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  • BBH Zag are recruiting a Brand Strategist

    27th February 14

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in People

    Author: Aran Potkin, Senior Brand Strategist, Zag

    BBH Zag is the ‘branding agency that ventures’ within the BBH group. At Zag, we work with both large blue chip brands and exciting start-ups, offering our clients brand strategy, visual identity and user experience design.

    We are looking for a strategist to join our small senior team. Working within the strategy team you will have the opportunity to lead projects from the outset, working closely with senior team members and managing junior strategists. This is the perfect opportunity for an ambitious, entrepreneurial agency strategist looking to accelerate their career.

    The role:

    A Zag Strategist is a hybrid – an agency professional who can lead strategy while also managing the client and account. They will lead branding and innovation projects and create solid, differentiated brands for everything from start-ups to global businesses. They will oversee the entire consultancy project, working with the Zag design studio to bring those brands to life and writing marketing and communications strategies for launch. The strategist should have a creative, entrepreneurial spirit with a good knowledge of strategic models and processes but the ability to push the envelope and generate new ways of working and approaching briefs. We are looking for an innovative thinker with bags of energy and ambition.

    Specific experience & responsibilities:

    • 3+ years in strategy at a brand consultancy or design agency
    • Demonstrated experience with and in-depth knowledge of digital strategy, UI and UX
    • Ability to lead teams and manage projects as account/project manager
    • Comfortable with clients and confident to manage the day-to-day relationship
    • Experience planning, commissioning and leading consumer research (both qual and quant)
    • Understanding of and appreciation for the design process – able to write clear briefs for design and work closely with designers through creative development

    Who we’re looking for:

    • Someone with a passion for brands and branding, bags of energy and ambition
    • Entrepreneurial spirit – ready to pitch in at any level
    • Creative thinker and problem-solver
    • Energetic with a positive, can-do attitude
    • Clear, articulate communicator
    • Commercial awareness and interest
    • Ability to work collaboratively within a team
    • Digital fluency – many of the start ups we work with have strong digital DNA

     If this sounds like you, send a cover email and your cv/resume to lydia.crudge@bbh.co.uk.

  • The Open Wallet Experiment is live

    26th February 14

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Experiments

    bitcoin-challenge-dollar-currency2.si

    A few weeks ago we blogged about our recommitment to Labs experiments and our new ‘hit-and-run’ approach to experimentation. And now we’re pleased to say that our first experiment is now live, though there were, of course, some hurdles and hiccups on the way.

    If you’ve been following the progress of this experiment on thinky.do you’ll know that we decided to make bitcoin the subject of our first field test. This subject came with certain technical and epistemological issues – it’s not all that easy to get hold of bitcoins even assuming you’ve understood what they are for and what you can do with them.

    But we are interested in whether the very nature of cryptocurrency transactions – anonymous, underground, based on algorithmic trust rather than human relationships – leads to behaviours that can be best described as, er, shady. Or whether given the chance, perhaps the bitcoin community will prove itself as wholesome as a troop of Boy Scouts.

    So we’ve set up bitcoin wallet (address and QR code below) into which anyone can make a payment.. We’re going to leave this wallet up and open until midday on sunday (assuming that all goes well!) and at the end of that time, everything in the wallet will be converted into ‘real money’ and donated to the Disaster Emergency Committee.

    Wallet address - 19xnfvdAHitNErAGEhVnfkeBSTL8VVv8yV

    Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.52.24

    But we’re also going to do something possibly very ill advised and release the key for this wallet into the wild, meaning that anyone with the wallet address (ie anyone) and the key (ie anyone!) can both donate and withdraw money to and from the wallet. No-one should try this at home!

    We’ll be posting frequent stats on activity in the wallet and while we can’t identify individuals, we can identify wallet addresses. So we’ll see how many donations are coming in, how many are leaving and we’ll be able to hero addresses giving generously and identify those wallet addresses taking advantage of this open experiment.

    Bitcoin wallet key - 2G6uK7QwKRPntaS7drFSUVsUf24ZVmEaK8gET2K2Uj4w

    So, let’s go – the wallet is open and so is the key. We’re not sure what’s going to happen next, but we’re looking forward to finding out.

