Bits to Blogs to Bots – Goodbye from @Melex

A few weeks ago Mel Exon (yes, that @melex), BBH Labs co-founder and BBH London MD, broke the news that she was leaving the Black Sheep pastures for, er, pastures new. It’s taken us a while to get over the trauma but we’ve managed to prise this piece from her, covering Labs, nineteen years at BBH (yes, 19!) and some typically righteous thoughts about advertising culture. So get yourself a cup of tea (or perhaps a perfect manhattan in tribute to Mel), sit back and enjoy. 

Thank you Mel, and keep on keepin’ on.


19 years' worth of career detritus

19 years’ worth of career detritus


It’s something of a tradition at BBH Labs to ask a leaver to write a farewell post as they depart. As co-founder of Labs, I’ll admit this feels a little weird. Not least because a hell of a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that day:

No-one asks what’s all the fuss about any longer.

“Innovation” and “digital transformation” are words that are used a lot and not delivered upon nearly as often as anyone would like to admit.

We’ve made new agency models and then we’ve revised them.

The blogosphere morphed into the social web which made everyone a publisher now, goddammit. Or, in fact, a bot.

Over the past decade, Moore’s Law died and software is eating the world as the social web, mobile and the cloud between them change, well, everything.

And if that weren’t enough, AI is the new mobile. Boy, have we been waiting for this. Like, really waiting.

But when we founded Labs it wasn’t so. The Turing Test had not been passed. No Whatsapp, no Snapchat, no Instagram, Facebook had barely stepped out of college dorms and YouTube had launched just a couple of years previously.

There were so few people on Twitter we actually went to tweet-ups to meet other users IRL. Over the years we were lucky to get to know the people connected to creativity, technology and media who were brave enough and stupid enough to put their heads above the parapet; to voice their thoughts and opinions, to test and put stuff into the wild. I refuse to call this a ‘community’, but this is a group Labs and I are indebted to, whether they know it or not. A particular hat tip to @malbonster and every single member of the @madebymany crew, @brainpicker, @markcridge, @cindygallop, @cdixon, @saraewilliams, @anjali28, @sprinzette, @faris, @bud_caddell, @conradlisco, @danlight, @amelia_torode, @katylindemann, @garethk, @thaz, @edwardboches, @soulkat, @ivanovitch, @lenkendall, @teaellu, @caseorganic, @neilperkin, @katiedreke, @jemimakiss, @aleksk, @inakiescudero, @cotton, @sandoz, @mikearauz, @hellokinsella, @adliterate, @iboy, @r2rothenberg, @hondanhon, @willsh @jtwinsor, @iaintait, @nickfarnhill, @nikroope, @jessgreenwood, @slavin, @utku, @heyitsnoah, @brianjeremy, @uberblond, @ladygeek aka @belindapalmer, @tobybarnes, @kathrynparsons, @rickliebling @nicoleyershon and to my BBH Labs comrades-in-arms over the years, @glickglick, @patsmc, @endofu, @marcowens, @benshaw, @helenium, @jamescmitchell, @saneel, @jeremyet and of course Labs co-founder, @malbonnington, who wrote his own farewell post here, still well worth the read.

In setting up BBH Labs towards the end of 2007, Ben and I wrote a business plan heavily inspired by the principles behind Lockheed Martin’s skunkworks. But the truth is our plan bore little resemblance to what Labs then became. In fact I’m fairly certain that BBH Labs has survived thus far because of – not despite – a liminal, ever-evolving and gossamer-thin definition of its goals.

Its purpose was simple though. To think and experiment with emerging stuff (read: new behaviours and new technologies), in the hope we’d develop other stuff (read: prototype processes, products and agency models) that might prove useful down the road. Later, when the word “innovation” became so overused it started to lose meaning, we called ourselves a “marketing R&D unit” instead. Not sexy, but broad enough to let us do our thing.

Labs was not, and is not a gadget shop, a future trends report factory, nor a conference, although we have always attempted to give back to the conferences where we’ve learned the most over the years.

Labs has made money, but it is not a money-making endeavour held to a commercial target every year. If anything, it’s been a mistake-making machine. And boy, have we made mistakes, infuriating an entire industry and occasionally sparking outrage despite our best intentions.

