9th July 13
Posted in Brands
AUTHOR: JIM CARROLL, CHAIRMAN, BBH LONDON
‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’
The Second Coming – WB Yeats
For as long as I can remember things have been falling apart. Fragmenting, segmenting,
empowering. Devolving, diffusing, decoupling. Subdividing, subcontracting, subbranding. Ever more channels, audiences, tools and platforms. Ever more markets, stakeholders, structures and roles.
I feel that for the entirety of my career we have been seeking coherence in an ever more fragmented world. Endeavouring to establish order in the disorder, to shape the sometimes shapeless, to find patterns in the mayhem of modern marketing.
In my early days we were arguing for campaigns not executions, continuity not chaos. Fighting against ‘goldfish advertising’.
Then as channels disbursed, as tasks multiplied, as Clients centralised, we advocated The Big Idea: the conceptual glue that held the brand together, that gave it a collective purpose. In time I also became a convert to the unifying power of the aesthetic, to the harmonising force of visual identity.
Of course the quest for coherence sometimes felt like swimming against the tide. It came with a loss of spontaneity, at a cost to creative freedom, with the risk of regimentation. But I always felt that coherence was worth it. Because I believed in the active, authorial, unitary brand; in a brand that brought more to the table than a willingness to please; in a brand that meant something to everyone, not anything to anyone.
I have occasionally wondered whether we were wrong. Perhaps we should concede that ultimately the centre really cannot hold. Perhaps in the age of the social web we should let go of the tiller, move with the tide, submit the brand to the ebb and flow of consumer needs and desires, whims and passions; liberate it from its corporate shackles to find its own articulation in the mouths of the crowd.
But I think I’m quite a conservative bloke. I can’t relinquish my belief in the unitary brand, however fragmentary its experience. And curiously the social web, with all its wild diversity and anarchic soul, has also given hope to Coherents like me.
‘Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.’
Marshall McLuhan – Introduction to Understanding Media (1964)
As a young Planner in the early ’90s I read Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, a book written the year I was born. I wanted to learn about the thinking behind such legendary phrases as ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘the global village’. I discovered a whole lot more. It was an ambitious, lyrical, imaginative work. It was brilliantly passionate, fantastical,
I was particularly struck by the image of man in the electronic age extending his central nervous system beyond the constraints of physical form to reach out across the world. Wow! It was pure science fiction, of course, but it was a beautiful thought. Some years later I realised McLuhan had been predicting the arrival of the Internet…
The image of a world wide central nervous system has remained attractive to a lifelong believer in brand coherence. Because it’s an image that can be applied as much to brands as to people and things. It suggests that brands can embrace a glue more powerful than any corporate structure, conceptual definition or visual identity. Modern brands are finally capable of creating their own neural networks, their own central nervous systems.
So of course we should be introducing connectivity to everything we do right now, right the way across the path to purchase. Of course we should all be designing brand ecosystems and ecologies with bold, bright enthusiasm. Because at last we can see the reality of neurally networked brands which are sensitive, responsive and feeling. Brands which learn, think and evolve. And above all brands which are coherent and whole.Perhaps the centre can hold after all.
8th July 13
Posted in Brands
AUTHOR: MICHELLE GILSON, STRATEGIST, BBH LONDON
I have always been a fan of observational comedy. Before I knew what Planning was. Before I even knew what I wanted to be. But reassuringly I once was told that good planners are like good comedians, in that they pick up on insightful human truths and deliver them in a captivating way. If I become the Peter Kay of Planning one day, I’ll die happy.
I recently saw the comedienne Sarah Milligan’s tour broadcast on TV. She had a brilliant phrase which stuck with me. “In life people are either bumper cars or dodgems”. Of course they are the same thing. But the point she was making was some people prefer to navigate life, whilst others prefer to push from the front. Personally, I lean more to the former. But beyond that, it got me thinking about how I view brands.
My whole life I’ve always been attracted to brands that set out to include me, as opposed to those that showed me the way. Growing up I was never taken with Nike ads, nor with Apple, nor Virgin. Instead I always warmed to brands like Dulux, Tesco, Ikea, Coca Cola and British Airways. The deliberately inclusive brands that made me feel welcome and at home.
Our CEO Ben Fennell posted here recently asking ‘what kind of leader are you?’ His point was that the business world goes round thanks to quite different types of leadership. Are you a nurturer or a visionary, an operator or a warrior and so on? And the same is true, it strikes me, for brands that are leaders in their categories.