    UPDATE: This post went live at 16.24 and we tweeted about it at 16.27. It took less than 30mins for the 0.01 bitcoin (just over $5) to be withdrawn by a user with the wallet address 1NYR7RF4pdc1i923qGhnkkakCqDLL9dd45. Thanks for taking part :-/

  • Winners, Losers & Learnings – the first truly social Brit Awards

    21st February 14

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Social

    Author: Alex Walker-Sage, Social Engagement Director, BBH London

    Big. Noisy. Full of celebs. LIVE! Music and Entertainment together, in harmony. With the potential for stuff to go wrong. And including a new Twitter vote mechanic half-way through the show. Wednesday night’s new, improved, social 2014 Brit Awards had all the ingredients necessary to provide the perfect opportunity to take a look at the social media landscape and see where we’re at. This is the sort of big, one-off event moment that the twitterati love right?

    Well, overall, yeah. The picture’s a pretty glossy and impressive one. For one, Twitter revealed on Thursday that the event was the most-tweeted about TV show in the UK ever, with the live TV broadcast attracting 2.17m posts about the show, and a further c.2m messages sent in relation to the social vote.

    It, as you might expect, smashed the social stats of all other the other shows that aired to smithereens:

    Verdict: The Brits won.

    And the social vote? That, predictably – due to the number of their teen fans heavily-reliant on their social channels for day-to-day survival – was won by One Direction, with their fanatical fan-base ensuring they took home the gong for Best British Video.

    Verdict: 1D won.

    The introduction of a live and transparent voting element via Twitter was a pretty obvious ploy to encourage involvement from the audience and ensure the event impacted those on other platforms who may not have been watching, or frankly even care it was on. And, whilst an obvious next step in award-voting terms, there’s something pretty exciting here about a live, commercial event brand, with global reach, handing the power over to its audience for chunk of it’s output. Ok, there was pretty much no risk involved, but the fact the power dynamic was shifted for a small window of time into the audiences’ hands is to be applauded. The immediacy of social should see this type of moment become common-place across all types of different pieces of traditional ‘broadcast’ output.

    Verdict: Twitter won.

    We all know then that social is at it’s best when allowing transparency and a bit of a shift of power to the masses to deliver powerful, cumulative results that can, ideally, make big stuff happen. The Brit Award sponsors MasterCard know this, their PR agency apparently did not, sending out emails to journalists asking that they guarantee coverage of their client in event write-ups in exchange for their attendance. Cue much discontent. Cue twitter rebellion.

    A rebellion that led to their paid-for Twitter trend pointing people to an article dissecting the whole sorry social mess in the greatest of detail.

    A quick analysis of social sentiment for MasterCard (the entire brand, not just that specific to the Brits debacle) across Twitter from Wednesday to today is as follows:

    Positive: 3%

    Neutral: 71%

    Negative: 26%

    Verdict: MasterCard lost.

    Clearly there’s a whole load of things that are wrong with this approach but the number one and two take-outs should be about knowing your audience and maintaining transparency. Then there are loads of other learnings around having amazing ideas, being consistent with them, ensuring they match up across all media, and are executed perfectly and in a timely fashion. For all of these (and much, much more) come talk to us.

    As a final point, and because I love Daft Punk, it’s worth touching on how successful brands can be when they get their involvement in events like this just right. On brand, irreverent, and perfectly pitched for the media it played out in, this effort from Paddy Power doesn’t really require much more explanation:

     

    A similar Twitter sentiment analysis to that described above shows the following:

    Positive: 36%

    Neutral: 57%

    Negative: 7%

    Verdict: Paddy Power won.

    Learnings

    • Twitter, enabling real-time interaction and engagement that can effect real change in live content output in particular, is only going to grow in importance, and it’s vital that brands navigate their way through the noise to achieve real cut-through whilst maintaining transparency

    • Whilst MasterCard was everywhere in the few weeks leading into the awards, as well as on the night itself, Paddy Power proved it’s not necessarily about ‘owning’ the event (and all the associated costs that come with that), but more about cutting through the noise at the right time with a strong creative idea, well-executed. 1D fans did it by all coming together at a single point in time. The Brits and Twitter did it through enabling audience involvement, offering a single point of interaction in what could otherwise be a traditional broadcast event. In the right hands, social can and should deliver a powerful perspective.