The real purpose has always been to learn, publicly and privately. Openly exposing our thinking (and our ignorance) outside the walls of BBH directly increased our velocity and improved our output. Giving our ideas away meant others repaid us ten times over with their feedback and their own ideas about how to make the work better. Despite years of hearing the opposite, we learned that openness doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

Back then, it felt like we were working in an industry culture that seemed trapped in a box of its own making, chasing its tail and chewing on its nails with a mix of boredom and tamped down disquiet.

So we also wanted to rediscover some of the stubborn, deep irreverence of this industry’s past and learn to love a steep learning curve again.

A cycle began to emerge, where we would then attempt to apply the useful learnings before heading out in discovery mode again, rinse and repeat. The ad industry certainly had some (un)conscious knowledge and skill gaps, but we knew those were gaps that could be closed. The much more fundamental issue was cultural: which companies were prepared to evolve, which people wanted to adapt?

In fact if there is one, overriding thought I take with me now, it isn’t an ill-advised soundbite about the future of marketing or a breathless observation about technology (although there are at least eleven, bona fide reasons to be excited about that).

It is this: culture is strategy.

I joined a place like BBH for the work, I stayed for the culture.

Back in 2007, I was lucky to be part of a company that was prepared to take risks. To let a few people remove themselves from the lucrative commercial food chain that was the ad business and “to cut the apron strings’ with the mother ship…or else you won’t bring back anything useful” (Gwyn Jones). A culture unapologetically obsessed with creativity and difference, and with making the work better.

Just like brand strategies, the strongest organisational cultures are both distinct and consistent. Basecamp’s Jason Fried puts this much better than I can:

“You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behaviour..the result of action, reaction, and truth…real culture is patina.”
~ Jason Fried, ‘You don’t create a culture’, 2008

As an expression of culture, one of the three founders of BBH, John Bartle, gave a speech when he left the agency in December 1999 which has stayed with me. He spoke about the enemies of creativity, or “the 3 ‘C’s”, as he called them:

and Conservatism.

Thinking about what I’ve learned about culture from everyone I’ve worked with, I want to add another 3 ‘C’s to John’s list, three allies of creativity:

and Compassion.

Starting with CARE.

“People know when something has been made with care or carelessness.”
~ Jony Ive

It’s often seen as not cool to look like you care, but I’d urge us all to stop giving a sh*t about that.

I’m not the first person to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that almost nothing great is won easily. But then ease isn’t the goal, excellence is.  The writer Kate Mosse, when repeatedly asked what makes her successful, says she replies along these lines:

“It’s almost embarrassingly simple. I work hard. At first it’s about completing the famous 10,000 hours that make you competent at something – you don’t just start running a marathon or become a concert pianist overnight. But it’s also about the time you spend in the moment, rewriting and rewriting the sentence in front of you until it’s perfect.”

I distinctly remember joining BBH in 1997 and being told in my first week that the agency was “definitely over”. But the thing about companies like BBH is that they never give up. Wherever we end up working, for the work to stay great over decades not days, we have to care: stay hungry, stay positive and Do. Not. Drop.The. Bar. For. Anyone.

Onto my second ‘C’… CURIOSITY.

Dustin: “I have a science question. Do you know anything about sensory deprivation tanks, specifically how to build one?”

Mr Clarke: “Erm…why don’t we talk about it Monday, after school, okay?”

Dustin: “You always say we should never stop being curious, to always open any curiosity door we find.. (shouts) WHY ARE YOU KEEPING THIS CURIOSITY DOOR LOCKED?!”~ Stranger Things, Series 1, Chapter 8 “The Upside Down” (Netflix)

I’m fairly sure that simple curiosity was at the root of why we started Labs. Dissatisfaction and discomfort with the status quo had a hell of a lot to do with it too, but wasting our breath dissing the old – or the new for that matter – wasn’t going to get us very far.

Instead stubborn, relentless curiosity turns out to be the single best way to break new ground. Although genuinely ‘new ground’ rarely looks particularly pretty or, for that matter, easy to reach. Nor is it popular. One of the phrases I’ve held onto grimly is borrowed wholesale from an old BBH endline for Levi’s – Originals never fit. (It’s also a critical reminder that having a like-minded client like Kenny Wilson makes life a lot better and easier).

