Daniel Siders joins Wolff Olins as (what we’re calling) Visiting Technologist. This is Daniel’s first guest post.
I wouldn’t call myself a technologist.
While my work involves developing and exploring technology at a higher level than most, it is fundamentally strategic and analytical. I ask the same questions about a new piece of technology as I do a brand: How are people using it now, Who will start using it in the future and in what ways? and most importantly, What unique possibilities exist because of and for this technology?
The answers to those questions, to the degree that they can be answered, inform discussions about how best to leverage the technology itself and its effects on marketplaces and society (ideally before anyone else does).
What does the future look like?
We’re in the early days of the information revolution, a period of cultural and technological changes with repercussions on a similar scale to the industrial revolution. It’s premature to speculate on the total scope (or sequence which is often more significant) of changes to come, but here’s a few things I see right now:
There are definitely some early leaders in the race to connect consumers with technology. What’s less clear is whether there is a maximum possible extent to their power, and if so what those limits are. Most significant technologies started out in the control of one organization and were later democratized. That process has rarely been smooth or easy for industry or consumers. It’s hard to imagine the rules will be different for information technology. Google and Facebook count their users in the billions. Whenever a company starts thinking about the day that every human on earth will be a user, I start looking for the tools that will replace them.
Entropy usually prevails given time.
Given how fast the world is changing and how many other brands want to participate in these spaces, it seems like the time is ripe for a massive wave of decentralization to hit everything from internet services to traditionally regulated fields like telecommunications and banking.
A variety of forces are lowering or eliminating barriers to entry in nearly every field. Simultaneously dominant players in most markets exercise unprecedented levels of control and influence. This period is marked by both an incredible rate of change and the phenomenal power of network effects. The combination of the two will leave many established companies with an undeserved sense of confidence until they have already been replaced.
What keeps me up.
Everyone is trying desperately to hold onto the power they have over others - governments, religious extremists, brands. What strikes me most is that this struggle seems to come not from lust for power, but the desire to remain relevant. The world changes and we change with it or fall by the wayside. There’s a cycle in human society and in nature — we contribute throughout our lives until we ourselves become obsolete and then someone else takes over. That cycle hasn’t changed, but it does seem to be speeding up. Technology makes the world change faster, perhaps faster than many of us can adapt. If brands are as slow to change as people their untimely demises could either fuel a revolutionary period of innovation or plunge the world into chaos. This is what keeps me up at night — the dual possibility of tremendous innovation and multi-generation stagnation from monopolies, and the inability to determine which we’re experiencing until after the fact.
I can’t imagine a more exciting time to shape strategy for the world’s best brands.
When I first met the Wolff Olins management I was impressed by the possibility to affect change through WO’s relationships with brands. So often I encounter a possibility for radical growth in a market but can’t reach key influencers or convince leadership to dive in soon enough to take advantage of the situation. I’m excited for the opportunity to help speed up that process and make sure possibilities are presented with more weight to the right people.
Mrs. Moody suggested we turn off the television this weekend. And so we went to Tate Britain – essentially a HD, 3D version of i-Player that predominantly broadcasts BBC4 content.
Throughout the course of the morning we managed to down a veritable cocktail of cultural influences. Changing the channel from James Martin to JMW Turner, toggling from Paul Hollywood to Klee. A mishmash of masterpieces and mass media.
I can’t say if it was the Chapman brothers poking fun at McDonalds with their creepy wood carvings or a creepy child, in a hat with a Pringles logo, poking fun at the Chapmans but I found myself questioning the crucial role the public has in making, breaking and forsaking brands. I also started to realise just what it means when something enters our collective minds.
Getting the public to acknowledge (let alone interact with) a brand is a distinctly Darwinian process. First, a brand needs to survive an early clubbing by studio and boardroom. Next, it has to negotiate PowerPoint pedantry, then a barrage of tricky focus groups. Then and only then can it face its toughest battle – a planned invasion of the public consciousness, preceded by more defeats than victories.
Public consciousness is not ‘the zeitgeist’ or ‘what’s trending’ nor is it simply ‘pop culture’. It’s not high art or low trash it’s a complex Gaga’ian mashup of all these things.
More importantly, it’s also a privileged space that, once earned, gives a brand license to behave in ever more creative, provocative and imaginative ways.
The Olympics opening ceremony was a fantastic display of the power of public consciousness - Brunel, Berners-Lee and Mel B all sat side by side in a fresh take on Britishness.
Over the pond The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular comedies on TV precisely because it skillfully weaves jokes about Schrodinger’s cat and CERN with everyday banality.
Wikipedia’s public consciousness transcends notions of class or cultural elites. It does not discriminate. It just celebrates what it likes and encourages true creativity.