Judging on how they behave and make me feel, I believe there are two classic categories of brand leader: Empathetic vs Emphatic. The former want a dialogue and seek to communicate in a way that relates closely to their audiences’ lives. Emphatic leaders, by contrast, tend to enshrine their own vision and qualities. ‘Buy me and you’re saying something about who you are’, says the Emphatic brand. ‘Buy me because we understand who you are’, replies the Empathetic brand.
Of course I’m not saying one is better than the other. Both friends have benefits. While Empathetic leaders offer a caring, accepting and optimistic tone of voice, the empathic brands will ooze confidence, inspiration and authority. They can be useful, even a source of inspiration, in different ways:
And while empathetic leaders behave in a fun, inclusive way, emphatic leaders always feel dynamic, adventurous and unpredictable:
My Dad used to say “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” when it comes to picking a partner. But truthfully that analogy feels too extreme when applied to our relationships with brands (probably due to significantly reduced commitment when it comes to purchase and consumption).
And yet I’d wager most of us do want both spicy and safe in our lives. And often we won’t look to one person to provide everything, we’ll pick and choose friends, family and a partner that offer different qualities. And, accordingly, even thought I’m an Empathetic brand lover at heart, I confess I shall probably get some glee next time I’m forced to wear my Nike’s to the gym, or light up my iPhone. And further more, may even attempt to bump some cars next time at the fair, rather than dodge them.
21st June 13
I must have been around five or six when I at least subconsciously realised that my dad worked for ‘a brand’.
Taxiing through Schipol yesterday I saw the iconic KLM logo everywhere and it was for the Dutch airline, with its consistently modern, clean, emblematic branding, that my dad worked.
As children my sister and I saw plenty of that logo. On company Christmas cards and letterheads that lay around our home. On the multilayered paper tickets (always standby, always a nervy adventure) that took us away to places I now realise were exotic destinations in the 70s. And everywhere in the office at Heathrow, where we sometimes spent the day with Dad at work, in the dog days of the summer holidays.
And so yesterday it struck me that my taste in design might hark back to those days, to that logo. The simple morse-like arrangement of cross, over four dots over long dash. The discreetly powerful, squatly confident KLM in Noa Light. An imprinting of intelligent, stylised, corporate identity leading to a fondness for deliberate, thoughtfully bland urbanity. An interest in unplaces. The appreciation of the aesthetics of the shipping container and transport logistics hubs. Digitally rendered fictional suburbia. Street view art.
And taxiing through Schipol I thought about this. And this small thought, the memories, speak to the power of good design and branding and how a logo, assuredly deployed, can imprint itself on a person and shape them, years later, like a paternal hand from the past.
7th June 13
Author: Nick Fell, Strategy Director
Last week we launched the Storytime Hangout app for Google+. Built in collaboration with Penguin, it allows families to share the story of Three Billy Goats Gruff over a hangout, whether they’re at home or away from one and other. Not only that but everyone participating can become characters in the story with masks overlayed onto their faces.
It’s early days but the app seems to have caught people’s imaginations and we’re excited about the potential to adapt further stories to be read in this way.
The project was driven forward with unwavering determination by a team of people at BBH and Penguin. We’ve also had great support from the team at Google.
We wanted to share with you our experiences of developing the app and highlight three things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Proactive projects require a laser-focus
We developed Storytime Hangout without an official brief. A small group of us at BBH had been discussing the massive potential of Google+ Hangouts to bring people closer together in some new and interesting ways. We were all passionate enough about the opportunity to spend some of our own time exploring ideas that would augment the experience of a Hangout even further. Storytime Hangout was the best idea of a long list. Proactively developing, building and launching an app in the spare moments in our days has been even more challenging than we expected. We’ve learned the hard way that to succeed means getting behind one idea early and be ruthless with the feature set.
2. Insight before tech
With such a wealth of technology at one’s disposal, it’s never been easier to create and launch an idea. The trap is to build something just because you can. What makes one experience more successful than another still comes down to an understanding of people; their hopes, dreams and behaviour. In our own experiences and in talking to other parents, it was clear that story time was one of the most enjoyable and important moments a parent can share with their children. The problem was that distance and other distractions often got in the way. It’s early days, but we’re hoping that a focus on problem-solving and not tech experimentation alone will encourage people to keep coming back to the app on Google+.
3. Stick by your principles
Technology is transforming publishing. Books are being bought and read in new ways and publishers have to adapt to how they market and distribute their intellectual property. Children’s literature is a particularly dynamic industry. Parents now have access to a wealth of content, apps and games to keep the kids entertained, much of which is freely available on the web. In adapting a children’s story for consumption online we wanted to ensure that we promoted the magic of storytelling. This informed our entire approach to developing the app. Words are central to the experience and we have tried to use technology in a way that augments, not distracts from, the reading of the book.