     

  • Life in the streets: a TIE project

    21st February 14

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Creativityforgood

    For a few years now, BBH has supported The International Exchange, “a leadership development programme that combines the expertise of corporate communications and the needs of NGOs to create positive sustainable change.” BBH signed up in 2010, you can too. For more background, check out our interview back in 2010 with TIE’s founder, Philippa White, here. This year’s BBH candidate for TIE was Nicolas Jayr, whose fundraising efforts were something of a phenomenon – you may remember this and this. This is the story of how he put those funds to good use.

    Author: Nicolas Jayr, @nicolasjayr, BBH London

    The coastal city of Recife in Brazil is home to 1.5 million people and is soon to become a World Cup host city. It is also home to hundreds of homeless children living on the streets, who are exposed to drugs, gangs, prostitution and violence.

    However help is at hand. Grupo Ruas e Praças is a Recife based NGO fighting to help children and adolescents on a daily basis. Using tailored arts and cultural projects, they infuse the children of Recife with a sense of self-determination to help them build positive lives off the streets.

    Together with Klaus Thymann, a Great Guns film director and photographer, I travelled to Recife via the T.I.E. initiative (The International Exchange) in November 2013. Working with local creative agency Melhor Communicação we developed a communication strategy to give NGO Grupo Ruas e Praças the voice it deserves to raise awareness of the reality in the streets of Brazil.

    The campaign #TEMVIDANASRUAS (‘There is life in the streets’), shot over 4 days with actual street kids working with the NGO, paints a picture of hope by showing what Grupo Ruas e Praças does in giving the children the attention and support they need. The campaign, featuring a short-documentary, visually striking posters and a new site developed locally, gives the audience a chance to see Recife’s street children in a different light – capturing their courage, talents and genuine dreams. 

    A lot of people who read this blog contributed their time and money, so we wanted to say a giant public thank you to all of you and our partners by sharing the work here that you helped make possible.

    2013_GrupasRuasEPracas_2885

    The project was part of The International Exchange (T.I.E.) program, a social enterprise that brings together the world of communications and NGO in developing countries, to which BBH partners since 2010, and was funded through the City of Good (www.cityofgood.me) initiative that Nicolas created to raise money for the project at BBH. Production was supplied pro-bono by Great Guns and Glassworks and renowned American producer Diplo, who has strong ties to Brazil and its favelas through his ‘Favela on Blast’ projects, and who provided the genius soundtrack.

    2013_GrupasRuasEPracas_4599

    2013_GrupasRuasEPracas_4816-1

    DSC_0981

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    Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 17.24.17

  • Digital Digest, Asia Pacific – February edition

    17th February 14

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in technology

    We’ve enjoyed our friend Carol Ong’s digital digest out of BBH China for a good while now and it feels long overdue to share it. She has kindly agreed to cross-publish a monthly round-up of the best digital and technology stories coming out of China and Asia Pacific that she gathers at her blog. More on some broader implications to follow next month. For now, the February edition.

    Author: Carol Ong, Associate Creative Director, BBH China (@cbongga)

    Hi everyone,

    I started a Digital Digest email group last year to curate some cool stuff I find in the digital space, particularly in China and Asia. A personal project originally intended for colleagues and clients, it got good feedback, and when other people asked to be in the mailing list…. I decided to post the newer Digital Digest to a more public space, on my personal blog (warning, lots of baby pictures!).

    Mel also asked me to do a “Best of Digital Digest” on a monthly basis for BBH Labs. So here it is for this month. Happy Chinese New Year!

    Just tap this link to go directly to the Digital Digests.

    A peek into what the Chinease technology industry is like

    Last year, upcoming Chinese mobile XiaoMi made the global tech geeks sit up and notice when Android star Hugo Barra joined them. He made a presentation in Paris on the amazing potential of China. Such as: disposable income triples in the last 8 years. 122+ billionaires and lots of them in the their 40s and 50s. Ecommerce, mcommerce, mobile social media and China’s version of Pay Pal are much bigger and better than their US counterparts.

    Inline images 3

    Have you tried hailing cabs in China and none would stop even if they’re all empty? Taxi booking apps exploded in 2013. People started “bidding” for cabs, by guaranteeing tips. The biggest ones, Kuaide and Didi, are backed by Alibaba and Tencent respectively.  In 2014, you can now use WeChat to book, bid, and pay Didi!

