3rd September 13
This week we’re cross-posting some of the monthly tech columns we’ve written over the past year for Marketing magazine. In part so we keep a record of the topics that are vexing and/or getting us going here at Labs, but mainly because some of these topics keep resurfacing and seem worthy of on-going discussion. As always please let us know what you think in the comments below.
First up, a piece published in March this year on code and creativity.
A biography of Beatrix Potter published last century may not sound like it warrants a mention in a column about technology. Yet when a friend sent it to me recently I was surprised: as a child, Beatrix had conceived her own cipher or code for use in private journals that she wrote well into her late twenties. 200,000 words in total that were only successfully decoded two decades after her death. So why did she write in code? And why was there such baffled curiosity that a creative writer did this?
The thoughts Beatrix encrypted were neither controversial nor particularly personal. The biographer speculates that she was a lonely, if intelligent child who sought refuge in her own imagination. Described as a peculiar act of creativity to escape an otherwise colourless childhood, if you will.
Reading it, I was struck by how little fundamental attitudes to writing code have changed in decades. In our industry, as in others, there’s positive intent and considerable uptake of courses designed to teach the basics of programming languages, sure. But reading and writing code is still not a part of the fabric of life the same way learning a language, sport or an instrument is. Many still see code as intimidating, or the preserve of the solitary (male) computer science geek.
Even as we grasp how code and the role of different languages are transforming marketing output and our ways of working, still too many of us step back from getting to grips with code directly and personally. That’s for newcomers to the industry, right?
Yet it’s no more complicated than anything else we learn over the course of our lives and it’s part of the day job: we already know the Internet has been the biggest advertising sector in the UK for the past four years (IAB data) and that it will register double digit growth every year for the next four (PwC’s Global Media & Entertainment Outlook for EMEA, 2012-2016).
So what now?
Perhaps we don’t all itch to shape the way the web develops, but let’s embrace the fact that, at its simplest, code is how things get made on and for the web. Much as Beatrix Potter understood a century ago, code is creative. Of course there’s much to do here: if code in combination with its older siblings, art direction and copy, is to grow up faster, better, stronger it needs leadership at every level. We don’t all need to learn to code necessarily, but we do need to know what code can do.
Time to get with the program, people.
More on the topic:
A series of experiments launched at the start of the year designed to re-imagine advertising, reflecting the triumvirate now at the heart of commercial creativity.
Code.org and their video ‘what most schools don’t teach’ featuring Zuckerberg, Gates and a host of other geekarati championing code. If I were Secretary of State for Education, I’d make it mandatory for all girls in secondary education to watch this.
Decoded – http://decoded.co/. The original “learn to code in a day” training course. You may not emerge a fully fledged developer, but you do leave with a good grasp of the history and roles of different programming languages, plus an app you built yourself. Intelligently designed course, highly recommended.
Teaching kids the basics of code through a parent-child physical training session where the parent is the ‘robot’ and expected to respond to specific commands: “How to train your robot”. Every small child’s dream.
And as a counter-point: Learning to Code is a Waste of Time (Forbes)
9th August 13
We live for our holidays, and yet sorting them out has become a self-service chore. So it didn’t feel right to just tell people that British Airways *do* holidays, we wanted to deliver on their brand promise to serve, by creating an experience that actually helps people to plan their perfect break.
We talked about how holiday planning begins with a picture in your head, and it’s these images that resonate emotionally – when people pick up a guide book they go straight for the photos pages. This made us think – wouldn’t it be good to make a tool that stimulates the senses and imagination, helping you plan your holidays with just your eyes?
Coming up with the idea of choosing your holiday through pictures was relatively quick, but the biggest challenge was executing it in a simple, functional and pleasing way. We explored a few options with different levels of interactivity. One involved asking people a series of visual questions, another was a sort of ‘paint by numbers’ – but both these seemed to add an unnecessary layer onto a very simple idea. This exploration made us realise that we should use as few words as possible and make the most intuitive experience we possibly could.
The tool simply needed to read image choices, then suggest bespoke holiday options to match. This felt like a new way to inspire and buy a holiday in itself. And that’s where the name came from: ‘Picture Your Holiday”.
The soul of the experience was always going to be in the animation and interaction – no amount of beautifully designed stills could bring it to life – so in order to ‘see’ this we had to prototype the build. Moving quickly to prototype gave us a number of advantages – it helped focus the team, which unearthed the key interaction challenges very early on. This proved to be cost effective and allowed us more time to really think hard about solutions.
We were able to explore the tool across mobile and tablet simultaneously, adapting the development branch so that each was optimal but largely from the same code base. Which in turn meant the interactive six sheets at Westfield are essentially running the same version of the tool that works in your browser. Added effort early on made for a much more effective roll-out towards the end of the project.
There was also a great sense of excitement at the point where we shared it with the client, they could see for themselves the simplicity and delight in the idea. We were then able to do real world guerrilla user testing with the prototype to get feedback and roll it into the iterative dev cycle. Several recurring key findings changed our approach, one of those being the labelling of buttons.
As the prototype evolved into what would become the final tool, parallel activity to develop ‘campaign ideas’ were set aside. We realised that the product WAS the campaign and the concertina of beautiful images would become the key visual for all communications platforms.
Behind the elegant interface is a data driven system for all device types. We created a spreadsheet of attributes for each destination and then assigned a value to each. It was then exported as a JSON file, means that the whole thing can still be updated easily, should BA wish to add new holiday destinations, by simply deploying a new file to the cloud.
The end result is something which feels elegant, inspiring and fun to use.
2nd August 13
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Like many people I was amused by Rory Sutherland’s recent piece in The Spectator, in which he suggested it might be a smart strategy for Agencies to recruit graduates with lower class degrees.
Sutherland argues that there is no evidence that ‘recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds’. Graduates with lower class degrees are in fact undervalued by the market and as a result they’re less expensive and more loyal.
I thought I might contribute my own perspective to the debate and indeed my own trusty Recruitment Tool:
In my many years of working with Strategists, I have established that very smart people can reduce highly complex conundra into quite simple challenges. In this respect they have something in common with the less-than-intelligent, who see the world simply despite its many sophistications.
I have also observed that those with moderate-to-medium levels of intelligence can perceive complexity in every aspect of every problem.
This has led me to conclude that the only useful Strategists are fools or geniuses….
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.