16th December 10
The good people from the Cristal Festival (held in Crans, Switzerland.. not a bad place to be at this time of year) got in touch a few months ago, asking me to join a panel today with two very smart ladies, Fernanda Romano (Euro RSCG’s Global CD for Digital & Experiential Advertising) and Patou Nuytemans (Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy EMEA).
We were each asked to come with an answer to the question that’s the title of this post. My response – a super short presentation and what was said to accompany it – below.
When I first heard the question, the answer felt pretty obvious. An immediate YES. Let’s kill it stone dead, with fire, right here, right now. Both Fernanda and Patou argued with absolute certainty that this should be the case, letting a series of integrated award entries from a single telco in Bahrain (yes, that was the point…) do the talking.
Personally, my response was driven by the fact the word feels both outmoded AND it suggests unnecessary complexity; a separation between “digital” and “analogue” that’s vaporising before our eyes. Even before analogue TV channels are switched off forever (in the UK in 2012), we all know audiences flow freely between on and offline and expect to see coherency from brands, wherever they find them. This blurring is only going to get more extreme, until we don’t even notice the difference. In fact, I’m fairly convinced we’re the last generation to even care.
Continuing in this vein, I borrowed the oft-quoted Charlene Li’s statement at SXSW in 2009 that “[digital] social networks will be like air”. Businesses need to prepare themselves for a future where open, hyper-connected networks are the norm. Talking about “digital” vs everything else out there is arguably unhelpful, reminiscent of a past when digital was an after thought and treated as a channel (“okay, we’ve got our big idea, now let’s do some of that digital stuff!”). Now that digital underpins much of what we do, it becomes next to meaningless as a descriptor.
Or does it? Before we draw the knife to kill the word, let’s just hold on a minute. If we stop using the word digital, what would replace it? How would we describe the creative canvas and media environment in which we operate? Note: ‘post-digital’ is not an option.
Taking a step back, there’s nearly always an answer somewhere in history – as Russell Davies’ reference to post-war England in his Post Digital apology perfectly encapsulates – or better still, given I was asked to talk about killing something, let’s learn from Mother Nature.
There’s a natural rhyme and reason to the flow of things in nature. Put incredibly simply, all living things experience at least two of the following during their lifetime: birth, sex, death.
Where are we *really* in the cycle of digital’s life? Actually, I’d argue we’re somewhere just after birth.
We’re certainly no-where near approaching maturity. Like virgins discussing sex, we’ve boasted about nearly doing it, thought we may have done it (not entirely sure) and excitedly talk about what it’ll be like when we’ve done it, you know, A LOT. There are people who are legitimately experienced, but most of us aren’t. Not in the “10,000 hours logged coding” sense of the word.
Sure, we don’t all need to know how to code brilliantly in order to qualify. Although I’d like to suggest we might want to learn a little. Ad agency creatives ten years ago didn’t need to be directors, editors or lighting cameramen to write great TV scripts. However, they’d lived with telly and newspapers their whole lives and learned the craft of writing, design and art direction before they ever dared set foot inside an agency. Likewise the UK’s IPA has stacks of papers which prove the effectiveness of advertising, yet would be the first to admit the real ROI of digital activity is still in its infancy.
Until the industry at large has a universal understanding of what it takes in terms of craft and intelligence to deliver *outstanding* digital work, suggesting we should ‘kill digital’ feels grossly premature.
In writing this, I’m reminded of Iain Tait’s last column for NMA just last month, in which he protested with good reason:
“Digital may be everyday, but it’s not effortless… It’s time to stop all the nonsense about trying to call this stuff this or that. Only thing that matters is whether it’s good or not. The only thing more stupid than all the word-monkeying is denying that technology, code and making things out of bits and bytes is important.” porn izle I’ve got a lot of sympathy with this for a bunch of reasons (as I’ve said before here, a favourite post of mine is The Tragic Death of Practically Everything), but in the main I’d like us to show digital some respect. Yes, it informs everything like air, but that doesn’t make it easy to breathe.
In short, I’d like our industry to be allowed to reach its potential in terms of digital skill. Not recognising the particular craft skills and necessary time on the clock runs the risk of arresting our collective development. Let’s not let that happen.
8th December 10
Posted in storytelling
Author: Jessica Berta (@jeccaberta), Writer, BBH NYC
Certain artists are typecast, sometimes by choice. They capture a style so well that it comes to define them. Author Jonathan Safran Foer falls outside of that camp with a chameleonic thud. He keeps us curious.
In his new book, Tree of Codes, Foer does with a physical book what we often neglect in digital—he turns reading into an experience. In showing how a story’s environment affects its meaning, he gives digital storytellers a slap in the face.