Curiosity also helped us deal with change. Being curious meant embracing new technologies at their gawky teenager stage, getting to know them before their rough edges were chamfered away and they grew to become our titanic overlords. We simply learned more that way. Under a decade ago the social web was being laughed at, mobile was still dismissed, VR and AR were initially ignored, not to mention the fact that many of us are faintly scared of Artificial Intelligence right now…. But let’s not shy away. In the words of Nigel Bogle: run at the future, not away from it.

Not least because user behaviours inexorably change and evolve. Irregularly, sometimes frustratingly slowly, sometimes so quickly it takes your breath away. But they always change.

So far, so obvious. But I suspect it follows that “change programs” are inherently foolish endeavours. By the time one is completed, a new one’s needed. If we have to subject ourselves to a training program, let’s coach ourselves to be adaptive instead. To help us cope with the fear of looking stupid and learn to love learning again. As my friend Pelle puts it, “the agency of the future is one that can change.”

To get inspired, I highly recommend reading science fiction like Alice Sola Kim’s (thank you to Lenny Letter for that tip).

And listening to podcasts that explore the edges. There will be at least a grain of truth to nibble on and hell, if it’s a little weird or tangential, roll with it. Our minds are elastic: they like being stretched.

As I write this, I can sense the tension between two thoughts here: on the one hand, the consistent behaviours that create real company cultures and, on the other, the need for those same companies to be adaptive. My simplistic answer is to add them together: a strong culture is consistently adaptive. Let’s hope so.*

A curious mindset will also make you want to listen to and debate with different voices. If you’re lucky, a little while later, surrounded by a team of skilled, different-in-every-way and collaborative people you may feel you’ve formed the creative equivalent of Voltron. Super cool.

Certainly, people who don’t look like me or sound like me have done the most to help me see new corners of the universe, they have made the work better and the process of getting there way more exciting.

Which leads me, finally, to COMPASSION.

Look up the definition of compassion and it can sound passive, pitying. Even, god forbid, patronising coming from someone who’s grown up as a white, cis, middle class English girl. Instead, I’d rather define compassion as the urgent need to keep looking outside of ourselves.

At its most business-like – putting the human, egalitarian aspect of diversity to one side for a second – excellence and difference in output demands real diversity of input.

So it’s shameful that we still work in an industry where we have to keep correcting for the biases women face, the biases anyone of colour, anyone LGBT+ and anyone not born with a silver spoon in their mouth faces every single day until we reach equality.

But we do. If you’re still not sure how to act now, you can start by following these simple actions courtesy of Laura JB, Nadya, Karen and everyone who took part in the Great British Diversity Experiment.

And if you run a company, just do it already.

Then, once your own house is in order, it’s time to look outside. In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang:

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No, not just for some, but for everyone.”

Those lyrics may sound like a romantic hippy ideal, but 1965 was the year Malcolm X was assassinated and US combat troops were sent to Vietnam. Right now, with everything that’s going backwards politically and socially around the world and right on our own doorstep, let’s take those lyrics to our hearts.

And particularly our hearts in fact. The atomic unit of a creative business is an idea. A well expressed idea, big or small. We have this incredible super power: creativity that can move people to act, to persuade, to make them laugh and cry.

Let’s use that super power. Keep caring about the work, be curious, become urgently more compassionate. Be part of real cultures that make us proud.

To borrow shamelessly from Queen Bey herself: let’s get in formation.

>melex sys.exit<


*As I get older, I notice the intrinsic duality to life more and more. The ongoing crop of opposing ideas and opinions, not to mention the ambiguities we have to navigate en route to getting something useful into the wild. Trying to do this without quietly losing your mind is the new normal, so let’s take comfort in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words: “The test of a first rate intelligence is to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”


A Very Virtual Bedtime Story

Authors: Jab Borgstrom, Creative Director, Samuel Bowden, Producer and Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH London

Doing something for the first time is a great feeling, but doing something so new that you don’t have the set of references, the criteria, to judge the work you’re doing is a wonderful, intimidating and educational experience.