    Inline images 2

    With the rise of mobile came the rise of GIFs. But it’s so hard to search for the right GIFs, isn’t it? Not anymore. Enter frame Giphy (pronounced as Jiffy). It’s the search engine for GIFs. Try it, search “puppies”. You’re welcome.
    Inline images 2Inline images 3
    Very good tips for online films and TVCs.

    Wechat evolves faster than a newborn baby! I believe this is the Chinese social platform with the most potential to become global (not Sina Weibo). Wechat’s reached 270million active users last November 2013, and 600 registered users. It’s the new marketing favorite and the uses seems endless. Here are some interesting ways brands used Wechat.

    See all public Digital Digests:  http://trevorxfiles.com/category/digital-digest/

    That’s all folks! See you next month!

    Carol
  • Introducing thinky.do

    11th February 14

    Posted by Agathe Guerrier

    Posted in Experiments

     

    As Jeremy hinted at last week, we want to make more experiments this year. One of the key things we took away from Robotify is the need for a more modest approach that genuinely allows for speed, failure, mess … experimentation, really.

    thinkydologo_black

    So for this year, we’ve baked lightness and pace into the process itself in order, we hope, to accelerate learning, but also to have more fun.

    Our ambition is to create and release 10 experiments in 2014. We will do this by adopting a ‘hit and run’ approach to the exercise. Each month we’ll pose a new question, and we’ll run a live session to generate and prototype answers. We’ll force ourselves to ship something within 25 days and with a tiny budget – the month’s experiment needs to have sailed before we agree on the next brief.

    We might end up with 10 failures, but we’re certainly hoping for 10 pieces of learning, 10 horizons broached, many more new people met and at the very least, to have done something fun with something new, every month for a year.

    This new framework means our focus will be on people before machines, behaviours before builds and live development, not drawn out processes. Inspiration might come from platforms, from partners or from people’s imaginative uses of technologies and the web. It could come from anywhere really, as long as it gives us an opportunity to learn.

    As well as more experiments, we’re also looking for more involvement from more people. So we’re going to be inviting the whole of BBH and our partner MediaMonks to experiment with us, and a bit later this year, look at how we can go even more open source. For now, we’ll post the question up on the blog before we run the working session and welcome comments and insight. And, as we did with robotify.me, we’ll make the learning process itself transparent, with briefs, ideas, and development being posted in (almost) real time on our new experiments platform.

    This new home for Labs experiments is thinky.do. From now on, this is where anyone interested can follow the erratic ballads of Labs experiments, though of course we will point at new thinky.do activities from here and from our twitter every now and again.

     If you head there now, you’ll see that we’ve put up our question for the first experiment of the year. It’s all to do with crypto currencies and the creation of value. We’re holding our first live session this afternoon at BBH in London, so expect to hear more very soon.

    We’re excited about switching up a gear in experimentation and we’re definitely curious to see what happens. If you’d be interested in joining us for the ride, please drop a note to collaborators@bbh-labs.com, leave a comment here or at thinky.do.

  • Learning Bit by Bot

    7th February 14

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in robotify.me

    Tyrell: Would you … like to be upgraded?

    Batty: I had in mind something a little more radical.

    Tyrell: What … what seems to be the problem?

    Batty: Death.

    Blade Runner, 1982

    Robotify.me – what we did, what we learned and what we’re doing now

    In December 2012 we launched robotify.me, an experiment to test our hypothesis that seeing social media behaviour visualized could actually influence and change those behaviours. Perhaps, we asked ourselves, data visualisation might reveal surprising nuances of social media behaviour which might otherwise be overlooked?

    robo1

    How would it feel to compare activity – likes, links, retweets, checkins, photos – with the rest of the group’s data? Would the transparency of the visualisation cause any changes in social behaviour? Would inveterate retweeters be shamed into posting more original content? Could we encourage more checking in, more posting of photographs, more liking by visualising the effect that it had on the robot?

    Robotify.me was also another opportunity to learn and experiment with process. Could we create a service rather than a campaign? Could we work fast and lean and create a mvp? Could we create a product without a brief, without a client?

    robo2

    A little over a year on, the answers to some of these questions are in. The first thing to say is thanks. Thanks to the team who worked so hard (and gave their time so generously) on robotify.me and thanks to everyone who took part in this project. Thousands of you created robots and we loved seeing the project come to life, reading the tweets, hearing your thoughts and feedback on this thing we’d made.

