Russell Davies

Don’t Be Boring

Written by Phil Shipley, Annie Little and Josephine Kiernan

Everyone knows that other people’s dreams are boring, but that you’re going to get told them anyway. The same is true about conference recaps. My half-baked reconstruction of the fascinating talks from last night’s Interesting conference is nothing compared to the joy and passion shared by brave souls talking rapid-fire about topics ranging from gnome sex to feminist picture-books, via the connection between synths, squid, and the military industrial complex. Yes, it really had everything…

But if I’m going to have to recount a talk –  my personal favourite was Tim Dunn‘s on the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum. He told the story of the recovery of Sierra Leone’s heritage through a trainspotter’s quest to find some lost locomotives. Once located, they created a wonderful museum, digitised an archive, and gave training and jobs. They had taken a niche passion and done something with it that makes the world that little bit better.

The main feelings I left with were: inadequacy at my limited hobbies, and a small flame to just get on and do something that I care about.
Phil Shipley, Strategist

From the impressive variety of weird and wonderful topics that were covered at Interesting 2016, one that stuck with me the most was Ade Adewunmi’s TV evangelism. She repeatedly emphasised how much she loves TV. I am a TV sceptic, with the shows I currently watch woefully limited to Bake Off and First Dates. I am not a box set binger or series devotee. But Ade’s perspective on how we learn and test ourselves by watching these shows made me a potential convert.

I found her premise that TV is the arena in which we can reconsider our social constructs, prejudices and push the limits of what and who we experience in everyday life in an importantly low risk environment, a new way to think about the shows that are broadcast every day. I, like she, consider myself to have a relatively liberal outlook. But to include those who live more conservative lives, we are all offered a socially acceptable window into experiences beyond our own, allowing everyone to experiment with ideas without effort or offence. Definitely a good reason to spend more time in front of the box I think.
Annie Little, Strategist

Somewhat hazy from the fervour of London’s Conway Hall mixed with the effects of too much free Waitrose wine – for which now, thanks to the unapologetic wine taster‘s speeches, I can detect notes of marmite in – I found myself travelling home on the tube, writing a letter to my 4 year-old niece about the importance of pursuing whatever it was that she finds interesting. This may be largely due to a mother‘s talk on her plight to create a gender-equal inspiring and imaginative literacy landscape for young readers – so all children can explore whatever career they wish, without gender stereotyping.

In any case, for someone who has always binged on sources of inspiration and consumes TED Talks more hungrily than a 12″ pizza, last night’s Interesting conference could not have been more, well, interesting. The sheer eclectic spread of topics covered; from digging up graves to vibrating underwear, the speakers’ passion points reached into the far corners of our imagination and stirred up, certainly in me, a desire to apply my free time more freely and interestingly.
Josephine Kiernan, Account Manager


Phil, Annie and Josephine were all at Interesting2016, curated by Russell Davies. ‘Diamond Geezer’ has a full round up of what went on there, here.

Common Sense, Dancing

Author, Agathe Guerrier, Head of Strategy, BBH Labs and BBH London

What happens when you cram the Crème de la Crème of contemporary marketing thinking into the RSA, in front of an audience of senior agency planners (and a few clients)?

Heated intellectual debate and a widespread sense of existential industry angst, that’s what.

On the 2nd September 2015, the IPA gathered Byron Sharp, Russell Davies, Les Binet, Paul Feldwick and more for a day of intense marketing “Unlearning”. It was like condensing the half dozen most influential books recently published on the subject of brand strategy, into a single day. And then I’ve just condensed that day into a succession of little one-sliders, one for each speaker (see slides 4 to 33). You’re welcome.

(For more books you won’t need to read, follow Matt Boffey’s excellent weekly Booknotes in the Drum)

It was a really fun, inspiring and brilliant day – but I couldn’t help thinking that we (= the planning community) were making it all sound more complicated and dramatic than it needs to be.

Here’s what I took out of the event:

  • There isn’t a “silver bullet strategy” – a single solution that works every time. The best strategists are those who are fluent in all the various theories and approaches, and based on whatever problem they’re faced with, use a mix of logic and imagination to pick one, combine a few, or even make up their own.
  • Each of the “theories” that were presented and debated on the day, tends to lend itself particularly well to a specific type of brand or issue (again see slides 4 to 33, and thanks to Dare’s Toby Horry who suggested this simple trick on the day).
  • The debate between people who see brand building as an art, and those who see it as a science, has gone on for years. It’s been exacerbated in the recent years by the parallel rise of Data + Behavioural Economics + Digital transformation – but it’s not new.
  • All the evidence points to the fact that it’s actually a mix of both emotional/ long-term/ brand building and rational/ short-term/ sales driving strategies that drives the best results.

So, how do we help brands grow?

By doing two things in combination:

  1. Remove barriers to usage or purchase by ensuring the product/ service works very well and is widely available. Think hard about whether new entrants could seriously disrupt the brand’s route to consumers by removing barriers that were thought of as immovable.
  2. Make the product or service really sticky mentally, emotionally and functionally by creating memorable assets/ features that are distinctive and salient.

So… There you go. Having basically cracked “strategy” (with a little help from my friends), now feels like a good moment to bow out. I’m leaving BBH and BBH Labs this week. I’m off to do new and different things that will still probably remain connected to brands, people, and technology’s ability to impact our lives.

It’s been a wonderfully ride, and I’m hugely honoured to have been heading up Labs for the last 3 years. I leave you in the safe hands of Jeremy and the BBH crew. Please stay in touch.