When Samsung offered us the opportunity to try and come up with an innovative new purpose for any of their pieces of technology, VR and specifically the Galaxy Gear VR headset was an obvious candidate. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, the chance to create a genuine experience ‘as authentic as in real life’ was too interesting to pass up.

‘People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.’ Kevin Kelly – The Untold Story of Magic Leap

VR as a consumer technology is still very new but what we saw when we started looking the growing number of exciting executions was that VR experiences are essentially solitary ones. You put on the goggles and are transported onto a surfboard, a rollercoaster, onto Mars. A recent, deeply affecting piece from The Guardian even puts you in the cell of a prisoner in solitary confinement – a great use of the technology and also a useful metaphor for the majority of VR experiences.

So when we discovered the statistic that a third of parents today are not at home to read bedtime stories for their children, we decided to see whether VR technology could bring a parent and child together, inside a real, virtual bedtime story. Could use Samsung’s technology to elicit real emotion and recreate the sense of closeness that is lost when parent and child are apart?

The use of technology to augment parenting is understandably a contentious issue and at no point in this process did we believe that our VR story should replace either books or parental presence in a child’s bedtime routine. Rather this is an experiment to discover if technology can be used to ease a modern tension and help parent and child stay emotionally connected when physical distance prevents traditional togetherness.


Given that we were embarking on a project without any precedents we knew that we would need both a guiding set of principles and a partner who could help us translate our idea into virtual reality. We found a perfect partner in Unit9 and together agreed that what we were making needed to behave as much like a bedtime storybook as possible. We needed to enable interactions between the parent and child, the reader and the listener, but these needed to be gentle and natural, designed to engage rather than excite a child. So not a game, not a completely passive story, but something in between.

The project was developed at quite a pace and we had several workstreams running in parallel. We had a bunch of fine writers working on and tweaking and revising the story that eventually became The Most Wonderful Place To Be. And we had illustrators and 3D animators creating a look and feel, trying different visual techniques to see what felt right. But it was when the two came together that we knew that a traditional, illustrated storybook world was the one for this project. It would be the animations and the fact that things were happening in 360degrees – up in the sky and behind the viewers’ heads – that would make this feel magical. Anything else – superrealistic 3d renders, papercraft etc – would be sensory overkill.

But as it is also not film – not even an interactive one – we needed to give the parent a child the opportunity to talk and interact ‘off script’ and the ability to control the pace of the storytelling. Incorporating VoIP into the VR experience was definitely a challenge, but one that we knew we had to overcome. Similarly giving the parent the ability to control the pace of the story – to pause and talk with their child between scenes was really important.

Explaining some of the concepts we were contemplating and sharing them internally and with clients also proved a challenge. At different points of the process we had to invent new metaphors for the interactions we were creating. Powerpoint builds and advancing between powerpoint slides was a very useful metaphor and one that both advertising and client teams got behind very swiftly!

This has been such a unique project that it’s hard to know what lessons we’ve learned that can be taken into future VR projects. If we were starting this again with what we know now, perhaps we’d have added a little more personality to the parent and child avatars each viewer sees. But when you are finding solutions to new problems that you have invented for yourself, you have to make choices on what to focus on and thankfully we had the principles we’d agreed on early in the process to guide us.

Most of the time, on most projects, there are canons of craft lore and decades of iconic work to compare what you are doing with. Working on this project was a step into the unknown and because of that liberating and terrifying in equal measures.


Creative Credits:

Client name and title: Dan Canham – Manager, Samsung Global Marketing

BBH Creative Team: Martin-Jon Adolfsson and Oksana Valentelis

BBH Creative Director: Joakim Borgstrom

BBH Strategy Director: Damien Le Castrec

BBH Strategist: Tom Patterson

BBH Chief Strategy Officer: Jason Gonsalves

BBH Chief Production Officer: Davud Karbassioun

BBH Producer: Samuel Bowden

BBH Business Lead: Julian Broadhead, Polly McMorrow

BBH Global Business Development Director: Tim Harvey

BBH Account Manager:  Lara Worthington and Katharine Gritten

BBH Copywriter: Nick Kidney

BBH Print Producer: Simon Taylor

Additional Contributors: Amrita Das, Richard Cable,Jeremy Ettinghausen,Vix Jagger, Chris Meachin, Alex Matthews, Sarah Cooper, Patrick Dedman, Kate Frewin-Clarke, Matt Bertocchi, Katie Callaghan

