where we could hear what everyone was thinking, doing, and more importantly what they were feeling. It was about those people and how they were helping shape the Web.
A few short years later the advertising agencies began to take note of SXSW and began attending in force. The first wave was of course the recruiters, hungry for “Digital Talent”. The next wave was comprised of creative, planners, strategists, and account people. There were agency parties, panels, and booths. The festival became too large to curate by a group of people who for the last few years were all on a first name basis. Enter the “Panel Picker”.
There is of course something admirable to be said about allowing the public to decide upon the content of next year’s festival, however the “public” had shifted from this group of connected people helping to shape the Web to a network of agencies, corporations, top-tier brands, and holding corps. This without doubt, was going to impact the tone of the festival. And it did.
SXSW panel content began to drift away from personal reflections of the past year and projections of the years to come. They became a platform for agencies and brands to build a presence within the interactive community. A large percentage of the conversations became pitches and the passionate thinking about the future went silent.
This year felt different. There was a visible shift. This year there was another generation emerging from within the festival. The maker’s movement had arrived and they took on many forms. Elon Musk gave an extremely illuminating talk. There were 3D scanners and printers that created our century’s first glimpse at the idea of teleportation. There were also production shops like Deep Local best know for Nike’s Chalk bot talking about the path of his company from Punk Rock to CEO. There was definitely a something new in the air. The festival subconsciously rebooted and began focusing on the future again.
“No one wants PCs” – Bruce Sterling
This year during Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks, he made clear the circle of life in technology. For every innovation and advancement we embrace, the previous piece of technology it replaces dies. He explained the importance of recognizing and owning that. Bruce also went on to talk about focusing on the people behind the tech, and the importance of the thinkers and makers vs. the end product. It was during this talk that made the turning point evident. We need to embrace the idea of making, but making in such a way that we were aware of what we are replacing. The only constants in the equation are the individuals behind the advancements.
The festival left me thinking that next year would mark a return to that original “futurist spirit”. Sure there will be a huge brand presence, but the content, the core of the SXSW will once again be about the future through the lens of technology and more importantly through the voices of those leading the charge.
11th March 13
Posted in Start ups
Author: Saneel Radia, Founder Finch15
When Ben and Mel set up BBH Labs long before I was ever given the keys here in NYC, one of its core ambitions was to birth new offerings. Well, I’m lucky to say this certainly panned out, which is exactly why I had to say goodbye.
One thing that became clear after years of conversations with clients about innovation was that many big, mature brands look upon startups with joy (and a touch of envy) as they see the culture of innovation with which they are imbued. At the same time, there are plenty of very big companies innovating at a speed and scale that no startup could ever comprehend (P&G and AmEx are two companies I find myself applauding all the time, even if the awe isn’t mutual). That’s because web innovation and product innovation are not the same thing – unless your core product is on the web. For companies that primarily create analog products, this innovation landscape can seem like a foreign land with a different language and odd custom
At the same time, more and more of these big companies are talking about their marketing outputs as assets. Thus an idea was born. These assets could provide real commercial value if they were used to create a competitive advantage in the digital space. If a brand has strong brand equity, distribution, consumer data and other “brand assets” that can help create digital businesses, that’s a well-lit path to product innovation. We created Finch15 to identify this path and guide clients down it.
In a nutshell, Finch15 creates revenue-generating digital businesses for brands. We identify market opportunities, quantify their value and determine the best way a brand can stretch profitably into that space using those precious assets. It’s a form of lateral innovation. The client stays true to their business and brand, but we help move them into a new, digital category. We mitigate the risk of this effort by ensuring whatever we do is good for the brand. So, if things don’t pan out, they have a self-funded marketing effort. If they do, they have a completely new source of revenue in what is likely a fast-growth market.
We certainly aren’t the first to pursue this, and hope we aren’t the last. In our effort, we aspired to create a unique mix of marketing, investment banking and tech talent that gives us a chance to create innovative, successful businesses for our clients. Yes, we do have clients. And no, we aren’t telling yet (you’ll see them when the businesses launch).
It’s exciting to found a company birthed at BBH Labs and incubated at VivaKi. VivaKi’s network of tech, media and strategy talent is a huge resource for a small startup. We couldn’t be more excited. I’m especially honored they’re letting me serve the concurrent role of EVP, Product Innovation for them. I get to work with VivaKi clients across the globe and actually talk to those very innovative companies accomplishing things at a scale few others can imagine.
Wish us luck. Or just “ooo” and “ahhh” at the dynamic logo Tim, Victor, Lasse and other BBH Labs members created here.
