29th December 09
Posted in BBH Labs
What a year. Here within the BBH Labs team we’ve had our ups and our downs. But we’ve been facing only forwards. We thought today might be the one day of the year we allow ourselves a sneaky peek backwards. In particular in regard to our little blog.
This blog’s grown from nothing, through embryonic to, well, at least something approaching pre-pubescence. Whilst we’ve not shared as much as we had hoped in these pages, since launching on April Fool’s Day 2009 we’ve managed around 70 posts.
Looking back through the content it’s reassuring (at least to us) that we’ve managed a fair degree of consistency in terms of the topics we’ve posted on, with some key themes emerging as core areas of Labs’ interest. We didn’t plan this when we started, it just happened. (We outline these themes – with links to example posts – underneath this list of our Favourite 10 from 2009.)
What made most of the posts even remotely interesting to start with was the commenting and opinion shared on the blog in response to them. We’d like to thank all those who took time not just to read but to improve our thoughts. We massively value your contribution, and we always look forward to reading your input, however challenging or provocative.
More than anything, even more than the 900+ comments on these posts, what we’ve taken out of this first eight months of Labs blogging are some great new friends, partners & teachers. Long after the frothy excitement around this app or that platform recedes, and even after the buzz around great work might fade into Awards annuals, it’s this side of the blog that we will value most highly.
Happy New Year. See you in 2010. Mel, Pats, Ben
* * * *
So, we thought we’d fish out ten posts that we either particularly enjoyed putting together, or that triggered a debate from which we learned a lot (often, it was both). Here they are, with links (via titles) to the originals & original comments.
The onset of increasingly ‘perfect’ information would suggest that the content we are served is ever more relevant, the choices we make are ever easier, and our levels of satisfaction should never have been higher (think the ultra relevance of Netflix, Fresh Direct, SatNav, Amazon recommends, Facebook suggests, Google search). We argue here, however, that this rise in relevance amounts to nothing less than the ‘end of surprise’, and that comes with a cost (think The Truman Show meets Minority Report). We focus on the opportunity: a role for genuinely inventive, interactive and surprising content and experiences in an era where the rough edges are too often being smoothed away.
24th December 09
2009 undoubtedly has been the year when the ‘crowd’ really came into its own. As the year drew to a close, it seemed like it might be a fun (okay, also possibly foolish) idea to attempt to create the world’s first crowd-curated holiday playlist.
Whilst I’d tinkered with this in fairly samizdat fashion at the end of November, the idea properly came to life when Maria Popova (@brainpicker) – the undisputed queen of online cultural curation and author of, amongst other things, Brain Pickings – got in touch. She suggested we create an audio tumblr together and see if we could find 31 people to curate one, great, vaguely seasonal track for every day in December.
So far, 24 days and around a 1000 plays later, it’s a fairly diverse collection of music and commentary: by turns happy, nostalgic, darkly funny, triumphant, moving, warm, sad and – if you ask us – all of it pretty downright wonderful.
We hope people have had as much fun as we have getting involved and watching it unfold. Maria and I will say thank you properly to everyone when the project completes at the end of the month, but in the meantime please keep checking out the site, listen to the smorgasbord of tracks we’ve had in so far and read what the curators have had to say about the music they’ve chosen.
For more about Taped Together, check it out here.
The full and final playlist will be made available as a download to anyone who’d like one, please check out the site for details at the end of this month.
Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays Everyone.
22nd December 09
We need your help.
We’re after a big room, studio or small stage in NYC for three days in January (14-16th). We’re trying to find a space where we can re-create the Chrome Features short films we’ve just made for Google.
For a start, we want to have a little party, and January seems like a good time to be doing that. But we’d like to open it up to anyone who wants to come along and have a look at how they were made.
The space needs to be around 60 x 40 ft, with – ideally – some good height to the ceiling. If you have somewhere you can lend us, or you know someone who might, please email me at email@example.com
THANKS & HAPPY HOLIDAYS
Here are the films:
And here is a film about how we made them:
18th December 09http://www.vimeo.com/8217311
We were stopped in our tracks by this concept video from the design consultancy Berg for Bonnier R&D. There is a fluidity and beauty to the design that suggests a significant step forward from the first generation, ‘push button’ e-readers. We particularly liked the fact the prototype (which makes its debut around 1 minute in) suggests it has been designed to create a better reading experience, as opposed to recreating slavishly the experience of reading a magazine. Not that this has been ignored: Berg make the point that magazines still arrive in separate issues, for the simple reason that “people like the sense of completion at the end of each.”