Unit 9 Credits

VR Creative Director: Henry Cowling

Art Director: Fred Aven

Teach Lead: Laurentiu Fenes

Lead Unity developer: Xavier Arias

Unity Developers: Kevin Borrell, David Diaz, Luke Haugh, Mark Vatsel, Riess Phillips Henry Illustration / Environments & Character Design: Christian-Slane

3D Artists: Sophie Langohr, Steve Campbell

Storyboard Artist: Sophie Conchonnet

Technical Artist: Josep Moix

UX Designer: Camille Theveniau

Designer: Mariusz Kucharczyk

Sound Design: Chris Green, Sound Design

Head of QA: Dominic Berzins

QA Lead: Eve Acton, QA Lead

QA Senior Tester: Tom Watson, Ayesha Evans

QA Tester: Andrew Heraty

Executive Producer: Richard Rowe

Senior Producer: Emma Williamson

Film Credits

BBH Producer (Film): David Lynch

BBH Assistant Producer: Sarah Cooper

Production Company: Black Sheep Studios

Editor/Editing House: Black Sheep Studios

Print Credits

BBH Producer:  Simon Taylor, Katie Callaghan

BBH goes Back to the Future


October 21, 2015 is the date of BBH’s digital expo, SXW1 (yes, a terrible pun-slash-homage to SXSW, based on our postcode in London) and this year we’re going Back to the Future. Some of us are old enough to be obsessive fan girls and fan boys of the film and the date on the clock in Doc Brown’s DeLorean at the very end of the film was, well, just too good to resist.

So on Wednesday, this agency is going to be festooned with Back to the Future memorabilia, listening to a killer soundtrack courtesy of BBH’s own Black Sheep Music and most of us dressed up as the cast from the ’50s, ’80s or Robert Zemeckis’ vision of 2015. Across his trilogy, Zemeckis helpfully dropped into just about every century, so we have options.

As much as it’s fun to park a begged/borrowed/stolen DeLorean outside our doors and dress up, this also happens to be the third, annual instalment of our digital expo. SXW1 is designed to be a day when we down tools as a company and just learn through doing; immersing ourselves until we bleed in the cutting edge of technology and interactive creativity, together. Three years ago this felt like a bit of a risk (“um, you want to close the company for a whole day?”), now it feels normal and necessary.

Under the leadership of our newly minted CXO, Adam Powers, this year the theme is largely – and naturally enough – about looking to all our futures. The future of photography (drones), the future of online advertising (the ad-blocking debate) to the future of TV. We will then close the day with a look at the future of religion, with the amazing Louisa Heinrich talking about faith in Elon Musk replacing faith in the Almighty.

In previous years, our stage has been graced by the likes of Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy and Ian Livingston, the Gamers’ Godfather. We’ve had Vine & YouTube workshops, Game of Thrones Oculus Rift courtesy of Framestore and pre-release gaming consoles. We’ve drawn gratefully on our many partners and friends – Google, Twitter, Vice, Buzzfeed and many more – to provide sessions that are hands on and get-stuck-in beyond the keynote speeches.

Most years there have been surprises. I imagine this year it will be no different. And if you fancy coming back to the future with us, we have a couple of tickets we’d like to give away. Just ping @bbhlondon or @bbhlabs on Twitter, or leave your name in the comments below.

For now, we leave the last words to Marty McFly: Time circuits on… Flux Capacitor… fluxing… Engine running… All right!

See you on the other side.


What We’re Reading – Summer Special

As a refugee from the genteel world of publishing, it’s been a pleasant surprise to realise that my colleagues are actually a seriously literary bunch, with a varied taste in books of all shapes and sizes. So here’s this month’s BBH reading pics, featuring narco-thrillers, classic fiction, philosophy, social commentary and, to kick off, the superest of superheroes.

Amazing Spider-Man #19.1, Written by Gerry Conway, Illustrated by Carlo Barberi, Reviewed by Matt Fitch, Creative


In this issue, Spider-Man finds himself caught between a cabal of super criminals known as the ‘Circus of Crime’ who are back and deadlier than ever.