5th March 13
Posted in culture
Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, Google Glass all of a sudden made all kinds of sense. Being able to record experiences in the moment unencumbered by a camera or phone, share them in the moment, navigate through a city without reference to a map (digital or paper), augment real live experience with the power of search – all these things seem to be requirements of living a frictionless digital duality. While I’m not sure that using a mobile to access the web is exactly ‘emasculating‘, I do think that Google are tapping into an important behavioural realisation – experiencing the world through the screen of a phone is not optimal living. As Sergey Brin says, “You want something that frees your eyes.”
But, inevitably, now that the application date to become a ‘Glass Explorer‘ has passed, some reasonable, inquisitive voices are raising questions about whether Google’s version of ‘documentary vision‘ is as desirable as it first appeared to be. Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computing, asks whether Google have learnt from his experiments in augmented vision – he raises important practical concerns about the design and safety, short and long-term, of Google’s solution. He also touches on important privacy issues, asking whether this technology will ‘turn us into so many Little Brothers’.
The privacy issue has huge implications, not just for societies already coming to terms with near-ubiquitous surveillance, but for individuals living in those societies. ‘Google Glass will live or die solely in the experience it creates for people,’ says Steve Hurst. But the people Hurst worries about are not the users, but ‘everyone other than the user‘, everyone viewed and potentially recorded, snapped, reverse image searched, Googled, by a Glass wearer. This is, obviously, a big deal. There are rules about how surveillance camera footage can be used. Google itself has had to modify streetview imagery according to national privacy laws. How are we going to legislate for Glass? Will social norms keep up with the march of technology? Who do I send a takedown notice to if I don’t know that I’ve been recorded and who that recording has been shared with? As Hurst says, ‘The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.’
Any new tech idea comes with caveats and warnings, sometimes reasonable, other times hysterical linkbait. At Labs we’re incurable optimists, and it feels, from here, that this is something big and important. Admittedly our excitement for the possibilities of Project Glass is tempered with plenty of unknowables, not least when we’re going to be getting our hands on a pair. The current $1500 pricetag and clunky design doesn’t change the fact that Project Glass, in some form, in some timeframe, is coming. As The Verge say in their positive ‘eyes-on’ review, ‘the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’.
26th February 13
Posted in Insight
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
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.”
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 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…
16th February 13
Posted in People
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
I remember extremely well how I felt when Ben told me BBH were hiring Griffin. A mixture of ‘Bam! Yes!’ delight and excitement, with a small sliver of anxiety thrown in. I really hoped we would be worthy of him.
At the time, Griffin already had a thoroughly interesting and useful model for modern planning that he’d explored in public on his own blog. He called it Propagation Planning – “plan not for the people you reach, but the people they reach” – and it made a ton of sense. He practised and preached it with an elegant simplicity. He wrote beautifully. He wore a cool hat in his Twitter avatar photo. He had a name that sounded like it belonged to a mythical, dragon-fighting Knight. So far, so intimidating.
Of course it turned out Griffin was all of these things – incredibly smart, ahead of his time, thoughtful and wise beyond his years. But, miraculously, not in the slightest bit intimidating. Rather, he was the most generous of men; kind and good-hearted. He also immediately made himself indispensable. I’m not sure anyone else can claim to have played a major role simultaneously in the main agency, BBH Labs and BBH Zag. Griffin got everywhere… he made a difference to everyone.
It’s a rare thing, knowing someone who is truly talented and truly generous in equal measure. Very clever and very kind. Some people can pull that perfect balance off every now and then. Griffin was like that every single day. When I think about him in the weeks and years to come, it’s this that I will not forget.
As the e-book below (made for Griffin in the midst of his fight against cancer) attests, everyone at BBH – particularly all his close colleagues and friends at BBH New York, plus a lucky few of us in London – will remember Griffin for the great work he did, his absolute commitment right to the very end, his gentle optimism and his courage in the face of such adversity. But mostly, like everyone who was lucky enough to know him, we will remember the overflowing love he had for his family and his huge capacity for friendship.
RIP, Griffin. It’s an honour to say we knew you.
Super Griffin eBook by Dean Woodhouse & Hugo Bierschenk, with the involvement of everyone at BBH New York.
5th February 13
Posted in collaboration
One of the most amazing things about the internet era is people coming together in unique and scalable combinations. Yet organizing crowds is much more difficult than most organizations imagine.
Few people know more about facilitating mass collaboration than Shaun Abrahamson, the CEO of Mutopo. When Shaun talks, we listen. In fact, sometimeswe even ride his coattails on the subject. Shaun recently co-authored a book called Crowdstorm. It was released yesterday, so we invited him to sit down for a Q&A.
You can purchase Crowdstorm here.
Q. Crowdsourcing is used as a label for an ever increasing universe. Where does crowdstorming fit in?
The best way to think about all the facets of crowdsourcing is in terms of what we’re asking participants to do. For example, in microwork, like mechanical turk, we’re asking people to do small things like, tell us if this is porn (to create content filters) or verify a business listing. In crowdfunding, like Kickstarter, we’re asking people for cash and influence (when they announce their support via the social webs). In collaborative consumption, like AirBnB, we’re often asking people to provide assets to be shared, and often their networks and reputation so that we may build trust.