    Much of what we learned is displayed in the infographics accompanying this post and some of our early learnings were incorporated into changes we made live on the robotify site in the early go-live days and weeks. Perhaps our major learning was to do with storytelling – if we wanted people to learn a little about themselves we should, perhaps, have shown more, and told more explicitly. Knowing when to intrigue and when to explain is something we will take with us in the future.

    robo3

    We also learned that when you have a team with demanding day jobs it’s impossible to schedule daily scrums and the focus and scheduling required for an iterative workflow are not easily applied to side projects. When we plan future Labs experiments (and more on that very, very soon) we’ll definitely be thinking about the sorts of projects that lend themselves to a leaner approach. Stretch is good, but restraints will help define scope from the very beginning.

    So, we’re going to be pulling down the shutters on this particular garage and disassembling the robotifier, cleaning down the work surfaces and wiping down the whiteboard in preparation for a new swathe of Labs experiments, robotify learnings fresh in our minds. We’ll be keeping the service up in it’s current form for another month, so you can still create a new robot, revisit your robot mirror-self or download and print out your robots for your digital files.

    Finally, thanks again for supporting our Robotify.me experiment.

    Bleep. And out.

  • Ecosystem Management: why marketers must learn to think like ecologists

    24th January 14

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Brands, Social

    Author, Ben Shaw, Strategy Director/Social Strategy Lead, BBH London. Originally published in Marketing Magazine

    Marketers could learn a thing or two from ecologists on the maintenance of ecosystems. We live in a world of always on brand communications across multiple platforms and communities that require the same care and attention as the Amazon’s most delicate wildflower. Over the course of time, new parts of a brand’s ecosystem must be created, grown and nurtured, whilst being careful to think how these new presences will impact the rest of the system.

    Like any good ecologist, marketers know that overinvestment and focus on just one organism or resource can leave the rest of the ecosystem malnourished. However, when looking to develop beyond their status quo, new platforms and opportunities are often discarded as a distraction or a gamble compared to the reliability of their main channel. But it may be a bigger gamble for marketers to not care for, or develop, the rest of their ecosystem. What happens when that once fruitful resource dries up?

    Organisations are continually encouraged by Facebook to first invest to build an audience and then spend again to actually reach them (thanks to Facebook’s ‘clever’ Edgerank algorithm). They get an immediate positive return, their fan numbers shoot up and the reach of each post is in the millions. But then, as they grow, they have to spend more to reach the same audience. And then Facebook tweak the algorithm and it becomes harder to reach their original audience, so they spend a bit more. Then their original audience gets bored with all the branded content on Facebook and starts spending more time on other platforms. By this time, the brand has invested so much time and money into this one platform, it would be a waste to stop now. Wouldn’t it?

    Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman recently admitted that  “We did see a decrease in daily users, partly among younger teens”. Immediately after this, they had £11.2b wiped off their share price. Everyone remembers the infamous collapse of previous all-dominating social networks and although Facebook is now so big and so ingrained it is unlikely to ever end up as dried up as MySpace or FriendsReunited, marketers mustn’t take this news lightly. This should be the warning bell for brands to start tracking the changes in their consumers online behaviours and deciding how their brand ecosystems should change accordingly.

     

    Brands should be looking to diversify and experiment across new platforms as their online audiences develop. Snapchat didn’t exist 18 months ago and now more photos are shared every day than on Facebook and Instagram combined. This should be the time when brand’s ecosystems are reappraised every month, not every year. As audiences develop new behaviours – like teens are with mobile messaging apps – brands should be figuring out how they can connect with, and add value to, audiences on those platforms.

    This requires brands to build and develop their ecosystem, which takes planning and continued management, not just to ensure the brand is covered at a basic social hygiene level, but to ensure the brand is gaining value from all of their activities. This need is why social media teams have developed from a sole community manager just managing a page to a team of analysts, strategists, creatives and now editors ensuring a consistent brand presence, narrative and experience across the ecosystem.