Tree of Codes, breaks from the standard book format in two ways:
- It creates a new story by tearing apart and piecing together an old one—Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.
- Each page is die-cut to reveal just a handful of words and phrases.
I found the book annoying to read at first, despite its delicate beauty. I couldn’t decipher between the page I was reading and the ones beneath it. It was like a depth perception test following a mug of bourbon.
After sobering up and finding a better technique, I enjoyed the layout. Words hovered in a dream-ridden state. Thought went into each line, each phrase and how it was laid out. Such attention to the UX of reading is tough to find on the web. Foer’s analog approach would be easy enough to toy with in digital. So why aren’t we more playful with narratives online?
Brilliant writing isn’t enough to keep readers happy. Long blocks of copy, no matter how poetic, are begging for attention spans to scamper off elsewhere. In a design dominant field, it’s easy to neglect voice, tone, even punctuation. Or to forget about how each will figure into a broader environment.
Maybe that’s because we get swept up in technology. We use it to tell stories rather than to shape them. The following ideas and executions use technology to influence how stories are read. Bravo! The better ones put UX at the forefront. In doing so, they offer some lessons in communicating creatively.
- We Tell Stories: Bring physical location into the narrative.
- Telescopic Text: Let the reader decide what information to absorb.
- TextArc: Represent text visually.
- The Sweet Old Etcetera: Make static literature kinetic. There are lots more eLiterature examples here.
- Open Bookmarks: Consider the selfish benefits to social reading.
- Ben the Bodyguard: Communicate utility via a character.
- @RuthBourdain: Mix vinegar and oil. Hilarity ensues. (Perhaps a bit off the mark, but a good demo of re-imagining existing voices.)
These concepts and methods fool with language, narrative and technology to entertain. It’s humbling to think that a few pieces of paper and an X-Acto knife can do the same.
When we leave room for interpretation and delight, we can expand the playground for digital fiction. We can turn stories into experiences that are unique to each reader. So let’s stop neglecting the goddamn words. Pretty please?
29th November 10
Last Thursday (on Thanksgiving, if you are so inclined) the great and good and up-and-coming of London’s planning community gathered at the British Library for the APG/Campaign Battle of Big Thinking, an annual event that pits mind against mind for the chance to be crowned the Biggest Brain of All.
BBH London was well represented, with Peter Sells sharing thoughts on ‘The Fall of Capitalism, Bloody Revolution and the Destruction of Civil Society ….. And it’s Effect on KFC AM sales in the Tyne Tees Region” and winning his category in style. I apparently offered what was described as ‘an entertaining after-dinner speech’ on “What I have learned in 39 days in the advertising Business” and didn’t win my category which was won by an excellent pitch for a planner-owned product by PassionBrand. We’ll put these presentations up when the videos of the day become available.
But the star of the show and a very, very close runner up to the eventual overall winner was James Mitchell, who provoked and entertained the audience with his smart thinking and charming discourse on advertising, caring and storytelling.
So here is the extended remix of James’ talk – put on some headphones, hit play, enjoy and be provoked.
23rd November 10
Posted in Uncategorized
We recently got excited about a 15 year old chart (pictured) we were presented that effectively encapsulated participation inequality. We love the level of detail beyond the typical 1:9:90 ratio (creators:editors:audience). We can only assume “1:10:100:1000:10000 rule” is too much of a mouthful to say, thus the shorthand.
It makes us stop and think about how unbelievably valuable the “catalytic creative contributor” is to any community. A digital community designer should want nothing more than to please this particularly small set of people. Even if most brands primarily monetize the “ninety percent”, there would be nothing for this group to engage without the catalytic creative contributor. They are the heart and soul of any community.
A quick glance through digital communities revealed that the highly successful ones clearly cater to this elite base. As we examined what these digital communities did for these special users, we noticed parallels to one of our favorite pieces of business literature ever written: “Leading Clever People” published a few years back in the Harvard Business Review (Goffee & Jones, March 2007) about how to lead those whose skills or knowledge in your organization make them disproportionately valuable. If you haven’t read it and manage people, may we politely suggest you leave our blog and Google it immediately.
Some of the article’s “things to know about clever people” are particularly relevant to catalytic creative contributors, who also offer disproportionate value at quite a high “management” cost. Here are three we found striking:
1. They know their worth
As game mechanics have taken over the world, this principle is regularly forgotten. If a certain group knows their worth, shouldn’t they get some form of VIP status others simply can’t earn? Although Stickybits is a favorite app here at BBH Labs, they recently shifted their focus from content creation to promotions. It’s impossible to say the cause, but from an outsider’s perspective, it may be the consequence of failing to acknowledge the VIP base. There was no established benefit for tagging content. Assuming a small percentage of users must be responsible for creating large quantities of content, Stickybits failed to illustrate the reward of such behavior.
