23rd November 12
The Guardian’s Editor, Alan Rusbridger, came into BBH earlier this year and spoke to a group of us about what it takes to deliver open journalism. In particular he described how one of his most awarded journalists, Nick Davies, operates day-to-day. He shared three or four articles Davies had written recently, breaking down the anatomy of each story in meticulous detail. And it properly sank in that “open journalism” doesn’t just mean simply laying the news bare, unfiltered, checked or analysed, nor does it mean opening up a new fire hose of information in the hope someone will make sense of it.
Perhaps the clue is in the phrase “Open Journalism”. As they say at The Guardian, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. The Guardian staff are information omnivores, analysts, fact checkers and storytellers. And, as Rusbridger put it to us, there are 3 characteristics that define ‘craft’ in journalism. Very few journalists master all three (Nick Davies is perhaps a rare example), but here they are:
1. A relish or hunger to find out new intelligence
2. The intellectual ability to see patterns in that data; see the big picture and understand the facts
3. An ability to write beautifully
It sounded strikingly similar to what makes a truly great Strategist in an agency. Three things a Strategist usefully might aim for, either way.
Good weekends, all.
31st October 12
In 1983 Celtic troubadours The Waterboys released a song called “I Will Not Follow”. I’m pretty sure it was a response to U2′s anthemic “I Will Follow”. Answer songs have a rather mixed history (though I’m grateful to the category for providing us with Roxanne Shante and Althea & Donna…), and I suspect “I Will Not Follow” was not The Waterboys’ finest moment Nonetheless, I admired their courage in taking on the emerging Titans of Rock. And I loved the sentiment. The determination not to go with the flow, not to follow the masses, not to get lost in the crowd. A passionate rejection of passivity. A celebration of the power of negative thinking.
When I was in my last year at College, thoughts turned to possible careers. It was the late ’80s and , in the wake of the Big Bang, there was a magnetic pull towards the Big Job in The City. It was natural, obvious, exciting. The dark satanic thrills .. I recall my decision not to apply for a City role felt more significant to me than any subsequent active career choice.
I used to interview young graduates looking for a job. I found that their CVs were curiously similar. When asked what they’d achieved in life, they’d say they’d travelled to Asia, captained the hockey team, and they liked skiing and reading. But when one asked what the candidate had chosen not to do, more singular answers were forthcoming.
Some of our most important decisions are the paths we choose not to take,the roads we refuse to travel. Our lives can often be best understood by mapping the things we didn’t do, the words we didn’t say. Perhaps we should more often consider a brand’s unspoken truth, quiet regret. Because in its silence and inaction may reside its strength and identity.
‘If you gave me a pound for all the moments I’ve missed,
And I took dancing lessons for all the girls I should’ve kissed.
I’d be a millionaire, I’d be Fred Astaire’
ABC – “Valentine’s Day”
My first job after College was as a Qualitative Researcher. ‘Brand elasticity’ projects were very much in vogue. Could this everyday family margarine perhaps be a cheese, or a biscuit, or a ready meal or a jam? With a sip of Chardonnay and a nod of assent, my respondents would consistently give the green light to a whole host of reckless innovations and insane brand extensions. And over the years the song has remained the same, even if the lyrics have changed. Could my brand be an experience, a portal, a membership club? Could it be a hotel, a hub, a content provider? Could it release a clothing line with rugged check shirts, boxer shorts and rain resistant outerwear? Isn’t my brand more a lifestyle choice than a yellow fat?
Curiously perhaps, research respondents find it easy to endorse our grandest aspirations. But then it’s not their money and maybe they’re just being polite. Sometimes it seems we need to be better at defining the limits of our ambition, at identifying the red line, the point beyond which we will not go. Sometimes we need to demonstrate more restraint, more discipline, more negativity.
Many Clients are instinctively suspicious of the negative perspective. Surely it betrays a lack of confidence, enthusiasm, ambition? In order to sustain consistency they develop processes and platforms, models and matrices, funnels and formats. But best demonstrated practice is often worst demonstrated imagination. Over the years negative thinking has inspired truly exceptional communication by the likes of Dunlop, Audi, Marmite, Volvo, Stella and Guinness. What would a world be like without this brand? Who are its enemies? What is its weakness? Whenever one is confronted by the bland, boring or undifferentiated, it’s always helpful to reach for a liberating ‘not’.