    Ecologist Norman Christensen defined Ecosystem Management as “management driven by explicit goals, executed by policies, protocols, and practices, and made adaptable by monitoring and research based on our best understanding of the ecological interactions and processes necessary to sustain ecosystem structure and function” – which sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

    Things to consider to help manage your ecosystem:

    1. Track your audience – Pay close attention to where your audience is moving online and decide where to follow them

    2. Experiment before investing – the best brands act like users on social platforms, so follow their lead by cheaply creating content to see what your audience likes in different platforms

    3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – As with any B2B service, it can be dangerous to solely rely on one platform – build your ecosystem across multiple platforms

    4. Look to build retained data – ensure you’re building for the future and collating valuable consumer data to add value to future opportunities

  • CES 2014 Round Up: Sympathy for Sherlock

    13th January 14

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in technology

    Author, Helen Lawrence, Social Engagement Director, BBH London

    “Two high pressure jobs, probably the city. Foreman’s a medical secretary, trained abroad, judging by her shorthand. Seven are married and two are having an affair, with each other it would seem. Oh and they’ve just had tea and biscuits. Would you like to know who ate the wafer?”

    Ah, Sherlock. Impossibly switched on and observant to the point of obsession, though ultimately a troubled man for it. These scenes of fast paced detectivery delight the audience, but leave Sherlock a frustrated man. Too much going on, not enough pace, no one is keeping up, he can’t switch off, nobody else can switch on, notice something, notice something, notice something…

    The trends for CES were set in stone before the last crumb of mince pie was brushed off a knee – automotives, 3D printing, gaming, TVs, phones & tablets, wearables, smart homes. And of course, the nerd glue holding all those together – connected devices. I’m struggling to think of a single product shown at CES that didn’t connect to something else in some way. Razer, Garmin, Epson, Sony, LG and Spree all launched some form of self-tracking wearable at CES.

    So, nothing unexpected there.

    Belkin, Goji  and Sleep Number introduced tracking watches, mattresses, light bulbs and locks. Even a connected slow cooker.

    Again, nothing unexpected there.

    WeMoSlowcooker_large_verge_medium_landscape

    Each product was, in itself, a good idea (curved TVs being somewhat of an exception), but look at it all collectively we’re in a bit of a nightmare. We’re back to Sherlock. Notice something, notice something, notice something… beep, beep, beep, beep.

    None of it works together. A lack of interoperability across devices and platforms will suck our time, not give it back to us. Endless notifications leave us stuck in an inescapable chain of device control. The traffic is bad. Get the heating to come on later. Delay the slow cooker turning off. Record the show you’ll miss. Get the washing machine to come on later. Stop 3D printing the cake decorations.

    Brilliant that we can control such things. Amazing. But we’re looking at maybe a dozen apps here, all independent and all probably built on the manufacturer’s own proprietary system. If nothing else, the dominance of ‘smart phone controlled devices’ at CES will inevitably mean we all run out of battery about five minutes after leaving the house. I’m serious about this one – Mophie are going to sell a whole load of extra battery packs if we’re all going to start controlling our slow cookers from a meeting room.

    So, for 2014 and then ahead to CES 2015, I’m less interested in the devices themselves, but instead the platforms and systems that bring them together. Will we see an open platform and data standards for device control and tracking, allowing developers to add the cross device connectedness that the manufacturers can’t? Security is a big issue, of course, but until then expect 2014 to be the year your wrist doesn’t stop buzzing with notifications. Perhaps embrace it, buy a deerstalker hat and a great coat. Rival Sherlock with your real time knowledge of any situation. Notice everything. But don’t expect it to be a smooth ride, just yet.

  • Under My Skin: The 2013 Edition

    31st December 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in BBH Labs, culture

    Wind-blown - What the Internet Felt Like in 2013

    Windswept – What the Internet Felt Like in 2013

    “We are sensation junkies, predisposed to excitement, and if that means danger and death, we are ready for it.”

     ~ Doris Lessing, ‘Under My Skin’ (part 1 of her autobiography)

    Since Labs was founded in 2008, at the end of every year we’ve written a round-up of our favourite memories of the previous 12 months: the people, the products, the posts. And I like to think this has reflected the fact we’ve spent much of the past six years engaged in a sort of happy, virtuous circle of accelerated learning and application; of thinking and doing. Taking everything we’ve learned about the Internet and technology and applying it to client business, for the company we work for, with a generous community around us and even together with our families. And, personally, I was proud of the balance I was striking for a lot of that time. Although who needs work-life balance when you can have the merge, eh?