30th May 13
Posted in dataAuthor: Adam Powers, Head of User ExperienceThe always prescient KPCB analyst has published her state of the Internet Paper for 2013 and, as ever, it makes for a stimulating read.- whilst smartphone and tablet penetration is rampant, Mary suggests the future is all about, “…wearables, drivables, flyables and scannables.”. That last category includes the shocking revelation that QR codes are popular somewhere – 9 million scanned per month in China!- In fact China is the place to watch for innovation and developing trends. Mobile internet access and search have already surpassed desktop use in the land of Alibaba. (Whose business is now surpassing Amazon.) China also added 264m Internet users between 2008 and 2012, more than any other country.- Mobile is the platform of choice for content upload, and right now photos are the thing. A staggering 500m of them uploaded every day but expect video, sound and data to get in on the act very quickly.- the average smartphone user grabs their fondlebox upwards of 150 times per day. Significant for wearable tech opportunities but mouth-watering for mobile advertisers – Meeker identifies a $20 billion opportunity right there.Check out her slide share deck:
29th May 13
I spent a wonderfully stimulating day at Kill Screen Magazine’s Two5Six conference recently – a chance to listen to some smart thinkers and practitioners from the independent games scene talk about their ideas, their projects and the wider gaming & cultural landscape.
Game folk and advertising folk have much in common; their powerful interest in user/consumer motivation; the importance of design as a tool of differentiation; a shared vocabulary around community management, UX and behavioural economics; a belief that ‘problem solving’ lies at the heart of what they do.
But an exchange at two5six did force me to consider whether there were also some fundamental differences between us – maybe even a wholly different world-view.
I was telling the game designer next to me about my son who, aged nine, spends quite a bit of time designing and playing games on his computer. While the Labs Dad in me is keen to nurture this, I did twitch when I saw this post on his tumblr.
Two minutes after describing this common modern family issue, I saw a twitter @ message.
This struck me as a wonderfully elegant solution to ‘a problem’, and a solution that is most unlikely to have come from an advertising mind. Our instinct is to accentuate the positive and sell the benefit. We’d have looked for an emotional product demonstration, the product being a beautiful spring day. We might have tried inventing a new game that could only be played outdoors. We might have partnered with an ice-cream firm to exchange cones for game cartridges. But creating ‘more fail’ when the sun shines brightly? An idea that could only come from the delightfully twisted mind of a game developer.
There’s lots to learn from gamer types. They know UX, they know behavioural economics, they know problem solving. But most of all they understand failure in all its glory. Its power to motivate and drive behaviour. Its ability to throw into relief even the smallest triumphs. That overcoming a thousand tiny failures sometimes beats a single big win. That perhaps fail alone can get a young gamer out of the living room on a sunny day.
20th May 13
As a product of the first dotcom boom in the mid-nineties I have always been digitally minded. I found my way to advertising through a decade of working in some of the finest interactive studios. More so than ever those two worlds have collided. Earlier this year I set out to write a book that took some of that learning and the mindset of working as a creative in a digital world.
The format of the book took on the look and feel a children’s book for learning the alphabet, with each letter referencing a way of thinking or an insight into the modern creative process. The book was lovingly illustrated by 26 of the industry’s best, and to introduced the book, I asked a simple question of five of advertising’s top creative minds. What does it mean to be a contemporary creative in today’s modern world of advertising? Below are three of the responses I received, the remaining responses can be found by reading the book itself.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” What does it mean to be a creative these days? It’s almost impossible to answer this. The tasks of a creative are unrecognisable from as little as five years ago. You must decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly the days of easy three week shoots in the Caribbean are long gone. But when has an advertising creative ever had the chance to make a physical product from scratch? To really make something? Some would argue clients have never been more conservative but some guy just fell from space for a can of pop with no guarantee that his brains wouldn’t splatter across a million screens. It seems it’s wise to be foolish. One thing a creative does need to be is a hustler. There are no easy briefs any more. You have to fight for the crazy stuff. But I honestly believe in a more uniform and conservative world weird stands out, weird – like ‘Greed’ – works. Look at GaGa. When the going gets weird the weird turn pro. Is that what we are, professional weirdos? I can live with that. - James Cooper