To be honest, it’s not a great issue. There have been some great Spider-Man storylines recently (Death of Peter Parker, Spider-Verse) but it seems like for now we’re coasting through generic-ville while we wait for the next big plot turn.

But I don’t mind. I love Spider-Man. Always have, always will. He’s the superhero for the people, a timeless everyman who faces as many battles in his humdrum day-to-day life as he does in his crime-fighting moments.

Everybody, from teenagers, to students, to young professionals, to Dads (of which I have been all at one time or another) can relate to the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker.

Despite the fact that they’re now a mainstream, billion dollar industry, some people still maintain that comics are for kids. Spider-man proves they’re not.

Matt’s love of Spider-Man and comics in general have inspired him and his creative partner Mark Lewis to create their own comic, Frogman, which lovingly riffs on the whole comic book genre. The latest issue, Frogman 3: The Death of Frogman, is currently funding on Kickstarter, and you can read issue #1 for free here.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, by John Le Carré, reviewed by Sacha Ward, Head of Copy

It’s 1962 and Alex Leamas, a British spy in Berlin, is rapidly going to seed. But before he can come in from the Cold, he must frame and expose a high-ranking, deadly East German operative. Even if, after a career of deception, it means surrendering what little morality he has left.

Le Carré’s plot is as dark and devious as the times it was written in. More than 50 years later, it remains relevant – questioning the morality of intelligence gathering methods and whether a righteous end can justify any means.

The Cartel, by Don Winslow, reviewed by Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director


It felt a strange coincidence to be finishing this fictionalised account of the Drug Wars and their effect on Mexico as Joaquin ‘el Chapo’ Guzman was walking out of his high security jail cell through a mile long tunnel. But then again, fact is often stranger than fiction in a country where corruption, violence and collusion between criminals, law enforcement and government are all endemic, ever-present and devastating in their effect on ‘civilian’ Mexicans.

A sequel to the fantastic Power of the Dog, The Cartel can be read and even enjoyed as a bang-up-to-date narco-thriller. But as it would belittle the scope and gravitas of The Wire to describe it as a ‘police drama’, so The Cartel is, by way of Winslow’s research, empathy and ambition, far more than an unputdownable thriller. It’s powerful, brutal and illuminating – and well worth reading.

On The Shortness of Life, by Seneca, reviewed by Samantha Choo, Strategist
I’ve discussed this book with many, and the one thing that keeps coming up is how amazing it is that something written over 2,000 years ago is still so relevant today. In this essay, Seneca challenges the notion that life is short – it only seems short to us plebs because we waste so much of it. Life, he posits, is long if you know how to use it. This is not to say that we should bury ourselves in our work and become superhumans (or inhuman, depending on how you look at it), doing everything for everyone all the time – busyness is in fact the greatest distraction from living. We mindlessly and mechanically go through the motions, present ourselves at our obligations (work, family, society) while being absent from ourselves, mistaking the doing for the being. A must-read for anyone finding themselves empty day after day.


The Circle, by Dave Eggers, reviewed by Stephen Pirrie, Social Strategy Director


Dave Eggers’ The Circle is now a couple of years old – a lifetime in tech – but with each passing month, it becomes more like reality. Set in the near-future, Eggers introduces us to the world’s most dominant tech company The Circle. The Circle releases products that feel unnervingly realistic – not far off what Google or Facebook would release – the ability to search anyone’s past history (back to their colonial roots) or tiny connected cameras that can document everything from what’s going on in your home to personal interactions.

Eggers’ near-future is far from an obvious state-dictated dystopia which makes it all the more unsettling and unnerving – we already let this technology into our homes, willingly. The Circle raises profound questions we should all be asking of social media, personal data and privacy. Readers (myself included) may write it off claiming that we wouldn’t let an invasion of our privacy go so far – until you open the latest Photos app from Google, search for a “car” or “beach” and wonder how the devil Google knows what’s in your photos. More technology like this exists, the key holders simply haven’t turned it on yet.

How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran, reviewed by Charlie Dodd, Producer

It is shocking only by its ability to say the things that are absolutely true that I would like to be able to say without feeling shocked. I found myself hiding the pages I read on the tube this morning in case a man read these secrets of a 17 year old girl when the whole point of the book (and the basis of liberal modern woman) is that these things shouldn’t be matters for embarrassment. Most confusing and liberating. Not high literature but highly important reflections of woman and girlhood.

Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, reviewed by Selina Strasburger, Account Manager


I 100% admit to reading this book because I saw the movie poster on the underground. I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles ages ago and did not enjoy it … at all. She made me angry, he made me angry, everyone in the book made me angry, and it was all just so tragic. After that I decided to avoid Hardy as I didn’t think I could take the emotional trauma. However, I’m glad to report that Far from the Madding Crowd didn’t leave me a total mess. It stars a feisty young woman named Bathsheba and three very different men who are all after her affection. The book has all the drama and all the unfortunate happenstance that Hardy loves, but manages to maintain a thread of hope and humour throughout it. Well worth a read.


Digital Digest, Asia Pacific – February edition

We’ve enjoyed our friend Carol Ong’s digital digest out of BBH China for a good while now and it feels long overdue to share it. She has kindly agreed to cross-publish a monthly round-up of the best digital and technology stories coming out of China and Asia Pacific that she gathers at her blog. More on some broader implications to follow next month. For now, the February edition.

Author: Carol Ong, Associate Creative Director, BBH China (@cbongga)

Hi everyone,

I started a Digital Digest email group last year to curate some cool stuff I find in the digital space, particularly in China and Asia. A personal project originally intended for colleagues and clients, it got good feedback, and when other people asked to be in the mailing list…. I decided to post the newer Digital Digest to a more public space, on my personal blog (warning, lots of baby pictures!).

Mel also asked me to do a “Best of Digital Digest” on a monthly basis for BBH Labs. So here it is for this month. Happy Chinese New Year!

Just tap this link to go directly to the Digital Digests.

A peek into what the Chinease technology industry is like

Last year, upcoming Chinese mobile XiaoMi made the global tech geeks sit up and notice when Android star Hugo Barra joined them. He made a presentation in Paris on the amazing potential of China. Such as: disposable income triples in the last 8 years. 122+ billionaires and lots of them in the their 40s and 50s. Ecommerce, mcommerce, mobile social media and China’s version of Pay Pal are much bigger and better than their US counterparts.

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Have you tried hailing cabs in China and none would stop even if they’re all empty? Taxi booking apps exploded in 2013. People started “bidding” for cabs, by guaranteeing tips. The biggest ones, Kuaide and Didi, are backed by Alibaba and Tencent respectively.  In 2014, you can now use WeChat to book, bid, and pay Didi!

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With the rise of mobile came the rise of GIFs. But it’s so hard to search for the right GIFs, isn’t it? Not anymore. Enter frame Giphy (pronounced as Jiffy). It’s the search engine for GIFs. Try it, search “puppies”. You’re welcome.
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Very good tips for online films and TVCs.

Wechat evolves faster than a newborn baby! I believe this is the Chinese social platform with the most potential to become global (not Sina Weibo). Wechat’s reached 270million active users last November 2013, and 600 registered users. It’s the new marketing favorite and the uses seems endless. Here are some interesting ways brands used Wechat.

See all public Digital Digests:

That’s all folks! See you next month!


An invitation to party for #Good

Author: Nicolas Jayr (@nicolasjayr), Team Manager, BBH London

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BBH & Wieden+Kennedy are joining forces to organise a fundraising party in the name of #GOOD to support the T.I.E. initiatives which I will lead in Brazil with Grupo Ruas e Pracas and Hanne Haugen (Account Director @WK) will lead in Uganda with The Kasiisi Project.

Both of us thought it would be a great idea to unite our efforts and put up a night of music and entertainment to raise awareness of our projects and celebrate with everyone who will have contributed to the fundraising efforts.
Venue and date as follows:

Friday 11 October, 6PM to 12PM, Corbet Place, E1 6QR, Shoreditch.

There will be music, dancing, DJs from both BBH and WK sides and a fantastic live act in the name of the Danish artist, MØ (check her out here).

Most importantly, your presence will help support the work that Hanne and I will be doing for organisations that affect real social change.

Tickets are £10 per head. 100% of that will go to Grupo Ruas e Pracas and The Kasiisi Project, my and Hanne’s respect and Hanne’s respective projects.