You move through the magazine by scrolling articles placed side-by-side (they call it a ‘mountain range’) and whilst they were aiming to create a “a space for quiet reading. It’s pleasant to have an uncluttered space”, you can heat up the words and pics to share, comment, and to dig into supplementary material. It certainly seems a logical and neat way to resolve the oft-discussed need to balance our thirst for more, more, more information, with the requirement to concentrate on one thing from time to time.
If you’ve been following the fortunes of e-readers, none of this may sound particularly radical. The bit that’s impressive is the execution. And, in their own words, Bonnier are interested in “sparking a discussion around the digital reading experience in general, and digital reading platforms in particular.”
That discussion is certainly happening. Aside from the general rants and evangelism, there are more balanced points of view on the topic, not to mention an excellent follow-up post here from Tim Maly at Bookfuturism that examines the operational, production process piece missing (possibly inevitable at concept stage…) and why it’s important. Well worth the read. There’s clearly huge scope for development: our own Richard Schatzberger notes the multimedia opportunities haven’t been looked at deeply enough. “The move to magtabs will start to break down the barriers between web broadcast and print. Live news playing inside the article about the same subject, your friends opinions connected to the content, live audio conversations about the story as you read it (like being in a coffee shop and hearing everyone talk about an article in the times).”
Either way, we liked the concept and we look forward to seeing where Berg and Bonnier take it. One thing is for sure:
“Ebook readers will be completely different in 2020. And paperback books will in all likelihood still be very much around, and pretty much the same.” Comment from tcarmody on Bookfuturism’s “Nostalgic Myopia” post
17th December 09
Posted in transformational change
Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado (BDWCU) is a cutting edge new school designed to create ‘the leaders of the future’ in the design, tech and creative industries. Sounds great, but what do the first intake of students really think about it, so far? And what are the ‘works’ that actually go on there?
Some background first.
There are already a number of (very cool) dedicated digital programs in the US but they tend to focus on individual specialties, such as advertising, business, design, or technology. The starting point for BDWCU was how things actually work in practice, once the student leaves school. It’s a whole lot messier than a school syllabus, that’s for sure. At advertising and digital agencies, start-ups, and software companies, business, creative, and technology people work in much more of an integrated and fluid setting and are expected to be multi-disciplinary thinkers and problem solvers. So BDWCU sets out to be a more broad-based educational program that covers the full spectrum of digital disciplines and media.
The program is impressive – take a look here. (I only wish I could attend.)
I was honored to be asked to sit on the Board of Directors and have got to know the program and the set-up a little. What I think is the coolest thing about the school is that the program they offer is live, so is constantly changing to reflect what matters today and tomorrow (not what mattered yesterday) and is led by leading practitioners in key industries such as advertising, design, interactive, and innovation, as well as entrepreneurs and academics. The team led by David Slayden, Michael Lightner and Allison Kent-Smith have done an awesome job of gathering some exceptional faculty to bring genuinely leading edge content and insight to students.
So, yes, as I said before, it all sounds great, but what’s it really like? What do the students think? And how are they finding it?
The initial intake of 12 twelve trailblazers in the first Boulder Digital Works 60 Weeks Program finish their adventure in December 2010. To mark the one year pre-anniversary they have created the 12/10 Project. This short film takes stock of what they’ve learned so far, considers their hopes and plans for the upcoming year and sees them explore their dreams, goals and predictions more broadly. It is essential viewing for anyone in a creative business who has an eye on the talent pool of the future. It’s people just like these guys whom we will all by vying to hire.
It’s striking that for many the reasons they went to the school in the first place are not always the reasons they’re staying.
(It’s available in HD on YouTube).
Follow the 12/10 Project as it unfolds over the next 12 months. You never know, you might spot a rising star in the making.
The 12/10 blog is here.
If you’re interested, here’s a little more about BDWCU.
