10th September 12
Posted in Brands
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
It was striking that he painted quite a lot of pictures of women with their backs to the viewer. A powerful expression of exclusion, loneliness, unrequited love.
I spent my youth being turned away from London’s elite nightspots. Perhaps it was the sleeveless plaid shirt, the white towelling socks, the caked on Country Born hair gel. But the bitter sense of disappointment hasn’t left me. I can taste it now. And I learned more about clubbing from Spandau Ballet videos than actual experience…‘He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’Handel, Messiah
As a young executive I was invited to apply for an Amex card. I applied and was duly rejected. Naturally I was confused and disappointed and I never spoke to them again. I’m sure consumers often feel a similar sense of exclusion from brands. Refusal and denial are shaming, embarrassing. The fear of rejection is almost as powerful as rejection itself. And then there are the coded gestures, the arcane language, the gender and cultural specific semiotics. The feeling that you don’t belong, that you’re not welcome here. It’s a private conversation, you wouldn’t understand.
I guess that’s why strategists so often recommend that brands are more open, inviting, transparent. We want brands to look us in the eye, to reach out from the canvas with a knowing glance and a welcoming smile. Easier said than done, of course.
Yet the turned back does not have to be all bad.
The Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi often painted a solitary woman with her back to the viewer. She goes about her daily routine in a quiet middle class home, lost in private thought. Hammershoi’s subjects seem more loved than feared. This distinctive reverse view gains its power in part from being so unusual. But also from the sense of intrusion on private time. The sense of seeing, but not being seen. It’s a little awkward, but also intriguing. Am I encountering her truest self, her identity freed of relationships, social constraints and concerns about appearance?
It reminds me of the oft’ cited quote from George Bernard Shaw: ‘Ethics is what you do when no one is looking.’ (I’ve uncovered versions of this quote from many sources. Henry Ford said ‘quality means doing it right when no one’s looking’. And of course, most recently Bob Diamond suggested ‘culture is how we behave when no one’s watching.’)
So how do brands behave when no one is looking? What would the brand encountered in a quiet room be up to? Would we find it dutifully engaged in customer-centric endeavours? Would its jaunty personality be sustained when there’s no one to impress? Would we discover an honest engagement with issues of citizenship and responsibility?
I’m worried that we’d most likely find the brand plotting a marketing and PR plan. I’m worried that in business as in politics too much thought nowadays is given to how things will play, how they will be perceived and reported. I suspect that too often the brand’s instinctive ethical and commercial compass has been replaced by recourse to brand image tracking and favourability ratings.
I appreciate this may be a curious thing for an adman to say. I should perhaps celebrate the triumph of modern marketing, the inevitable victory of perception in the All Seeing Age. Perhaps like a modern celebrity the smile must always be on, the guard must always be up. But it still makes me a little melancholy…
And what of Agencies? How do we behave when no one’s looking?
We are often perceived as conventions of feckless youth and superannuated yuppies. And I confess I was a little uncomfortable when Clients first started plugging in laptops, decanting lattes and working at our offices. I worried that they’d disapprove of our timekeeping, that they’d be offended by our cussing.But as more Clients have made the Agency their mid-week home, I think the Agency has benefitted. The Embedded Client often sees passion, industry, talent and integrity.They get to see our truest self. And it’s not as bad as they, or we, may have expected.
In the words of the great Brit Soul luminary, David Grant…‘I’ve been watching you watching me. I’ve been liking you, Baby, liking me…’
29th August 12
Posted in Film
To coincide with the ‘main course’ of the Paralympics, and after the Olympic warm-up, BBH creatives Kim and Mareka – with the great help of Chris Hyndman at Atomized - have made a mini documentary in their own time for charity TDF (The Disability Foundation) to celebrate the amazing feats of Paralympic athleticism and how TDF quietly helps make them happen. It features double amputee and great GB gold hope James O’Shea, who swims for 100m breaststroke glory on September 5th.
More information about the unique charity TDF and its complementary health services (which are available to the able-bodied too!) can be found here. And if you’d like to donate to help keep more stories like James’ coming, then text TDFV11 followed by the amount to 70070. It goes straight on your mobile bill and costs you nothing more.
Please share this film around and Tweet your support of @tdftweet with the hashtag #JamesOShea
24th August 12
Posted in robotify.me
A few weeks back we asked our robotify.me early adopters to tell us who were their favourite robots and why they liked them so much. Thanks to everyone who replied. We did this for a number of reasons. Firstly so that we could give away some very exclusive artwork from Mick Marston, our (human) robot artist. And secondly so that we could learn a little bit more from about why people responded so enthusiastically to representations of robots and what particular facets of robotics provoked the strongest reactions.