To buy your ticket, simply check out and click on the green ‘Donate’ button on the top left of the screen. Last minute tickets will also be available on the door on a first come first served basis!

Social Media Week panel ‘Who owns this sh#t anyway’

Author: Sarah Watson, Chief Strategy Officer BBH NY @Sarahmwatson

We had lots of fun last week preparing for my NY Social Media Week panel ‘Who owns this sh#t anyway’. View the archived live-stream here.

The panel gathered individuals from digital, PR, creative and client organisations to discuss the inside scoop on how social media is actually being handled. For me, it was a great moment to take stock with BBH buddies old and new to think about how really, in our heart of hearts, our particular skills and values can help our clients’ brands in this area.

For starters, it was easy to observe how incredibly inefficient the whole system is at the moment. Clients routinely find themselves with 12 different Facebook/Twitter pages, run by different people, doing different things. Agencies which could be fruitfully collaborating are pitted against one another (by design or by default) in an exhausting land-grab. There are pockets of customer service, pockets of CRM, and pockets of brand engagement; often, each with a different client, budget and objectives.

The concerns of my co-panellists were those of industrial-strength Social Media; they had to listen like their lives depended on it – because they did. They had to be in constant command of everything going on out in the community and constantly responding proportionately.

We creative agencies have had our fingers burned in the past by vaingloriously striding out into this fray and getting it wrong. Others have too, for that matter, but our hubris (alas) probably marks us out. So, we have re-shaped ourselves incorporating brilliant people who will make sure we don’t do this again.

But, really, the big gaping hole which emerged is that no one is approaching this entire thing brand first. The ever changing list of new social channels that spring up and flourish, each with its own set of values, behaviors and tone must be understood and used appropriately – but these are simply new lenses through which to view a brand. The more lenses, the more rich and nuanced an understanding of the brand is required.

What makes us creative agencies different is that we look inside first (great phrase, Sam Jesse). We don’t work in red-hot real-time response mode; we might do sometimes, but its not our fundamental default mode. Our centre of gravity lies with caring neurotically about a brand’s mortal soul. Our units of measurement are ultimately the muscularity of the overall brand and how we can flex it to our clients’ advantage when required.

So – what did the panel conclude re: who, indeed ‘owns this sh#t’? My personal shot was that the role for creative agencies is as the ‘priest hood of the mortal soul of the brand’. In our rush to barricade the land-grab we mustn’t forget that we need to think even more deeply about the powerful, differentiated brand stuff which is going to be so much more exposed than ever before. We also need to take the total holistic view which helps shape the overall ‘flow’ (thank you Jason G) of a brand’s body language and what it means for our coms plan.

In short, look to your mortal (brand) souls; there are nasty algorithms out there, bored consumers and social media overload; if you don’t know truly who you are and why you’re relevant –  you’re going straight to social media hell.

Breaking A Sweat For Japan

Image credit: Dom Grant & Zak Razvi (@zakrazzle)

From 12pm GMT today, BBH’s global run/row/cycle-a-thon goes LIVE, streaming from all six BBH offices simultaneously for 24 hours straight. You can watch it happen via the webcams on the site. Please show your support by donating here, tweet #bbh4japan or leave a message for everyone breaking a sweat here. All donations, no matter how small, will help the charity we’ve chosen to support,, deliver emergency temporary housing, warmth and dignity to Japanese families who have lost everything after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

A whole host of people around the world in BBH offices got this up and running.. you know who you are. We also caught up with Dom Grant and Zak Razvi at BBH London who designed the art work to promote the event:

“We wanted to create a powerful image that worked on more than just one level. Using the iconic design of the Japanese flag, we replaced the red circle with a textured heart graphic. We then used the shape of Japan as a crack to depict a broken heart. We hope the image encapsulates our love and respect for the people of Japan.” Please give generously. A big thank you for your support, from everyone here and at

******AN UPDATE, 21.04.11******

As of this morning, we’re happy to report a whopping £27, 110 has been raised! Thank you to EVERYONE who donated and supported the effort.

Here are some shots from Japan sent to us by Shelterbox today:

Google Chrome – Behind The Scenes

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.