17th December 09
Posted in creativity
We’re super proud of the new work we’ve just created for Google in Europe, for the Chrome browser. If you haven’t seen it, take a look below. Hope you enjoy it.
We took Google’s ingenuity & innovation as inspiration in developing the idea for seven short films (& an intro), demonstrating the benefits of Google Chrome. Every creation is built by hand, filmed in camera, with no special effects added. Even the music where Jacqui, the harpist, is playing is live on set. As it should always be with Google, the product is the hero. We celebrate the Chrome product, but we hope in a “Googley” way.
The films work as a longer single film of around 4 minutes, where the 8 films are merged together. We’ve designed annotations into the experience on YouTube; these are effectively hyperlinks to other films embedded into the film itself – like roll-over hotspots with links behind them. We hope this makes YouTube even more interactive. The transition device between films (the ‘notice board’) is based on annotations.
The project was especially fun from a collaboration point of view. BBH New York, BBH London & the team at Glue London worked super closely together with the Google team on the development of the strategy, creative and media. The Director was Aaron Duffy and the production company were 1st Avenue Machine in New York.
Here’s a peek into the production process where you can see a little of the intensity and excitement that results when you gather a bunch of geeks, designers, artists and a harpist together in a small studio. The knitted props were actually knitted by the Director, pretty much there and then.
A lot of people worked very hard during an intense but awesome process. The Google clients (based in London) were very much part of our team too. It was fun. I hope that shows.
Here are a few photographs we took on set.
15th December 09
We’re hopelessly devoted fans of Kraftwerk here at BBH Labs, almost certainly in a way that is slightly backward. Only last week we pledged to listen to nothing but Kraftwerk until the end of 2010 (much to the delight of those sitting near us).
This (below) is an incredible piece of film. It’s from 1973 and shows Ralf & Florian just noodling, in some cases with non-electronic instruments (shock, horror) such as flute. The homemade drum machine looks fairly lo-fi; quite a lot of tinfoil being used there too.
We also stumbled across a couple of other short films in the YouTube crates. First an amusing documentary clip about ‘Autobahn’ from 1975. “Next year Kraftwerk hope to eliminate the keyboards altogether and build jackets with electronic lapels that would be played by touch”.
And then this 10-minute clip from a 1973 French documentary.
Brilliantly evocative films from the birth of electronic music.
Thanks to Paul Matheson for sending the Tanzmusik piece.
14th December 09
Posted in awesomeness
Google Goggles is a new ‘visual search’ app for Android phones. Instead of using words, take a picture of an object with your camera phone: Google then attempt to recognize the object, and return relevant search results. Goggles also provides information about businesses near you by displaying their names directly in the camera preview.
As Google make clear, this is far from perfect yet, but it’s still getting us thinking about how we might use this kind of technology for clients.
Wonder when it will work with social networks? And wonder when it’s out on iPhone?
More detail on Goggles on Google’s site, here.
(Full disclosure: Google is a client of BBH)
30th November 09
Jointly authored by Anjali Ramachandran (Made By Many, London), Chandrashekhar L (BBH India), & Ben Malbon (BBH Labs).
Brands in India are still struggling with advertising on the internet, even as mobile services steadily explore new territory.
Both mobile and the internet comprise what is popularly known as ‘digital’, yet unlike in Western markets such as the UK or the US, the former is much more powerful and prevalent than the latter. The reason for this is primarily the drop in the cost of mobile usage over recent years, versus the increasing cost of broadband usage. As this blogger says:
“What the Indian telcos should do is adopt a model that was instrumental in driving mobile usage in India. Drop the price points so that even the average person (living on Rs. 100 per day), would find Internet usage compelling, useful, and not frustrating. If they were to adopt a mass usage policy and not price their broadband products based on margins, I believe that in 5 years, India could have at least 100 million broadband users (via DSL, cable modem, Mobile 3G, wiMax, etc.).”
The mobile industry in India is witnessing rapid changes, with voice and messaging charges dropping drastically. Tata Docomo started the concept of “pay per second” not too long ago, which was replicated within a fortnight by all other major players like Vodafone, Reliance and Airtel. Less than a week ago, Reliance (the largest CDMA player) introduced the option of choosing between 1 paise per sms (a measly 0.02 cents) or 1 rupee for unlimited SMS per day (2 cents per day).