Happily we had lots of responses leading to a very healthy debate about who should win the prints. We’ve picked six winners (Magdalene for Henry the vacuum cleaner, Jeremy for Metropolis‘ Maria, Joakim for Bender, Matt for Wall-e, Tom from Bladerunner‘s Roy and Adrian for the Golem – your prints are drying and will be on their way soon). A special award goes to Jonathan’s three-and-a-half year old son for his personal invention, Fire Robot – Jonathan, we want to know more and we want pictures.
So, there’s more on what we learnt, more on all of the winning robots and more of James Mitchell in the video above. If you feel we missed a robot and have a favourite you want to share, please let us know in the comments below and we are still open for robotify.me early adopter beta testing goodness – register at http://robotify.me.
22nd August 12
Author: Chaz Wigley, Chairman, BBH Asia Pacific
It was about 2 years ago that Emma, Jim and myself started talking and writing about the ‘marketing wind tunnel’ that we as an industry seem to have gotten ourselves into (this blog has plenty of past pieces). The thinking being that, because we all broadly follow the same consumer insight led and validated process, we produce far more sameness than difference.
In the light of this, it’s fascinating to see Tyler Brule’s latest ‘Fast Lane’ piece in the FT where he inveighs against the same issues, but this time in the context of magazines, airlines, hotels and shops. It’s well worth a read for those who haven’t yet seen it (and always gratifying to see an FT journalist cry ‘Bullshit !’ on corporate excuses):
“Spend a bit of time at a US newsstand and it’s clear that the crisis in the magazine industry isn’t so much about plastering covers with hash tags, the problem is that everything looks and feels alarmingly the same.. We’ve come to a point in our popular and consumer culture where uniformity isn’t just stifling innovation, it’s also making consumers number and dumber.
…Magazines should focus on what their most loyal consumers are looking for – something new to read.”
From our point of view, many presentations and a number of articles later, the response we get from marketing teams is a consistent ‘Yes we agree, but how do we change things within the context of my organisation?‘ (sub-text: ‘where I don’t feel I have the power to do so myself ‘). Quite possibly the subject of our next initiative. Bring on the organisational change consultants!
9th August 12
This piece was originally published in Creative Circle’s 2012 Annual last month. It’s packed full of advice from the great and the good, with special mention to our own John Hegarty and also to Ben Kay on how to write an advertising blog. You can buy a copy of the annual in magazine form here.
Author: Nick Gill, Executive Creative Director, BBH London
‘Creative’. I’ve never really come to terms with this word. The very notion that some people are defined as creative, whether by trade or persuasion, I still find strange. Even if I wasn’t creative the last thing I’d do is admit to it.
When I was at school I never thought of myself as a creative person. Just someone who could draw and paint quite well. And these basic skills would be my ticket out of obscurity.
But growing up I soon realised that for all my talent I was never going to be an artist. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough. I just wasn’t made that way.
Because someone had tuned my brain to solving problems. Give me a blank sheet of paper and I’d break out in a cold sweat. Ask me to draw a picture that included a giraffe, a lawn mower and a magic carpet and I’d enjoy working out how to cunningly weave these three seemingly disparate objects into one satisfying image.
I went to art college in Manchester. I stood in the graphic design studio on day one, waiting for a tutor to read out my name. But it never happened. This is because they had me down for another course. One entitled ‘Design for communication media’. ‘What’s that when it’s at home?’ I enquired. ‘Advertising’ came the reply. And that’s how I got into this business. I fell into it. Like a drunk tripping over a chair leg and landing in the arms of Charlize Theron. I am one lucky bastard.
Because advertising is a great career. And ‘creative’ is a truly wonderful way to go through life. To make money out of your imagination is as exciting as it is scary.
What have I learned from my time in the business? Here are a few things that might help. Read full post
19th July 12
Authors: Fran Hazeldine, Head of Strategy and Pelle Sjoenell, Executive Creative Director, BBH LA
A few weeks ago we asked Planners and Creatives from a range of agency backgrounds to fill out a short survey about the Planner / Creative relationship.
As promised, we’ve got some results to share. If you like your slides with added innuendo, our Planningness presentation is available here. But it’s quite minimalist and really needs the voice over, so we’ve summarized the main findings below.
A few notes on the sample
The 324 respondents were a mixture of self-selecting BBH Labs readers, people from our extended professional networks and anyone else we could persuade to take part. So there are probably all sorts of research effects that mean you shouldn’t take any of the results as hard fact – more food for thought and discussion.
What do we know about the survey respondents? Not surprisingly, we had more Planners than Creatives. And the Creatives tended to be more experienced and male. There was also a heavy North American and European skew across the board.