“Creativity” is a loaded word – like “war” or “god” or “child.” It has a lot in common with these words too – for it’s a mix of heavy burden and a blinding belief in our own potential to invent. “Creative” is too often reserved for people who are quirky, strange, tattooed and/or mustachioed. But in truth, everyone is creative with the way they solve the needs of the contemporary world – be they juggling numbers, whittling a good spear, or even in the conjuring of creative design and advertising. What we’re talking about here is indeed creativity in the visual, interactive and social-psychological senses. The Contemporary Creative has the ability to excite all of these with ease, telling stories and inciting action. Those before us molded clay, steel, and wood, but we flex our power with pixels and clicks, flash frames and light, code strings and sensors. We are manipulators – hopefully for good. The one trick pony creative no longer exists; instant death comes to those with narrow-minds, parochial interests or inflexibility. Inquisitiveness, fearlessness and an insatiable thirst for The New are the only real mandates for today’s creative minds. So feed your inner child. Create something from nothing. It’s a war of the senses. - David Schwarz
You can’t be of your time creatively if you’re behind in how you can express it. Nice sound bite, that. And like most sound bites, half true, half full of shit. Why it’s half shit: you can be and do whatever you want creatively. There is absolutely no right or wrong, just expression or no expression. That’s the goddamn beauty of it. Why it’s half true? If you want to have an impact, to have other people see or hear or experience your creativity, it’s a good idea to understand the times you’re living in, the mediums and formats are resonating with people – and understand the tools are available to bring your expressions to life. Know those, and all that creativity inside has a chance to be seen, experienced, and shared. Which makes you a creative person of your time, a ‘contemporary creative’ so to speak. - John Patroulis
The printed version of the book is set to be released on June 6th, however in the spirit of the open Web, I have published the book in it’s entirety as a tumblr blog. You can scroll through it contents at this url: abcbook.tumblr.com
1st May 13
Posted in strategyAuthor: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH LondonThis is an edited version of a piece I wrote a while back for the APG. Reprinted with permission.It is a melancholy truth that the more expert I have become, the less my expertise is valued. I recognise that this may be because my dusty tales of Levi’s watchpockets,strategic chords and yin yangs lose a little of their lustre with every passing year. And I suspect I’m not pronouncing SXSW with convincing emphasis. But it may also be because Clients no longer come to me for expertise. Or at least not the expertise I imagined I had to offer.I had always thought that we Planners were akin to strategic doctors. We assessed the patients’ symptoms, we prescribed treatment, we arrived at prognoses. I imagined that sitting in four reviews a day, year after year, gave us a special authority on the anatomy of communication. I’m sure there was a time when my Clients nodded gratefully as we offered sage counsel. The blinding insight, the lyrical proposition, the Damascene conversion…There was, wasn’t there?… But modern Clients are more strategically and creatively confident than ever before. They have their own strategy departments, they’re closer to their own data, they work across more channels than most of us.They go on creative role reversal courses…I’m really not sure they come to us primarily to listen to our opinion. And I have to say sometimes nowadays it’s difficult getting a word in edgeways.It’s true, I have considered an alternative career as a bus conductor. And when the 25 year old Millward Brown consultant’s opinion carries more weight, I find myself yearning for a passing Routemaster. But advertising people are inherently positive. And so I reconsider…I am increasingly of the view that Clients don’t come to us for medicine; they come to us for therapy. And I suspect that our value resides, not as strategic doctors, but as strategic psychoanalysts.Often a successful modern Client engagement is not unlike a session of analysis. Clients begin with problems. They verbalise their thoughts, they make free associations, they express their fantasies and dreams. We listen, we interpret, we consider the unconscious conflicts that are causing their problems. We help them reach solutions through a process of self realisation.Freud, in addressing the unconscious, talked about the need to ‘unearth buried cities’. This doesn’t sound too alien to brand planning.I should at this point issue a health warning. I’m a Planner from Romford. Whilst I enjoyed Keira Knightley’s performance in A Dangerous Method, I can’t claim any particular knowledge of psychoanalysis . For me it’s just an illuminating analogy. Besides, if we were too literal about this, we’d never look a Client in the eye. And I suspect that’s a sure fire way to lose business…Let us nonetheless consider some of the basic principles that would derive from a psychoanalytic approach to Client engagement…Set out on a quest for meaning, not cure. The answers to most problems reside in the minds of the Client. We are enabling self knowledge,helping them to create their own narratives.Behave as a participant observer, not a detached expert. Analysis only works if we embark on it together, as willing equals.Embrace free association. Often we are too quick to impose order on our Clients’ challenges. Bear in mind that fantasies and dreams can illuminate unconscious conflicts.Remember, everything has meaning. Be attentive to behaviour,body language, choice of words and phrases.Look for meaningful patterns. Consider consistencies,
symmetries,repetition. Probe for the meaning within the pattern.Our time is up..I used to believe there was only one correct answer to every problem. Now I believe there are many correct answers. The challenge is to establish the correct answer that best suits the Client’s character and personality. Anais Nin famously once said: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are’. I’m sure this maxim applies as much to strategy as it does to creative.