Conversely, Yelp continues to astound with their incredible understanding of the catalytic creative contributor. The Yelp Elite Squad is an example of understanding some creators are more valuable based on quality, and acknowledging they know their worth. Getting this recognition can’t happen via persistence. Yelp subjectively evaluates your contribution and lets you know if you fit the bill. It’s counter intuitive to growing a base via “game mechanics,” but the reality is these people require special attention, and Yelp is willing to yield to their high maintenance requests.
2. They have a low boredom threshold
This one is interesting because “boredom” is so difficult to address. That said, there are clear patterns for those that do it successfully. Wikipedia is legendary because of the exceptionally small number of people that edit the community. A famous article once stated that greater than 50% of the edits come from 0.7% of the community. Editing alone is different from catalytic creative contribution, but it does illustrate the point that a very, very small group will take upon a vastly disproportionate task (we saw this during The Betacup). It might sound boring, but it’s clearly fulfilling to those key people. This is because the system itself alleviates boredom. The reward is in the act of doing, as each entry is adult porn unique and has its own audience. It takes quantifiable skill to be one of these 500 people and they no doubt pride themselves on the fact that the vast majority of us couldn’t successfully do that job even if we were so motivated.
Compare that fulfillment with Foursquare. Foursquare is still in early development, but it currently depends on the system to alleviate boredom. The monotony is broken via badges created by Foursquare or its partners, and awarded for activities any user can do (i.e., “check-in”). In other words, it’s not self-fulfilling. It places an exceptional burden on Foursquare itself, rather than on the community, to validate the catalytic creative contributor. Put another way, Foursquare may have created a barrier to its own success. This is especially interesting in the context of their recent shift toward couponing and rewards.
3. They are well connected
Having a core base of hardcore creators is likely necessary for any digital experience. However, it’s easy to lose sight of the other value those content creators bring: a passionate base of advocates and recruiters. It’s similar to the idea of Propagation Planning (“planning not only for the people you reach, but the people they reach”) and poses an interesting challenge to user experience designers. Digg and other supposedly “democratic” news systems know this well. A review of the Top 100 Digg users shows what few people likely realize. A miniscule group actually controls what makes it onto the homepage. That sounds like the opposite of Digg’s offering, but in fact, those users are sought out by the audience because of their influence and reputation. Regular contributors (“editors” in 1:9:90 framework) go out of their way to Digg and link to what these people post. Digg gets traffic and self-propagates. They give these users preferential treatment (the front page favors their submissions), and as a result have a high quality product and a built-in extended audience.
A number of the other observations about leading clever people apply to digital content communities, but these three struck us because they can be applied to help community managers and designers build for the catalytic creative contributor.
This group may be an exceptionally small percentage of the internet, but it wouldn’t surprise us to see an increasing amount of digital experience design just for them. Gamification is a popular trend, but those subtly swimming against the current are seeing success. In fact, the best way to win the game with the masses may actually be by catering to the clever few.
19th November 10
Posted in awesomeness
Author: Heidi Hackemer (@uberblond), Strategy Director, BBH NYC
Well, here we go again.
This past summer we tried a little intern experiment at BBH New York called the Barn (and actually wrote our very first post about the idea here).
The Barn is all about trying new ways of working and finding new solutions to old problems. We bring in six interns, put them in teams and give them a problem to solve. A tough problem. A problem that requires moxy and guts. Last summer it was “Here’s $1000, make something famous” and the funny thing is, through a great idea, lots of work and some wicked use of the web, one team actually did.
The upshot is that we had a great summer and in the true spirit of beta and chaos, we learned a lot. So we’re going to do it again. Want to apply? You can do it here.
In the meantime, we asked one of our Barn’ers from last summer, Daniel Edmundson, to outline what the Barn was all about and what he learned. His rather astute thoughts are below:
The following Barnisms, we believe, provide a valid offering of the Barn experience. As the industry moves toward a more hybrid model in mentality, specialty and creative sheen (see: Voltron), individuals with little to no experience in the ad world can contribute some pretty weird and crazy ideas while embracing the truths of technology, brands and businesses.
Here’s what we gleaned:
People are smart and all, but it’s nothing if you’re not nice.
Folks at BBH go by this axiom, and it can at first be daunting to accept. There is an innate inferiority to the intern experience, and it’s not easy to shake. But the Barn was built on the idea of integration within the agency–not just integration by discipline and interest, but by collaboration and lending new thoughts.