Of course in the age of the social web possibilities seem infinite. We want campaigns to be all embracing, 360º, holistic. We want to tick off platforms like some bizarre game of I Spy. We want all the colours in all the sizes. Yet I wonder if the democratisation of knowledge and opinion creates a kind of accelerated conformity: the Consensus of Crowds. Surely brand behaviour on the web would benefit from a little more negative thinking? Perhaps more discipline and self denial? Maybe we need to see more of the brand that likes to say ‘no’, the brand that will not follow…
Every morning I face the horrors of commuting as I change Tube at Kings Cross. Crowded, crushed, compressed. Downbeat, dour, depressed. In order to get onto my teeming southbound train into the centre of town, I walk along the less cluttered northbound platform. Periodically empty northbound trains stop and then recommence their journey out to the quiet leafy suburbs. I’ve always promised myself that one day I’ll jump on one of those empty northbound trains, make my way to the end of the line, find a caff and settle down to The Guardian, bacon, eggs, tea and toast. One day…
3rd October 12
It is quite obvious that we here at Labs are huge fans of both the open source community, and idea of social-coding platforms. It would go without saying that being fans of such a community is not enough, one would argue that we should not only be an observer, but also a participant. That being said, we looked at a few of the internal projects and experiments we have worked on and felt that at this point we should share bit of code with the rest of the Internet.
What began as an exploration in Processing quickly became a prototype and finally a solid bit of code that is a complete application. We called it The GIF-A-MATRON, and it is a processing application that interprets the brightness of the webcam’s image and translates it to dots that scale based on that image creating abstract interpretation. In the background the application detects a vistor’s motion and secretly captures three frames, two seconds apart and creates an animated GIF. The GIF is then send via PHP to a destination tumblr site for all to see.
Once we showed it around to a few folks, people instantly liked it. The next logical step was to release it as source for others to build upon, and interpret into what ever they see fit. It’s primary function is something like a animated gif generating photo booth, but we are interested to see where it goes from here. Feel free to grab the source from our Github page. If you do add a twist, let us know, we would love to see what you do with it.
25th September 12
Posted in Sustainability
Authors: Kimberley Gill and Mareka Carter, Creatives, BBH London
Do we really, really, want those Louboutin shoes? Can’t we live without that hand printed wallpaper? Maybe we can all take a little step back from what we think we want or need, and consider the realities of other peoples lives. Pinterest struck us as being the perfect place to highlight the contrast between its regular users’ lives and those who have far less, giving us a bit of a reality check.
Our charity partner AMREF’s focus this year is maternal health – in particular young girls in rural Tanzania who are becoming mothers as young as 11 years old, due to traditions and lack of sexual health education. So Pinterest is our chosen platform to give a young mother a voice to express herself and the realities of her life.
Our search for a girl who would become AMREF’s voice for the project started back in April. The AMREF team over in Tanzania put forward Sihiba Yusufu, a girl who had become pregnant at the age of 11. Now 13, Sihiba is trying to bring up her baby and look after herself. She feels strongly about what happened to her and doesn’t want it to happen to any more young girls.
What seems like a really simple and quick project has actually been a little while in the making, for the important reason that we wanted this project to be as genuine as possible. The Pinterest account has to be from Sihiba herself, and not by AMREF on her behalf. There have been many challenges along the way – the iPhone got stuck in customs, helping Sihiba learn to use Pinterest, working out the logistics of keeping the phone charged in rural Tanzania. And of course making Sihiba’s safety a priority – so she has the support of an AMREF peer educator during the project.
Sihiba’s Pinterest profile can be found here: Please follow her and her boards, comment on and share her images and her film, to stand up for African mothers and help create social value from pinning. Let’s use social media to show what people need, rather than what they desire.
You can also donate to support AMREF’s important work here.