26th April 13
Author: Ben Fennell, CEO, BBH London
As I write, we’ve just completed a six month, ‘in house’ course on Leadership for 30 of BBH’s finest. The course is a tangible acknowledgement that leadership skills are not simply ‘picked up’ over time. But that they have to be developed, they have to be taught, they have to be learnt.
Throughout my career I’ve been a keen student. I’ve always tried to observe, emulate and customise the leadership behaviours I most admire. From mentors, from clients, from within BBH, from history, politics and sport.
There are a couple of interesting things about our course:
- It is totally bespoke to BBH, by that I mean it is focused on developing the skills and tools to succeed in our culture.
- It is cross discipline, so in attendance are strategists, suits, producers, and those historically reluctant trainees, CDs.
- It is personal, because leadership always is. I invited the 16 speakers, 13 BBH and 3 clients, to talk about the leadership attribute that I most associate them with, eg ‘making good and bad decisions’, ‘leadership in tough times’, ‘creating positive pressure’.
- Having been exposed to a whole series of very personal, and very diverse leadership orthodoxies, one has come out head and shoulders above all others.
The power of difference. All the delegates have told me that a better understanding of their own unique strengths, and a strategy to amplify those, is the key to creating higher impact, and greater followership in the workplace.
Despite almost all of the delegates’ pre course perceptions to the contrary, they have found that BBH is packed with a range of very different types of leaders.
I think this has probably always been the case at BBH. It was the complimentary differences in personality type, style and delivery that made our founders John, Nigel and John such a compelling cocktail.
It is interesting to me that, somehow, as we’ve grown, people have started to believe that there is only one way to lead and succeed at BBH, one leadership archetype: competitive, quality obsessed and, yes, relentlessly dissatisfied.
People like myself may well have propagated that myth. Which is ironic, because I know exactly how much I depend on the difference offered to me by my closest partners. Leaders with any sense of self awareness learn quickly to assemble a team that complements their strengths and compensates for their weaknesses.
One simple example. I think in metaphors and references from sport and film while Jim Carroll, our UK Chairman, uses renaissance art and soul music. I want our people to be exposed to both, and a hundred more besides.
Jim spoke at my 40th, he stood in front of 100 people, only 10 of whom he knew and who knew him. It would be fair to say that it was a fairly rowdy and sporty crowd. He won over his audience, and nailed me with his opening line:
“Ben and I share not one personality trait”. Genius.
And that’s the point. I want our company to be filled with all kinds of different leaders: visionaries, operators, closers, nurturers, warriors, enthusiasts, rocks.
It’s the celebration of difference that makes a culture powerful and unique. It is the managed tension between different types of thinkers and personalities, that gets us to our best answers. I urge every new joiner to “keep their edges”.
I think it was Warren G Bennis that famously said that “Failing organisations are usually over managed and under led.”At BBH we want more leadership, in all its forms, at every level of our company.
I am always energised when I face the company and see a whole new cohort coming through.
I wonder if the next great horizon for our business should be less defined by our outputs: digital, social, CSR. And more by our inputs. By developing a generation of industry leaders to inspire staff, clients, and most important of all, the consumer.
The longer I do my job the more I believe that ‘Inspiration’ is the petrol you put into the tank of a creative business. It’s our fuel. It is leadership’s most fundamental obligation.
Of one thing I am certain. You can’t possibly inspire others unless you are 100 percent clear about the single question we started, and have focused, our whole course on:
‘What kind of leader do you want to be?’
23rd April 13
Posted in Creativityforgood
Today you might notice we have added something new to the blog. A tiny little detail that has the ability to make a much larger impact.
At the bottom of this post and in fact at the bottom of every post, you will find the newly added CentUp button. If you remember we first spoke to Len Kendall about CentUp in an post earlier this year. CentUp encourages us all to donate to content creators and charities at the click of a button.
In short CentUp is here to help make the Internet a better place. So, if you are reading something you like here and you appreciate the content we provide, consider giving the CentUp button a click, and make a change for good. CentUp is in beta at the moment, but BBH Labs readers can request a fast-track invitation by clicking on this link. And lastly, all proceeds from CentUp donations on this blog will benefit charities that are dear to our hearts.