In crowdstorming, we focus on actions that crowds can take in relation to ideas: finding ideas, finding people or organizations to come up with ideas, offering feedback and rating/ranking ideas. Crowdstorming can include ideas through a range of maturity, from the napkin stage through to early stage companies. While writing the book, we realized that some of the basic patterns were pretty old. They had been described by Alex Osborne (the “O” in BBDO) when he introduced the world to brainstorming just after WWII. Osborne was mostly concerned with small groups of people coming up with and evaluating ideas. We just see networked crowds where he saw folks in a conference room.
Q. So is crowdstorming a fancy name for idea contests?
I see contests as a subset of crowdstorming. Crowdstorming tends to fall into 3 broad buckets: search, collaborative, integrated. We think contests fall into the search bucket because they are mainly focused on searching for the best ideas (or candidates, partners, etc). Often the search process is desirable because we have something we can test. Think of XPrize or DARPA Grand Challenges – there are spaceships and robot cars that can compete to see who wins.
Other crowdstorms are more collaborative. This is often true when there aren’t prototypes to race through the desert or fire into space. The key is deciding as early as possible which concepts are worthy of additional time and investment. Following the 1-9-90 rule, think of this collaborative approach as benefiting from the 9 – the “editors” so to speak. Thus while the 1 may submit ideas, the 9 are engaged to provide feedback. And this feedback is used to refine and select ideas. LEGO Cuusoo is good example of a collaborative crowdstorm. It is not so much a contest, as it is a filter. People or teams pitch new LEGO product ideas. The Cuusoo community needs to give the idea 10,000 votes before an idea will be reviewed by the LEGO team. This is where LEGO Minecraft came from.
I use the word “community” quite deliberately here, because when you add feedback, you drastically increase the number of participants and interactions. And if you invite the same group back to pitch and evaluate multiple ideas, you see relationships form. Yes, you see a competitive dynamic, but also a lot more collaboration. And increasingly we see participants being rewarded for more than just their ideas. Just look at the payouts from Giffgaff, which cover a broad range of contribution types, like sales, support and unique participation in the idea processes.
Q. One of the most interesting themes in the book is how innovative organizations scale talent via non-employees. This is a major discussion topic amongst agencies and clients. What companies are doing this best that we can learn from?
I really think this is a question of what patterns you adopt and where in the process you look to outsiders. One of the best illustrations of this type of thinking comes from Quirky. They literally remapped the consumer product development process around where outside talent can provide the most value.
If we look at the process above, Quirky smartly and explicitly positions themselves as the support system for inventors. They know there are lots of difficult steps like industrial design, quality control and distribution negotiations that require their leadership and control. They can manage the risks and quality in these steps. But Quirky also figures out how to measure and reward participation in some specific roles where it knows the crowd can help. Interestingly, measurement and reward systems inside firms are starting to show similar elements – just take a look at Salesforce’s Work.com. I think as we get better at measurement, it will get easier to bring in outside talent to add value to any creative process.
In terms of the ad business, the process below shows Amazon’s approach to the production of filmed content at Amazon Studios. They are taking their expertise from ratings and reviews, and applying it to content development. And if you look at the role of crowdfunding in areas like film development, you can see another voting style. We tend to focus on the finance, but pre-selling also provides a strong indication of the potential of an idea.
Most of the crowdstorm processes we have discussed have focused on finding and evaluating ideas. This is useful, but we forget that behind the ideas are talented individuals. Startup accelerators like Techstars are running idea contests – this is how teams make it into their programs. But they are focused on the ideas as well as the talent. And they offer a different set of incentives to work together; unlike Quirky and Amazon, who own the resulting IP, accelerators just want a small share. They want the teams to take the ideas forward. Techstars recently teamed up with Nike+. Why? Yes, Nike needs developers for their Nike+ platform, but they need a different type of talent, too. In this case it’s talent that is willing to share risks. As a side benefit, Nike will be pitched loads of ideas, so they get to validate their own understanding of the space. And while they might give away ownership, they have tapped into talent that might never have considered working for Nike.
Q. Now a question every author should have to go on the record with…. Who’s your favorite Transformer?
I think I risk being redacted by not saying Optimus, right? But I always liked Wheeljack because he invented stuff, even it mostly didn’t work. But this wasn’t an obvious choice, so I poked around a bit and realized that his first incarnation was a Lancia Stratos Turbo. That car is the embodiment of taking risks and it mostly worked. And it still looks like it might turn into something else. So Wheeljack wins.
Special thanks to Shaun for sharing his thinking with us. If the above is of interest, consider downloading Crowdstorm here. (And thanks BBH Labs for already letting me come back and “guest blog”).