For us, it was as basic a learning as knowing it’s cool to pitch your early ideas to one of the creative teams, or discuss ongoing strategy with top planners. It was about access to smarts, and being comfortable saying, “I need your brain.”
Be clear. Very, very clear.
At a time when our social lives are as open and transparent as a storefront window, our communications, we learned, must follow suit. When members of the media or the ad community challenged the social relevancy and sincerity of the projects we were executing, we were immediately honest about our motivations and our associations to BBH. Not only did it help us to move forward to better develop the idea, it got the subject out early and placed the focus back on what was important.
Feed feed feed.
When consumers commit to a brand or platform, they formulate expectations.And with the brevity and ubiquity of stuff today, those expectations need to be forthright and on schedule—they must live and operate as their character does.
We learned that, especially when making a chronological or episodic product (say, 30 dates/30 days or a constant cookie delivery), content must deliver on that promise. The market, particularly online, is one big ocean of fishes and underwater activity—there are sharks that are hungry for new feed all the time. It’s important to keep them full.
Build dynamics from those around you.
Little was more important than realizing the crazy importance of working in a team. Put together at the start of 10 weeks with complete strangers, we had to recognize strengths early, put egos aside and move very quickly to process ideas.
Most importantly, it was designing a system with the insurmountable intelligence that we had on hand to make things happen.
Become a community manager.
Whether it was living in the online space or in the physical, both teams had to pay careful attention to what was being voiced and how to respond. As we developed each project monitoring feedback and reacting quickly became paramount—even more so, understanding how particular channels consumed and reacted to the bits of information informed our output as we moved along.
Understand and do timely collaboration.
Make it messy. Curate timelines for concepts to enter in and out, and bring everybody in. Collaboration should be like a big party, with everyone invited and all ideas honorable. The Barn is an incubator for collaboration—but it needs to be controlled and relevant to real-world happenings and interactions, or else it could be DOA.
Speak many languages, and carry a big idea.
Everyone in the Barn came from disparate backgrounds and it was very easy to simplify being very good at one thing. Whether it was coding, filming or writing copy, it was imperative that we leaned on other efficiencies to make each project work. The idea ran faster, operated better and was more agile with the distribution of skills and resources.
You must be curious, and you must ask why (or why not). This goes both for the culture within the wooden walls of the Barn, as well as outside in the fields and world-at-large. Be all, WTF about the workings of things, the lives of people and the wherewithal of ideas. Well-traveled—physically and mentally.
It’s like championing @kanyewest, AND questioning if the @John_Hegarty Twitter handle was a genuine or a fraud.
Beta can save your life, and your livelihood.
As many in the ad world can attest, it’s simply our nature to constantly massage, tinker with and hold close the ideas that are meant for the world. Getting them out into the real world early and often (half-dressed and really ugly, even) can pay off and help to shape the route towards the road ahead.
Make friends, be human.
While brands and businesses are trying so hard to be all the more human (and their agencies doing some of the handholding and small talking along the way), we forget too often that we, too, should do the same. Many in the Barn joined the soccer team, celebrated camaraderie with fellow black sheep and spent quality time with our mentors, all in the hope of forming a strong kinship with the offices. It worked. So much of BBH (and I’d hope the world) is about the people you work with; it’s about getting to know them and how they’re a genius at everything.
(Internships start in January. Apply here.)
19th November 10
Author: Matthew Gladstone (@gladstonematt), Partner, BBH London
So it’s official, “Applications are the white goods of the 21st century” and sales of virtual goods have crossed the $2bn threshold in the US and iTunes has over a billion downloads.
But, as we all know, not everyone is enjoying the party – Thom Yorke has told young bands not to tie themselves to the sinking ship of music companies, Murdoch is trying out pay walls for his newspapers, and a US court has caused outcry by ruling that people who have bought discs of software don’t actually “own” them – they cannot sell them second hand on eBay.
I think the difference is a lot to do with packaging and branding. Or, to be precise, virtual packaging and branding. People who are getting it right are getting paid more than those who aren’t.
What packaging and branding do is to create a sense of property and ownership. And property and ownership are norms that tell us to value and pay for things. Which are big problems in the virtual economy.
So my provocation is this: “Virtual packaging” is one way to create that sense of ownership and property. Just as the pioneers of branding created commercial value when they put trade-marks onto commodities in the tangible world – branded them as “theirs” – we have to reinvent packaging and branding for the virtual world.
