A Year of Linking Dangerously

Angie & Me, by Eric Pickersgill, from the series 'Removed'

Wow. That was a year. Below a month-by-month selection of the linking and thinking that kept us ticking in 2015. Thanks, as always for reading and sharing so generously and thanks in particular to the many many thinkers, makers and doers who have inspired us this year. Happy Holidays.


January kicked off with some predictions and questions for the year ahead. We learned that brands should be wary of saying BAE and that new media continued to attract emigres from bastions of ‘old’ media. Our ‘media diet’ (in Mark Zuckerberg’s words) included a novel made of gifsa choose your own adventure story on twitter and an ad for facebook from 1995.

February was all about the numbers. 1000 chrome experiments. Buzzfeed’s big, big day. A tinder bot made 21 matches, we learned that 15% of the half billion daily searches were new to google and that a five second film could make a jolly good 3 minute pop video.

In March, SXSW happened again. Disney nailed user experience, Tinder got into the surge pricing business, General Electric digitized BBQ-ing, Argos got on the 3D Printing wagon and best of all, Jim Carroll started a blog!

A quiet month, April, apart from esports discovering performance enhancing drugs, the algorithmic bots reading our tweets for stock tips, the first brand story told on Whatsapp, the unveiling of Windows Holographic, this history of Rube Goldberg machines and a fitness tracker that generates bitcoin from your exercise.

Millenials stopped to dance on the beach in May and the rumblings of the content wars that would last the rest of the year were first heard. Delta meme-ified their flight safety film, Slack thought about the sound of emoji, Yahoo! told us to use filters if we want our pics liked, and GIPHY RELEASED A GMAIL GIFIFICATION CHROME EXTENSION!!!! And lastly, Mad Men finally got with the programme.

‘People didn’t really like anything about our product’ read one entry in this directory of failed startups. Then, a GoPro ‘fell’ from space, algorithms got into art criticism, HoloLens + Minecraft = awesome, Taylor Swift got on and got off a royalty high horse and then all our afternoons disappeared watching TumblrTV. June. Quite a month, eh?

The launch of Apple music dominated the first week of July – could radio be about to make an unlikely comeback? And in other music news, some guy made a whole album in an Apple store, the Youtubers climbed abord the rock’n’roll tour bus. And while we experienced the joy of deep-dreamify-ing stock photography, the rest of the month was filled with a sense of loss, ennui and ‘exponential despair‘. So much for summer.


An obituary for Google+, Jack’s Baa-aaa-aack (well, on his way back), hipsters on fixies confuse Google’s self-driving cars, google became alphabet, adblocking became ‘a thing’ worthy of serious consideration, Vanity Fair laid the blame for the ‘dating apocalypse’ at the door of Tinder and the Ashley Madison hack rattled nerves. Befuddled by all of August’s ‘news’, we sought solace in nostalgia, reveling in this history of the Space Jam website and relishing Cameron’s World, a paean to simpler, more wholesome times.

Is productivity really all there is? Was flash really so bad? What can pollsters learn from social media experts? Is advertising trapped in a vicious Immodium/Ex-lax downward spiral? Do we really want a web without ads? How do Pixar tug on our heartstrings so? Was Minority Report a documentary? Can too much TV be a bad thing? Oh September, always with the questions.

Labs’ October was bookended by a couple of highlights – firstly the welcome return of Labs crush Jonathan Harris whose long overdue new work, Network Effect, made us ask ourselves the question ‘Did we make the Internet better today?‘. And at the end of the month, we helped with the third incarnation of SXW1, BBH London’s digital expo, inspired this year by it’s TOTALLY coincidental simultaneity with Back to the Future day.

MORE MORE MORE, from Network Effects, used with permission of the artist.

MORE MORE MORE, from Network Effects, used with permission of the artist.

In November, we picked a fight with advertising legend Dave Trott. We wrung our hands in anguish over signs that we live in a post-literate society. We fretted about what Facebook’s content push meant for traditional publishers. We asked how many of our media colleagues were slacking. We broke the internet, on purpose. And we mentally prepared ourselves for the awakening of the Force.

Nearly there now. The best Twitter bots of the year. The economics of social media fame. A working cellphone in Minecraft! The appeal of VR. And the potential problem of VR’s appeal. People are naming their babies after instagram filters. Yes, really. And last but not least, ‘Advertising is thankless. Morally dubious. Usually pointless. Shockingly dysfunctional … There’s no education like it in the world.’

So, thanks, advertising. Let’s do it again in 2016, ok?