Recently two chocolate brands showed how to and how not to embrace the public consciousness…
Google launched Android KitKat a seemly ludicrous amalgam of an operating system and the worlds favourite four-finger wafer snack. It was simple, daft, bold and warm. Brand cross-pollination that makes everyone smile.
Cadbury, meanwhile, got kicked out of the high court for trying to own a colour they already own in the minds of the public. Rather than trying to outlaw Pantone 2865C, Cadbury should be spending that money on more of the wonderfully weird stuff they do, like the current Christmas ad.
Creatives often think that if a product, service or expression has mass appeal then it’s a dumb sell out. Far from it. It means you’ve already got over the threshold, people know you, now they want to be impressed and amazed.
The public consciousness isn’t a cul de sac. It’s a drag strip where you have to constantly innovate just to keep up – and keep up you must.
Take Sony, years ago they exploded into the publics living room with a range of awesome products illustrated with the famous balls ad.
But then nothing.
While the product stuff remained smart, the way they talk about their brand is stuck in 2005. Today they are chasing past glories with an ad that references it’s history so hard it’s indistinguishable from a load of balls.
It takes a brave/idiotic brand to maintain a constant presence in the public consciousness. Kanye West’s brand activity implies he is both. You can’t deny that, having forced his way into the public’s minds, he’s behaved like a restless innovator and he revels in playing there.
Ultimately the public consciousness is hyper intelligent. Our collective mass knows their stuff and won’t put up with laziness. Brand builders should want to embrace all contemporary culture and not just busy themselves with their creative cliques. Stop being precious, stop worrying about selling out and drink it in. In fact Jäger bomb a bit of everything, at every available opportunity.
Everyone knows you’re a lot more creative when you’ve had a few…
Chris Moody is a creative director at Wolff Olins London.
Image credit: Mariel Clayton, after Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring from c. 1665
Sometimes brands find themselves in hot water. Sometimes it’s truly their fault, and other times it’s all part of an international misunderstanding about where people’s liquor comes from.
At least that’s the situation Stoli Vodka now finds itself in, following the public outcry to boycott Russian Vodka brands after the country’s recent enforcement of its draconian ant-gay legislation.
With bars around the country (including 200 in NYC) literally dumping Stoli in the street, the brand is facing a full-scale PR nightmare, replete with angry netizens taking to the Twittersphere to publicly condemn the brand with the hashtag and Twitter handle @DumpStoli. There’s only one problem—Stoli is no longer a Russian brand. Despite its longstanding reputation as a quality Russian vodka, Stoli is actually produced in Latvia and has been since 2002. That’s when Russian Billionaire (and Stoli owner) Yuri Scheffler, fled to Western Europe after Vladamir Putin issued a warrant for his arrest. The two were engaged in a heated legal dispute over the ownership of the Stoli Trademark, and Putin had made it his personal mission to hunt Scheffler down. When he left, Scheffler made sure to take his successful vodka business with him, and the Stoli headquarters were soon relocated to tiny Luxembourg.
What makes the Stoli story particularly complicated is what came next. In one of the more bizarre examples of brand imitation, Putin refused to let the iconic vodka go quietly into the night, instead helping to set up a state-owned “Stoli brand” to be sold solely within the confines of the Russian state. The name, packaging, and production techniques remained nearly identical, with the only noticeable difference being the words “Russian Vodka” printed prominently on the label of the Russian replica.
Of course, owing to the fact that consumers are more likely to associate quality with Russian vodka than they are with one produced in Latvia, Scheffler kept news of his business’s move relatively quiet. The result was a bizarre double life for the Stoli brand—one in Russia for the imitator, and another overseas for the trademarked original.
The problem is, the Stoli available here in The States—the one currently being poured in the gutters of America’s major cities to protest Russia’s oppressive policies—is not actually the Russian imitation. Instead, it’s Scheffler’s, from his company headquartered in Luxembourg. Add to that the fact that the vodka itself is made in Latvia, and the whole story becomes even harder for consumers to wrap their heads around.
It’s an unfortunate brand conundrum for Stoli’s founder. Whereas Stoli’s connection to the world’s preeminent Vodka-producing nation was once a defining characteristic of the brand, that same association has quickly become its biggest liability. It’s a situation similar to the one BP faced in the aftermath of 2010’s massive oil spill in The Gulf. Within a matter of days, the very product BP’s brand equity had been built upon, oil, had become public enemy number one. It took a long time, not to mention tens of billions of dollars, for BP to dig itself out from under the weight of public scrutiny and many could argue the brand has been irreparably damaged.
The question then becomes, when controversy engulfs an asset that’s so closely tied to your brand, how do you help consumers decouple one from the other? With the global lens focused so closely on Russia’s human rights violations, it’s a question Scheffler and his team are no doubt asking themselves, particularly as they look to draw a clear distinction between their actual product and the inherent “Russianness” of their Stoli brand.