The interesting paradox is that while basic call and text charges have dropped to unbelievably low prices, GPRS costs have yet to come down. Therefore, the trend suggests that the evolved value-added services (VAS) will definitely grow at a much lower pace, as those costs aren’t coming down as steeply: accessing services on the phone still costs a lot in India, even though phone tariffs are amongst the lowest in the world.
As more and more people in the country jump on the mobile phone bandwagon, from small villages to large metros, innovation is growing apace. Consider, for example, the new business deal between DirecPay, a bank-neutral payment aggregator service from Times of Money (part of the Times Group, India’s largest media conglomerate) and PayMate, a wireless transactions company. The deal will provide an extended mobile payment facility to merchants who sign up, and with the current rate of penetration of the mobile device in the country at 35% (the number of GSM users alone is at 335.5 million currently), it is likely to bring even more consumers into the considered set of e-commerce users, as Avijit Nanda, the President of Times of Money says.
Mobile phones in India are also extremely powerful social and commercial tools. Nokia handsets are the instruments of choice of the majority of the population in the country (the company owns about 65% of the market share).
Where educational iPhone apps are less than 1000 in number (737 in November 2008) and certainly not as popular as gaming and entertainment apps in the Western world, in South Asia, Nokia has understood the market and is investing in Mera Nokia, a tool that provides farmers with useful crop-related information, Nokia Life, which offers agriculture, education and entertainment service apps specifically targeted at the market in smaller urban and rural areas, Nokia Tej, a mobile order management system, and Nokia Point and Find, a context-aware service that recognizes objects through barcodes and GPS. (Nokia has embarked on the last two as part of the Progress Project, in partnership with Lonely Planet). Airtel (another popular Indian mobile operator) and Thomson Reuters also offer services similar to Mera Nokia.
If the market offers a completely different set of challenges, the only way to counter them is to understand how to leverage the instrument that is clearly succeeding. We imagine something along the lines of the Blyk model would work well here: where advertisers subsidize the cost of mobile usage via targeted advertisements. It may even be possible to build a two-tiered offering like Spotify has for it’s Premium and regular (free) offerings. What Hugo Barra, a Product Manager at Google says is particularly resonant in this respect:
“People will not want to pay for services that they can get for free, and the services will be free because there is a massive opportunity for advertisers to come onto the mobile platform. This is still untapped. Thanks to the proliferation of location information, specific advertising, and I mean non-intrusive advertising can easily come onto the mobile.”
Another opportunity that can be tapped into is the growth of social networks in the country. India is now only behind the US in Twitter usage, and it is 5th in the world in Facebook usage. An interesting model would be to explore a hybrid that combines the extensive usage of mobiles and social networking.
The big players are already realizing the opportunities for promoting social networking services. For instance, Aircel Telecom launched the biggest advertising burst in the telecom category (before Tata Docomo) by showcasing Facebook on mobile while Airtel has launched a campaign of 4 TVCs promoting the use of Twitter. Here is some of the creative from those two campaigns:
According to a 2009 Trendspotting report, online ad spend is only 3% of the total ad spend in India, compared to 8-20% in developed markets. But advertisers are evolving in their use of the online medium by going beyond banner and keyword advertising to creating campaigns that leverage social networks and connectivity, while the use of the mobile phone for advertising is still very rudimentary (mostly used for text-based promotional offers). The increasing use of the internet and especially social networks on the mobile would automatically mean that the online advertising approach gets extended to the small mobile screen as well: 63 million Indians already access internet on mobile as compared to 45 million on the PC (Source: IRS and TRAI estimates).
What’s fascinating – and perhaps instructive – for those involved with making sense of all this in Western markets such as Europe and North America, is how telcos and marketers in India seem to simply be jumping over some of the phases and issues the typical North American marketer might face. Despite the fact that in many ways the technologies at their disposal are less sophisticated than in Western markets, they seem further ahead in terms of mobile utility, mobile commerce & micro-payments, and in many cases more adventurous as far as advertiser-funded mobile platforms are concerned.
We have much to learn.