2014 – a social round-up

Author: Damola Timeyin, Social Strategist, BBH London

Each week BBH’s social team send round their ‘digital digest’ – their pick of week’s most interesting social/digital news. So to round off the year we asked them to look through their archives and highlight the most significant events of 2014 – the stories we should all keep in mind as 2015 arrives.

1. ‘Dark Social’ now 75% of all shares

Dark social relates to inbound traffic that can’t be tracked, such as links in emails, Whatsapp chats and some forums. 75% is a large chunk that can’t be accounted for and has implications for optimising digital campaigns for these kinds of user journeys. To put it in context, Facebook accounts for around 19% of all social media traffic.

2. YouTube releasing music service

Following hot on the heels of Vice and Live Nation, YouTube launched their own music streaming service, Music Key. The distinguishing feature of the new service is its advertising free stream and unlimited access to the Google Play catalogue, anytime, anywhere.

3. Merecedes lets you create own car on Instagram

Mercedes are getting a reputation for being at the forefront of digital when it comes to automotive brands. In this campaign they allow users to build their perfect car, choosing colour, wheels, grill, roof etc from separate accounts which are linked through the tagging functionality. There are 132 possible configurations and it’s well worth 5 minutes to have a play. Point your Instagram towards @GLA_Build_Your_Own

4. Facebook announces new Atlas cross platform ad network

Atlas claims to deliver ‘people-based’ marketing, helping brands to reach their audiences across multiple platforms, devices and even linking to offline sales.

In a nutshell, Atlas will follow users across the web, making a note of the ads they see, interact with and act upon and tie that information back to their Facebook profile, without the use of cookies.

Additional benefits will be in depth analytics that allow marketers to create far more complex user journeys to purchase; linking mobile ad views, desktop engagements and  a real world purchase all together. Genius but creepy.

5. Women now account for 52% of the gaming audience

The success of mobile games such as Candy Crush, challenged perceptions of who a gamer could be. The latest IAB study on gaming, provides further evidence that UK gaming habits and demographics have shifted considerably.

Based on interviews with 4,000 UK residents, the research asserts that women now account for 52% of the gaming audience, up from 49% three years ago.

This change in gaming behaviour presents a new opportunity for advertisers to reach 33m UK gamers, 61% of which, according to the study, would be receptive to in-game advertising if it allowed them to acquire the game for free.

6. Twitter launches ‘Buy Now’ button

The launch of Twitter’s ‘Buy Now’ is their biggest step into eCommerce and enables merchants to directly link tweets to sales. Twitter have teamed up with several eCommerce platforms to implement this new functionality and make the user journeys as simple and pain free as possible.

7. The Ice Bucket Challenge goes mental!

2014’s newsfeeds were dominated by more than a few videos of people dumping ice cold water on their head and nominating others to do the same to raise awareness of ALS and hopefully donate some money along the way.

Although there was criticism of the campaign, it has to date raised $22.9 million (compared to $1.9 million over the same period last year), spawned 2.4 million videos and recorded over 28 million interactions on Facebook alone. Although a simple mechanic, not everyone gets it right

8. The revolution will be televised

This year’s Ofcom Consumer Attitudes report provides further evidence of television’s dominance, however shows a clear shift in the context of TV consumption, from TV sets to computer, tablet & mobile screens, particularly amongst a millennial audience.

The increasing consumption of TV content in a digital environment presents more opportunities for brands to reach and engage audiences, but also raises challenging questions about the split of future advertising spend.

9. Is Snapchat any good for advertisers?

It’s been around for 3 years and there are now rumblings of an ad solution.With 100 million monthly users worldwide and half of all UK teenagers claiming to have used it, there is definitely potential. There is also speculation that Yahoo are investing $20 million into the app. Watch this space… See what some industry folk have to say about it here

10. Instagram bigger than Twitter

In what came as a surprise to many, this year Instagram reached a significant milestone, a milestone which places social network above Twitter in terms of monthly active users. With 300 million active users, Instagram is still far off Facebook’s mammoth 1.3 billion mark, but demonstrates its capacity to showcase the ‘live pulse of the world right now’ in the same way Twitter has become famous for.

And a bonus piece of December news…

…11. Google launches ‘Store visits’ metric to help prove online-to-offline adword impact

 The latest salvo in the Google-Facebook Ad Wars has the search incumbent tracking logged in mobile users from website visit to store visit to demonstrate that effective online advertising can drive offline traffic. Fascinating implications, not least for privacy.

A Public Service Announcement


I am happy that I’m not going to indadvertedly click a link on twitter and find myself watching a video of the beheading of James Foley. But the removal of this video and other content from Google, Twitter and Facebook raises important questions about media, freedom of expression and control of information.