Max Rosero is a strategy intern at Wolff Olins New York.
We love a good story of positive impact. So of course when we heard about Yazmany Arboleda’s latest global art project, we couldn’t help but share.
For the fourth installation of his Monday Morning series, the Colombian-born artist is planning to distribute 10,000 pink biodegradable balloons to commuters in Kabul, Afghanistan. Partnering with local and global human rights organizations, the pink balloons will represent women’s rights.
For all the New Yorkers out there, check out the 10,000 Balloons Pop Up Event happening on the Lower East Side next Monday, May 6, to help celebrate and participate in this incredibly unique experience.
10,000 balloons stands apart from Arboleda’s other Monday Morningpieces because for the first time, the series will be financed by people around the world. One dollar buys one balloon - an effort to create equal ownership of the project by all who contribute. Additionally, inside each balloon there will be a message from the person who bought it.
Arboleda calls this campaign a “living sculpture” that brings joy, wonderment and a new sense of awareness to people.
Rebecca Dersh works in marketing at Wolff Olins New York.
In the first of a series of interviews with inspiring female leaders, Wolff Olins’ global COO, Sairah Ashman, interviews Zena Bruges.
Zena Bruges is managing director of The Future Laboratory, a business that helps clients look into the future to understand how consumers will behave. After studying at Edinburgh University, she has led a number of successful creative consultancies.
What are the most significant shifts influencing your business?
The need for speed and flexibility. We’re increasingly working at an accelerated pace and need to be agile in our business planning, so we can adjust and adapt easily. Clients are relying on us to help them understand what the world will look like in 2, 3 and 5 years it used to be 10. Consumer tastes change far more swiftly now with product innovation and cycles needing to keep up. This is definitely influencing the needs of our clients and how we work.
What do you see as the key growth accelerators for you over the next 12 months?
We’re sitting on a product that not a lot of people know about, so we’re very focused on raising our profile as a way of unlocking growth. We’re also looking at expanding into new markets where our offer is attractive and effective which means mature markets rather than developing ones.
What role do you see brand playing in helping achieve your goals?
We’re hugely aware of the power of brand in the marketplace for ourselves and for our clients. Studies continue to reinforce this and and it’s especially the case for younger generations. Brands are very much an integrated part of life. Like you, we believe brand is an entire experience and not simply a corporate identity. Staying true to this philosophy as we promote ourselves and grow will be critical.
What or who inspired you in the early years of your career?
I spent an early part of my career in New Zealand. It exposed me to a really positive can-do spirit and gave me a sense that anything is possible. My boss at the time was also really good at helping me stretch, giving me room to deliver, encouraging me to trust my own judgement and to just get on with stuff. It’s really stayed with me and stood me in good stead as I’ve set up and run multiple businesses that sense that everything is possible.
What advice would you pass on to others just starting out?
Be entrepreneurial. Think about what’s good for the business you’re in. And what could be a new business even if you don’t want to set one up. Develop ideas and be an opportunity spotter. Be curious and confident, but never arrogant. And have fun!
'The Digital Age' is an immersive, seamless experience so pervasive that terms like ‘the Internet of Things’ are not at all silly - but trying to think critically about it - without resorting to its proprietary tools for thought - can feel like looking at an image in the mirror. Will ‘digital natives’ become better equipped to do this, or do they lack the perspective of having 'lived' elsewhere?
There is a lot ‘out there’ (on the Internet) saying that the Internet is eroding concentration, so I feel I should issue a spoiler: this isn’t that.
Last weekend I went to see the British Museum’s exhibition Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind, read (two more pages of) Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and watched the episode of Girls in which Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s depressingly familiar character, shunts, sloth-like, along her floorboards in total isolation for days on end, eating condiments from the jar and googling phantom medical conditions rather than finishing (or starting) her ebook.
Each examines human response to environment. Ice Age Art argues for its contents to be considered art, not artefacts - as much psychology as art history, Kahneman reveals we are on autopilot 95% of the time, and Lena Dunham is only moved to her feet when a splinter lodges in her rear. This unholy (and atypical in self-improvement terms) trinity of a weekend set the tone for a week in which I am going through a self-conscious patch in my longterm relationship with technology.
Paris Brown. The media reaction to 17-year-old Paris Brown this week made me want to take to my Facebook wall with a nostalgic status about growing up IRL, then, on reflection, to instantly quit Facebook and learn a craft or dig up the garden. Then came Zuckerberg’s Facebook Home. A subtle but rippling change – for which a clue is in the name.