The most obvious examples of this are Apps (packaged, single-purpose, branded on the button, tangible with a finger, made unique to you through use) and, at the other extreme, music (downloaded via anonymous browser, no presence other than a line of text in a database, totally generic). And who is persuading people to pay more successfully?
I think that one day we will look back at the App v.2010 and laugh at its crudity. One day we will have virtual packaging as iconic as this:
But let’s go back to the beginning.
My first wake up call was overhearing the oft-debated morality of downloading music. Free file sharing? Fine. Normal. That’s how you get music. Why the question? But walking out of a store with a cd without paying for it? Shoplifting. Stealing. Wrong. Equally obvious.
So what’s the difference between download and CD? To the artist, none. But to the user, one was packaged – physical, shiny, found in a shop – the other, just a piece of anonymous data accessed through a browser.
Look at Murdoch vs. the App. No detailed data are available yet, but anecdotal reports say that iPad apps are performing disproportionately well vs. subscriptions accessed via browser. And Ben Hughes, global commercial director and deputy CEO of the Financial Times, says the iPad is a “game-changer” for the newspaper industry. It’s the app vs the generic packaging of the browser.
roket tube porno And then the success of iTunes or Amazon? These are also “packaged” environments – clearly understood as “shops” where you pay for stuff. Unlike Limewire or Piratebay.
Which leaves our last example – the action against someone selling software discs on eBay. The Software and Information Industry Association (USA) is breaking our norms of ownership and property when it says “I own that physical thing you bought”. We all feel that physical things belong to the person who buys them.
So the App is really just a virtual box. iTunes or Amazon just a virtual shop (no shit). Things that have cleverly used the norms of ownership and property in the virtual space, to make us more likely to pay for them. Right now the virtual retailers seem to be way more sophisticated than the products they sell – but hopefully that will change.
So here are some starters on creating virtual packaging (some of these may seem uncannily obvious or familiar to the real world, but maybe that’s the point):
- visual identity which differentiates the object
- tangible, touchable
- a differentiated experience (sounds, colours, even haptic “textures”)
- adaptive to the owner – evolving into something distinctively personal to the owner
- hard to copy and transfer; the sense of a physical transfer, not a lossless virtual one
Perhaps it’s time music came in Apps. As we said earlier: branded on the button, tangible, with a memory of what I did last time, with an experience unique to each app or band. Perhaps it would even be like a gatefold of old, but on steroids. Now that’s something I’d pay for.
We’d like to know what you think. Who’s doing this well? Do you know anyone who works in the world of packaging who’d want to comment?
17th November 10
Every year Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley amazes us with her State of the Web presentation, and this year is no exception. The presentation is immensely valuable to our profession because it highlights shifts in internet culture and identifies opportunities for businesses and marketers alike.
The most provoking part of the presentation is the Disruptive Innovation slide. PSFK had a great blurb on describing the importance of this theory:
Disruptive Innovation is what’s to blame for the success of smaller, nimbler but sometimes cheaper products or services that manage to disrupt the success or complacency of larger, traditional brand players. Think of Amazon’s continued growth and eventual ‘breaking’ of Barnes & Noble, or Netflix’s killing of Blockbuster. Meeker’s presentation lays out two ways in which this disruptive innovation can happen
The two ways that Disruptive Innovation can happen. The first is a Low-End Segment Strategy by offering a product or service at a very low cost and then move up market. The second is called a Non-Consumption Strategy which basically means true innovation where consumption didn’t exist prior to the product being available.
We have the presentation embedded here for your enjoyment. Please tell us what you found interesting? What worries you about this data? What excites you about this data?
12th November 10
Posted in coding
Just as it is very easy to have an opinion about art without knowing how to draw, it’s very, very simple to talk knowledgeably about ‘digital’ without knowing anything about coding – the logic underlying every website and digital product we’ve ever used, tweeted about and, often, criticised.
So as part of Internet Week Europe and with Google Creative Labs we held a Coding for Dummies workshop which was an opportunity for 40 or so people to learn at the feet of some true coding ninjas and take their first, shaky steps along the path of geek enlightenment.
The afternoon didn’t finish with the class able to recreate We Feel Fine or launch an alternative blogging platform. But what it did was give everyone the confidence to go and have a look at a webpage’s source code and the beginnings of understanding why things on the web look and behave the way they do. A bunch of people can now go and play with code, launch a page onto the internet, tweak it, break it and maybe even fix it again.
Below are @tomux’s slides and at the end of them we’ve added a few of the pages that some of the dummies-no-longer created. We enjoyed ourselves so much (and still have so much to learn!) that we hope to do this again some time – keep an eye on our twitter for details.
We know code-fu.