But despite collecting a mass of demographic info, the results we’re sharing are not split out by gender, age or region. We tried cutting the data along these lines, but any variation was remarkably unremarkable. So instead we’ve focused on the simple comparison between Planners and Creatives, which turned up some much juicier stats. Read full post
18th July 12
Posted in storytelling
Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH London & BBH Labs
The girl, Nina , is dressed for a meeting. “I’ve only got two business plans left,” she states matter-of-factly. She places two objects on the table in front of me: a condom, and a pouch of pills. “I would be very grateful if you could decide.”
I hesitate, and the girl’s mask of professionalism falters. “These are my only options, so could you choose…please..?”
In that moment, I realise that my choice is her choice, and her choice is the choice of a hundred young people across London.
At an IPA event on Tuesday, Saatchi’s Head of Planning Richard Huntingdon commented that “beyond all else, what we do is empathy.” It’s true – the comms we create should be an act of empathy towards our audience. When the problem is just right, empathy itself can be the answer. Complicated issues of debate – particularly around things like social justice, where the topic is one we don’t like to discuss – can lose people in the discussion. When the most important measure of success is understanding, the quickest route to the head is through the heart, as empathy. Parents know this. When they try to convince children of the wrongness of a situation, the phrase you’ll most often hear is: “well, how would you like it if…?”
When we feel anger or distrust towards someone we’re often told to walk a mile in their shoes. As humans, we’re actually very good at playing roles and seeing things from another person’s point of view – if we get the right prompts. But executionally, it’s a fine balance. You have to manage the audience’s experience positively enough to draw them into a character, and only then can you subject that character to their (often harrowing) fate. Finally, the immersive experience must offer the ‘immersed’ some sense of redemption, the sense that there’s something to be done to give this character a better future than their present. Only then can the audience leave not just with understanding, but with the desire to act.
One of the most profound cases of alienation that divides “us and them” is shocking because it’s so everyday – homelessness. Centrepoint Parliament know this all too well. They campaign to raise awareness of youth welfare, but it’s easy for the messages to get lost in the debate. We all remember the point and counterpoint that swirled around the London riots last August. Whose responsibility was it – the kids’? The media’s? Blackberry’s? British society was about to give up the youth for lost and no amount of rational discourse would overcome those images in the press of a burning M&S, a looted Tesco, a burnt-out car.
Centrepoint Parliament needed a way to viscerally cut through it all – and over six months, we worked with them to find it. The answer came directly from recordings of the youth hostel itself. No rhetoric, hyperbole or ‘advertising’ could match a simple recreation of the truth – this was Nine Rooms, an experiential theatre piece devised by its own members, with help from BBH. You are placed directly into the worst scenes of a young homeless person’s life – the loneliness, the idleness, and the dilemmas.
My choice made, I hand the item to Nina. Her expression flickers with pain but all she says is a polite “thank you for your time.” She collects her notes and walks out, leaving me alone with the untaken choice, and a sense of gratitude that I’ll never have to make this kind of decision for myself.
They are scenes that we all have suspected are happening to ‘someone, somewhere’, and internally written off as the facts of life. To be forced to go through them – to wear the shoes – drags them out of the realm of statistics in the head, and into a the form of a nuanced human experience in the heart. To read the impact Nine Rooms had on people is both affecting and uplifting. It’s clear that the power of the performance has made this a brief well answered:
“Powerful and emotive. So well done to get in touch with the reality of homelessness. Portrayed in a way which allows the audience to feel what the characters feel.”
“Moving and very effective – being so close and personal made it a hard journey.”
“Powerful stuff. Is this really going on in London? We all get so tied up in our lives that we don’t know what’s really going on. Thank you for the experience.”
There were tough strategic choices to be made, too – we reasoned that delivering a powerful experience for the few was better than a message that would get tuned out by the many – as long as those few were so impacted that they would pass it on. The sense of shock and outrage we got from our comments book shows that it’s worked. And as we said above, immersive theatre at its best doesn’t just affect people, it moves them to take action – in this case, signing the petition to restore careers advice services so that no young person has to make Nina’s choice.
From ‘events’ like Secret Cinema to political projects (Coney’s Early Days Of A Better Nation) and even new twists on horror, both secular (Hotel Medea) and sanctimonious (see the rise in the US Evangelical concept of the scare-you-straight “Hell House”), immersive theatre has come into its own as a way of heightening reality for a media-skeptic generation. Even traditional media becomes that much more powerful when technology lets us step into the scene (see the experiential touches of our own work for Missing People). Whilst at its most shallow, ‘experience’ is a play for PR-able creativity, at its best, it’s a dose of empathy that’s truly transformative.
Ask the residents of Nine Rooms.
You don’t have to have been through the rooms to take action – sign Centrepoint Parliament’s petition here.