In the digital age, we are nearing the point where an idea banished by Twitter, Facebook and Google all but vanishes from public discourse entirely, and that is only going to become more true as those companies grow even further.

Should Twitter, Facebook and Google Executives be the Arbiters of what we See and Read – Glen Greenwald

As is pointed out here, this is not a question of censorship. Rather it is an editorial decision, made on perfectly reasonable moral and taste grounds and at the request of the family of James Foley. And while we might completely agree with the decision in this instance, are we happy for Facebook to delete content created by Syrian dissidents? Or not remove videos of other gruesome actions that do not involve Western journalists. Or allow the publication of live tweets of IDF military actions against Hamas? These complex religious and geopolitical issues are throwing up new moral, social and editorial challenges for technology companies. But as these companies morph into not just media companies, but media itself, it is becoming important to ask what precedents are being set? What actual policies are at work?

We have no rights beyond what the companies give us in their terms of service, where quaint ideas like the First Amendment have no application.

The New Editors of the Internet – Dan Gillmor

The huge centralized web services such as facebook and google, the Stacks as Bruce Sterling calls them, are making these editorial decisions because we’ve both asked and allowed them to. They are incredibly useful services and incredibly convenient services and incredibly free services to use. We might not pay with our wallets, but instead we pay with our views, our content, our shares, likes, retweets and our profiles. If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product being sold. We know this. Facebook and Google and Twitter ultimately can decide what goes through their pipes – if we don’t like their decisions we can take our cat photos elsewhere, however inconvenient that might be.

So, if we’re the product, who are the customers? Brands, obviously, who love the convenience and the scale and the data and metrics they get from their paid-for relationships with The Stacks. And brands too, make sacrifices when they embark on these relationships. The world of brand microsites was one of variable quality, but vast variety. Today’s uniformity of branded voice and imagery, the identikit, out-of-the-box formatting solutions provided by tumblr and facebook and youtube can almost induce nostalgia for the visual assault of the World Wild Web. Again, google and twitter and facebook have the right to design their pipes their way – if brands don’t like the formats on offer they can take their content elsewhere, however inconvenient that might be.

I am relieved that my kids can watch youtube without clicking on a thumbnail and seeing James Foley’s horrific murder. But I am also telling them that if they want a place on the internet where they are not the product, a place where they are the editor, where they set the precedents and make the policies, a place that is theirs, then they will have to own it and pay for it and make it. They’ll have to buy a domain and manage some hosting and create some content and establish their own digital identity. And they’ll have to deal with the inconvenience and freedom that comes with it.


[note – this post was provoked by links on NextDraft, Dave Pell‘s excellent daily newsletter]

Winners, Losers & Learnings – the first truly social Brit Awards

Author: Alex Walker-Sage, Social Engagement Director, BBH London

Big. Noisy. Full of celebs. LIVE! Music and Entertainment together, in harmony. With the potential for stuff to go wrong. And including a new Twitter vote mechanic half-way through the show. Wednesday night’s new, improved, social 2014 Brit Awards had all the ingredients necessary to provide the perfect opportunity to take a look at the social media landscape and see where we’re at. This is the sort of big, one-off event moment that the twitterati love right?

Well, overall, yeah. The picture’s a pretty glossy and impressive one. For one, Twitter revealed on Thursday that the event was the most-tweeted about TV show in the UK ever, with the live TV broadcast attracting 2.17m posts about the show, and a further c.2m messages sent in relation to the social vote.

It, as you might expect, smashed the social stats of all other the other shows that aired to smithereens:

Verdict: The Brits won.

And the social vote? That, predictably – due to the number of their teen fans heavily-reliant on their social channels for day-to-day survival – was won by One Direction, with their fanatical fan-base ensuring they took home the gong for Best British Video.

Verdict: 1D won.

The introduction of a live and transparent voting element via Twitter was a pretty obvious ploy to encourage involvement from the audience and ensure the event impacted those on other platforms who may not have been watching, or frankly even care it was on. And, whilst an obvious next step in award-voting terms, there’s something pretty exciting here about a live, commercial event brand, with global reach, handing the power over to its audience for chunk of it’s output. Ok, there was pretty much no risk involved, but the fact the power dynamic was shifted for a small window of time into the audiences’ hands is to be applauded. The immediacy of social should see this type of moment become common-place across all types of different pieces of traditional ‘broadcast’ output.

Verdict: Twitter won.

We all know then that social is at it’s best when allowing transparency and a bit of a shift of power to the masses to deliver powerful, cumulative results that can, ideally, make big stuff happen. The Brit Award sponsors MasterCard know this, their PR agency apparently did not, sending out emails to journalists asking that they guarantee coverage of their client in event write-ups in exchange for their attendance. Cue much discontent. Cue twitter rebellion.