    This year we’re taking a different approach.

    When Lessing wrote the sentence above she was describing mid-20th century life, bearing witness to a ‘regret for intense experience’ that was voiced openly in the aftermath of two world wars. She wasn’t referring to Internet culture in the early 21st century, although that was the association that immediately suggested itself when I read the sentence. I’m going to use the fact she makes her assertion in the present tense as my excuse.

    Looking back over the past year or two, I’d argue we’ve reached the nadir – or the height, depending on your perspective – of our generation’s sensation junkydom. I say this as someone who has disagreed vehemently with Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier and the rest of the-Internet-is-making-us-shallow gang, smiled blithely through Sherry Turkle’s ‘Alone Together’ (“c’mon, I’m not that bad” I said to my family as I swiftly sent another 5 tweets over lunch) and I have declared my undying love for the joys of the social web, several times, in public.

    Certainly by 2012, the point at which this post becomes harder to write, we had started to sense a shift from the visceral burn of excitement, the learning curve we were all on, to something else, something more akin to a collective burden, that – god forbid – we’d helped fuel. At worst, a pressure to overvalue and prioritise what we could call the “‘nesses” truthiness, newsiness and, the king of all things real-time: nowness.

    Now, whether you are a journalist questioning the very purpose of your existence when a casually fact-checked Upworthy or BuzzFeed piece beats your thoughtful op-ed hands down again, or the brilliant poet Kate Tempest beautifully and poignantly nailing how it feels as a teenager to have your life documented, duplicated and fetishized over, or a blogger satirically sending up copy-cat millennial marketing, our social status quo is being questioned from multiple perspectives.

    Taken to the absolute extreme this year in The Circle, Dave Eggers paints a (fictional) portrait of a totalitarian world where the pursuit of ‘completion’, or total information, is the sole, unrelenting goal. Warning: if you’re mildly paranoid about privacy, this book will push you over the edge. Back in the here and now, Alexis C. Madrigal puts things perfectly in his article, 2013: The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested:

    “Nowadays, I think all kinds of people see and feel the tradeoffs of the stream, when they pull their thumbs down at the top of their screens to receive a new updates from their social apps. It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what’s out there is crap… I am not joking when I say: it is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the Internet. Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. The Internet is never finished.”

    These are not crackpot Luddites frothing at the mouth about the evils of technology or, for that matter, New Age Cassandras prematurely worrying about the End Of The World As We Know It. These are people who have helped conceive the best products and thinking in the corner of the web we traverse daily; people who consistently, visibly and tangibly crank open their minds in the pursuit of making things better.

    By the end of 2013 our unease has become a dull roar of disquiet. A palpable sense that the exhilaration we experienced a few years back has passed, to be replaced on a bad day by a mixture of exhaustion and that worst of all things, ennui.

    When something is ‘under your skin’ it’s an itch that needs continuously scratching: addictive but never wholly satisfying. And after a while, it’s finally dawns on you that you need to stop doing that and move on. I don’t mean ‘embrace continuous change!’ in a brace-yourselves-through-gritted-teeth-for-more-new-stuff sense, I mean: some things need to stop, in order for new things to start.

    So 2014 is going to be different. But it won’t become different on its own: we have to make it so.

    At Labs and BBH, we’re taking some steps to balance things out a little. Here are just a few:

    1. Valuing both ‘stock’ and ‘flow’.

    A master metaphor for media today coined by Robin Sloan back in – jeez! – 2010, also via Madrigal, ‘stock’ is the durable content and behaviour that stands the test of time, whilst ‘flow’ is a continuous feed of updates. Both are modern necessities, but, as the sheer newsiness of nowness deflates (see what I did there), the importance of more contemplative content bubbles back up.

    We’re seeing evidence of this in the lovingly created, more durable digital publishing evidenced by the likes of the NYT Magazine’s ‘A Game of Shark & Minnow’, the oft-mentioned Snowfall, the Guardian’s brilliant ‘NSA Decoded’ (for more of this ilk, see this helpful spreadsheet via @neilperkin) and closer to home, the likes of Toshiba and Intel’s Beauty Inside and Complex Media’s The New New for Converse Cons.