25th September 12
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
My father worked for a time at a gasket factory in Romford. One Christmas he presented me with a corporate diary he had been given by an industrial felt supplier. Inside they’d printed their slogan: ‘You need the felt. We felt the need.’ I loved that line. I thought it was so funny, clever and beautiful at the same time.
I was at school studying for my A Levels: Latin, Greek, Ancient History. It was a robustly academic diet. I found that, having immersed myself in Homer, Horace and Herodotus, I was increasingly distracted by Essex fashion and soul music, pub banter and puns. I was drawn to the facile, frivolous and foolish. I guess it was a kind of mental displacement.
In the early ’80s, pop was revered anew in the UK. In the wake of the ponderous rock and precocious punk of the ’70s, we embraced ABC, Haircut 100 and Dollar with gusto. We believed in the beauty of the three minute pop song: shiny lyrics, shallow sentiments, shimmering production. We believed that there was an integrity in pop that raised it above the pretentious posturing of the indie crowd; that there was a kind of perfection in its brevity and wit. We believed that love itself was fragile, funny and transient.
Around about that time I determined that I’d one day like to work in advertising.
‘And all my friends just might ask me.
They say,”Martin, maybe one day you’ll find true love.”
I say,”Maybe. There must be a solution
To the one thing, the one thing, we can’t find”’
The Look of Love, ABC
In my 20s I noticed my social circle was narrowing and deepening. I was spending more and more time with a tight knit bunch of close friends. Although I greatly enjoyed their company, I became concerned that my conversation was increasingly predictable, that I was reinforcing my own prejudices and opinions. And so I set myself the task of developing a broad but shallow social set. I endeavoured to ensure that I saw a lot of friends infrequently. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this particular game plan. It was frankly rather exhausting).
Nigel Bogle once complained that Planning had a nack of digging down to Australia to discover the meaning of a paper clip. In my brief, and I have to say less than successful, tenure as Head of Planning at BBH, I endeavoured to address this. I transposed my ‘broad and shallow’ strategy to Planning: I encouraged the department to experience more things less profoundly; to work on more projects less intensively. Broad and Shallow Planning was to be my legacy to the strategic community. Strangely it was never widely adopted…
I guess I have always felt a little uncomfortable with the elevated status we afford brands nowadays. We talk of trust and love and ideals. Loyalty, passion, faith. Visions, missions, purposes. It sometimes strikes me as faintly bombastic. Brands as Wagnerian heroes. The Emerson, Lake and Palmers of consumption. The high concept action movies of marketing. Roll the credits. Lighters in the air. Cue the helicopters. Cue the smoke machines. Cue Coldplay. Cue Ghandi…
Surely not all soft drinks can save the babies, not all toothpastes can launch a thousand ships. Surely many brands have more modest roles to play in people’s lives. The fleeting glance, the quiet companion, the casual acquaintance. Shouldn’t we of all people be celebrating the inconsequential, the insignificant, the incidental? For these foolish things are truly the stuff of life.
‘A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces,
An airline ticket to romantic places.
A tinkling piano in the next apartment,
Those stumbling words that told me what your heart meant.
These foolish things remind me of you’
These Foolish Things, Eric Maschwitz & Jack Strachey
Finally, a word of caution. We have all learned to ladder up to higher order concepts and social goods. Ordinary, everyday brands get to leave behind base functionality, to sup with sages and kings. And often it serves a brand well to give it a higher purpose and social resonance. But beware the Icarus Effect. You may be playing with the Pomp Rock of Planning. In a Creds meeting once, I told a High Street optical retailer that his brand gave consumers the gift of sight. He excused himself and said he was due back on Planet Earth.
So don’t get me wrong. I love a big, ambitious, high ground, universal idea as much as the next man. I love brands with vision, confidence and courage. I’ve even nodded along to Coldplay occasionally.
But, just for once, let’s raise a glass to the little guys, to the not-so-crazy ones. Here’s to the inconsequential, the incidental and frivolous. Here’s to the modest, the momentary and fleeting. Here’s to swimming in the shallow end.
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!