A rebellion that led to their paid-for Twitter trend pointing people to an article dissecting the whole sorry social mess in the greatest of detail.

A quick analysis of social sentiment for MasterCard (the entire brand, not just that specific to the Brits debacle) across Twitter from Wednesday to today is as follows:

Positive: 3%

Neutral: 71%

Negative: 26%

Verdict: MasterCard lost.

Clearly there’s a whole load of things that are wrong with this approach but the number one and two take-outs should be about knowing your audience and maintaining transparency. Then there are loads of other learnings around having amazing ideas, being consistent with them, ensuring they match up across all media, and are executed perfectly and in a timely fashion. For all of these (and much, much more) come talk to us.

As a final point, and because I love Daft Punk, it’s worth touching on how successful brands can be when they get their involvement in events like this just right. On brand, irreverent, and perfectly pitched for the media it played out in, this effort from Paddy Power doesn’t really require much more explanation:


A similar Twitter sentiment analysis to that described above shows the following:

Positive: 36%

Neutral: 57%

Negative: 7%

Verdict: Paddy Power won.


  • Twitter, enabling real-time interaction and engagement that can effect real change in live content output in particular, is only going to grow in importance, and it’s vital that brands navigate their way through the noise to achieve real cut-through whilst maintaining transparency

  • Whilst MasterCard was everywhere in the few weeks leading into the awards, as well as on the night itself, Paddy Power proved it’s not necessarily about ‘owning’ the event (and all the associated costs that come with that), but more about cutting through the noise at the right time with a strong creative idea, well-executed. 1D fans did it by all coming together at a single point in time. The Brits and Twitter did it through enabling audience involvement, offering a single point of interaction in what could otherwise be a traditional broadcast event. In the right hands, social can and should deliver a powerful perspective.


Six Seconds of Divine Banality

There have been a few attempts to create the ‘instagram of video’ – social, accessible, allowing a moving moment to be captured, broadcast and shared with minimal effort. So far many of these have failed because of the inherent difference between still and video photography; stills can be understood in a microsecond, a video is a sequence that the eyes and brain need time to process.

Now we have Vine, from Twitter, which seeks to address this difficulty by allowing a maximun of six second films that autoplay as soon as they hover into view. It’s new and there are obvious missing pieces (Vine embeds and links? Inability to save a Vine in progress etc etc) but the launch buzz is there and within a few hours of launch brands were already adding Vines (as I guess we’ll have to call them) to their twitter editorial programme.

In this piece, Nathan Jurgenson says that for him it is when Vines are collected together, as on peekvine or justvined, that value emerges from the banality of videos so far shot:

“The trivial nature of most of the individual Vines becomes fascinating in aggregate. It might be the very triviality that seems profound: that so much minutia from across the globe comes together so instantly just for us on our screens.”

I’m not convinced that collating triviality is in itself a game-changer. But in the same article Jurgenson talks about how Vine ‘asks us to see the world as potential quick cuts stitched together’ and this is potentially a more interesting behavioural differentiation from video apps that have come and gone before.

For just as instagram has taught us that with the right filter applied, any moment on earth can look more beautiful, more profound, perhaps we will see stop-motion animation elevated to the form that documents our shared social existence, six seconds at a time.


Author: Emily Woolf (@emii), Strategist, BBH New York

It’s Monday. Almost an average Monday at the office, but today I went above and beyond my routine and made myself a salad for lunch! Partially due to the fact that Fresh Direct came this morning and partially because I’ve been attempting a gluten free diet, this leafy green point of pride made today special and I couldn’t wait to share it with the world. Some may call me an oversharer (cough: @barneyrobinson) and some may make fun of my food Instagram tweets (cough: @saneel), but I wasn’t going to let either rain on my parade. So, I sat at my desk savoring my spinach and beet salad, fork in one hand, iPhone in the other snapping away to get just the right shot, then scrolling through to apply just the right filter to capture the magic of my homemade goodness. And I did. And I sent my color saturated, Lomo-fi filtered picture straight to Twitter. And guess what happened? Within 5 minutes @PretzelCrisps had started following me and had Tweeted at me.

Of course I immediately DM’d back, excitedly starting a conversation with a brand that I had no opinion of about 5 minutes prior.

As you can see, the conversation centered around what they could do for me and they always responded within a minute. All in all, an extremely, and refreshingly human exchange.