    A Game of Shark & Minnow, NYT Magazine, October 2013 - http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

    A Game of Shark & Minnow, NYT Magazine, October 2013 – http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

    2. Looking inward for a while.

    This year, we deliberately reduced our external focus and instead designed an end to end New Skills training course for BBH and our clients. At BBH London it began with a #bbhexpo in November and continues with a series of 2 day workshops throughout the first quarter of 2014.

    'How To Do An Awesome Project At BBH' - one element of a New Skills training course for BBH beginning in 2014.

    ‘How To Do An Awesome Project At BBH’ – one element of a New Skills training course for BBH beginning in 2014.

    We’ll publish the assets and what we learn here once it’s completed end of Q1 2014.

     

    3. Switching up the leadership of Labs in London.

    Agathe Guerrier, or AG to her friends, formally took over the leadership of Labs in London alongside @Jeremyet from me a few months ago. For those of you who don’t know AG, she is the perfect leader for a new phase in Labs’ development: her name translates as ‘the warrior’, yet she is a practicing Yoga teacher and has a Tumblr aptly named ‘Wegan Wednesdays.’ She’s also a peerless Strategy Director & Partner at BBH and the brain behind the New Skills training course above.

     

    4. Taking a lighter, more open source approach to Labs Experiments.

    It isn’t all about depth, contemplation and stopping to smell the flowers. Historically at Labs we’ve tried, failed and sometimes succeeded at lots of different approaches to experimentation: amongst other things, crowdsourcing our own logo, attempting to reinvent street newspapers, providing a useful catch-up web app and also an entertaining little service that displays your social data as a personalised robot unique to you. A lot of the above took blood, sweat and tears carefully collected in our downtime. In 2014, we’re deliberately adopting a lighter, more open source approach to experimentation instead, opening up the Lab and its resources beyond the core Labs team. More on this from Jeremy and AG in the New Year.

    In the meantime, we’re biased, but check out the excellent work BBH Zag have been doing this year co-designing new digital products and services like Autographer and Money Dashboard.

     

    5. Less, but Better.

    More individual time spent on fewer clients. It’s not radical but it is profound. We hope it will help everyone regain a sense of equilibrium and clarity of focus, making our work better along the way.

    Finally, what about the intense experience Doris Lessing reminded us of, the thing we long for, despite ourselves? Patently, it doesn’t go away. It’s simply about a concerted effort to get some balance back. In 2014 there will still be flow: of course there will be a multitude of memes, ideas and products that catch fire and light up the Internet for a day or two. But I’d wager we will recognise that we need both durable stock and the adrenaline rush of flow in our lives.

    Perhaps the most ‘now’ thing we can choose to do next year is to do this: remember to take stock.

    ***

    A huge thank you to everyone who’s written, shared, commented and generally made the BBH Labs world go round this year. And a particular thank you for the thoughtful writing, links and provocation that have directly fed this post (whether they knew it or not) to the following people inside and outside BBH: Agathe Guerrier, Jeremy Ettinghausen, Adam Powers, Yuri Kang, Chris Meachin, Alex Matthews, Simon Robertson, Nick Fell, Tim Jones, Jim Carroll, Tom Uglow, Ben Malbon, Tim Malbon, Neil Perkin, John Willshire, Amelia Torode, Anjali Ramachandran, Pats McDonald, Alexis C. Madrigal, Nathan Jurgenson, Saneel Radia, Len Kendall, James Mitchell, Ben Fennell, Charlie Rudd, David Spencer, Jon Peppiatt, Sarah Pollard, Heather Alderson, Kate Roberts, Dan Hauck, Kirsty Saddler, Jonathan Bottomley, Ben Shaw, Helen Lawrence, Sarah Watson, Olivia Chalk, Dav Karbassioun, Tim Nolan and last but very definitely not least, Jason Gonsalves.

    ***

    For a more straightforward look back at some of the themes of 2013:

    - Our own round-up of the 2013 technology year, written for Marketing magazine

    - Maria Popova’s excellent ‘The Best of Brainpickings 2013

    And for more on looking forward to 2014:

    - JWT’s 100 Things to Watch in 2014

    - IBM’s ‘5 in 5’ (5 innovations in technology that will change our lives in 5 years

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