This experience got me running around, ducking in and out of offices to tell people about it. Everyone was in awe of @PretzelCrisps’ behavior, as well as how they continued to engage me. It was a quick, powerful burst of brand dialogue, in the vein of a social media fling. @PretzelCrisps just proved that creating a relationship isn’t that hard in a conversational environment when you’re adding to the experience (complimenting me) and not asking much for much in return (an address for instantaneous delivery). They just made a huge impression on all of @BBHNewYork, both as consumers, and as industry folks aspiring to help make brands human.

Kudos and thanks @PretzelCrisps.

The answer to this Quora? No.

The question-and-answer site Quora is a big deal. It has some powerful supporters, with early content posted by a diverse group of digerati from Steve Case to Robert Scoble. It’s the talk of the media (see Google Trend of the word Quora).  There are weekly articles on how Quora will be bigger than Twitter.

So, I guess it was inevitable that I’d hate it. To clarify, it’s not that I don’t like Quora. It’s that I hate it and want it wiped off the face of the earth. In a missionary effort to reach those few that are yet to form an opinion on this site equivalent of an Uwe Boll movie, I offer the following 3 reasons to resist boarding this bandwagon.

It’s spam.

This site diabolically infects those with the largest spam potential. I guess when a site is launched by the former head of Facebook Connect, it’s inevitable. By launching after Facebook established critical mass and Twitter became a big deal, Quora made a splash in the saturated question-and-answer site category. So, giving people the opportunity to be in the spotlight with their answer to an already-answered question is an ingenious way to drive audience and usage by appealing to ego. And I don’t even mind ego-stroking. I just don’t want to be repeatedly spammed across my various feeds as people whose content I otherwise love and trust fall victim to name-in-lights syndrome. Then again, if I could convince people I invented tape, it might be worth it….

There are dozens of Quoras about what Quora is.

OK, so maybe #Twitter was a trending topic on Twitter the first 6 months. But those conversations were focused primarily on usage and innovation with the platform. The Quora self-referential conversations are literally people scratching their heads looking for value. There’s no better sign that the emperor has no clothes people. But until we admit it, we’ll just keep tweeting how awesome he looks in that special toga (author’s note: this has nothing to do with how awesome I think the hashtag #emperorsclothes would be, promise).

Quora is attempting to differentiate itself via answer quality.

This is defended through its use of Facebook Connect (real people!) and an interest graph (curated topics!). Here’s the thing about quality: it’s inversely related to scale on the web. Generally, users or an algorithm are required to remove the noise. Last I looked, countless services already do this. They go by ticker symbols like GOOG, have David Fincher movies made about them, or add a new user every second (most of whom request a professional recommendation after a single meeting together).

So, let’s sit this Quora thing out. We were able to resist Google Wave and Ping. Let’s make it three in a row that we tried and let pass quietly. This isn’t to say I don’t respect the effort or experimentation of any company trying something new (Google & Apple are incredible at innovation investment). In Quora’s case, I just think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it via my newsfeed.

Now world, if you’re not on board, pretty please give me a heads-up that I’m taking on a lost cause.

Then I can start a new Quora-related Quora: “How can I get a job at Quora?”

{Update: I’ve agreed to write a follow-up post to either eat my words or discuss what I got right after some, ahem, encouragement from readers. So keep an eye out!}

{Update #2: We asked Leslie Barry to elaborate on his comment below and he’s posted a rebuttal, explaining the unique value of Quora I’ve neglected in the post above.}

Mapping Twitter Part 2: The Tweet-o-Meter


Came across this today. Tweet-o-Meter (link) is the beta version of a platform created by University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. The Tweet-o-Meter supposedly updates every ten seconds (not sure it does quite do that right now), showing the number of tweets in each city per minute. The ambition is to log and analyze all geo-located tweets in these major cities. Once logged, they will be used to show Twitter activity over time and space. Various kinds of maps will be the main output. I imagine a variety of delicious visualizations will be forthcoming.

We are possibly attracted partly by the simple analogue-feel, dial-based interface. But we’re also struck by yet another work-in-progress attempt to bring life to the data spawned by Twitter (see also Getting to Know Your Twitter Followers & Why that Matters from earlier this week).

Tweet-o-Meter is part of a broader project called NeISS (National eInfrastructure for Social Simulation), another UK Government-funded project. Read more about it here.

And of course it also reminds us of of the work by Google’s Aaron Koblin on visualizing SMS messages sent on New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam in 2007 (see below). We imagine as Tweet-o-Meter moves forward through beta they’ll need to figure out how to marry Koblin-esque visualizations to their gushing pipe of data. Bringing magic to the mayhem.

Amsterdam SMS messages on New Years Eve from Aaron on Vimeo.

Amsterdam SMS messages on Queen’s Day from Aaron on Vimeo.