Whereas Paris Brown, in trouble for adolescent over-sharing via social media, is a strange hybrid of a teenager (she was earning £15,000 as “adviser on youth” to the Kent police commissioner) her experience of technology is anything but. Social media is home. And, as recession is writ large over the property ladder like the buttons on a telephone for the partially sighted, it is likely to be the only place digital natives can store their lives for the near future.
I was born nine days shy of 1989. This is apparently the official birth year to qualify as a ‘digital native’ according to 89plus, the ‘diamond generation’ project curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist & Simon Castets. On a good day this means I was born prematurely - on the red carpet - just outside the ‘digital native’ domain, but on a bad day I identify with Lena Dunham’s ambiguous relationship with internet related prefixes; the word you recognise is still there (book), but the ‘e’ part just doesn’t sit right somehow. It’s a narrow twilight zone; between our elder siblings – who were on solid foods and playing swing ball long before MSN Messenger arrived - and Paris Brown, who cut her first milky incisor on Twitter.
Whilst justifying my surgical intimacy with Facebook to, say, my granny may feel like standing behind a tourist getting acquainted with their first Oyster pass (for any non-Londoners, that’s personally affronted and frustrated), I have decided to savour these few and far between moments of disconnect. Not calling it home, she uses technology consciously, deliberately, and with purpose - like a guest politely navigating someone else’s kitchen. Plus every “brand strategist” needs to be taken down a peg by their granny.
Olivia Sudjic is a strategist at Wolff Olins London.
They identify four fundamental culture types (although you can find several co-habiting in the same organisation in the form of different teams or business units).All 4 are determined by where they sit across two dimensions – sociability and solidarity.For example a low sociability and high solidarity score would indicate what they call a ‘mercenary’ culture – where the accent is on energy, drive and results.The opposite would indicate a ‘networked’ culture – where a feeling of friendship and family is core to what the business values and how it delivers.
The titles may feel provocative, but they don’t claim favourites.There’s no right or wrong approach, just what best suits your purpose and business environment.The book goes on to characterise the four different cultures in detail, what they look like when performing at their best and what happens when they aren’t.
Goffee and Jones also raise important questions around the ethical issues you might face in each of these cultures.Their premise being that work is not just about money, career and security, but also truth, goodness and beauty.Your work is an expression of who you are and what you believe.As such it makes sense to align yourself and your work with a business that believes and behaves in ways you can support.
It’s good to know that a company can migrate its culture from one state to another, although the journey looks more challenging in some instances.By necessity or design everything is possible with effort and application.
If you have an interest in company cultures, want to assess your own or even re-design it, this book is really good place to start.It’s been invaluable to my own work and maybe it will inspire you too.
We’ve had the incredible privilege of working with many great businesses and brands over the years.And some outstanding leaders too.But not all of them have been successful.Or at least, not as successful as I imagined they would or should be.
When I explore why, I find myself returning to the question of culture.It’s obvious that a leadership team should invest time, energy and money in developing a clear well thought through strategy.It’s a no brainer that some kind of operating plan will then be needed to deliver successfully.And of course some carefully crafted measures are then required to signal priorities, assess progress and course correct.At some point along the way the question of how to motivate, inspire or simply communicate to ‘the troops’ comes up.This is usually when the wheels come off.
Any leader or business thinking about involving their people this far down the line is in for a rough ride.Creating the ideal conditions for your people to thrive, equipping them to make the many decisions needed daily to deliver effectively and recognizing their contribution in producing a positive outcome isn’t an after thought once your strategy is set.It’s the thing that will determine your success.
If strategy is primarily a cerebral exercise, then culture is largely an emotional one.Strategy is about decisions and directed action, culture is about behavior and choice.You may have the power to tell me what to do, but you certainly don’t have the power to tell me how to feel about it.And it’s how I feel that will determine how I perform and what my impact will be.To ignore how strategy and culture live together and inform one another lies somewhere between corporate ignorance and suicide.
So what makes a great culture?In truth, there is no universally ‘right’ or ‘best’ culture for an organization.It’s a question of creating a culture appropriate for your purpose and business environment.Richard Branson does a great job setting the context for Virgin Atlantic.Michael O’Leary does the same for Ryanair.It’s unlikely you’ll ever confuse the two in terms of focus, spirit, ethos or operating practices.But they’re both successful.
Most folks would rather work for Virgin than Ryanair of course. And it’s clear that businesses with a purpose beyond profit generally pay more attention to how they treat their people, partners and customers. They generally outperform the market and their competition over the long term too. Just ask Jim Collins, he researches and writes about it – a lot.
By design and default we’ve created a very strong and positive culture at Wolff Olins.Over the years we’ve evolved our strategy, reorganized ourselves many times, changed leadership and tinkered with our business model.But it’s only when we’ve unknowingly and gently drifted from our core purpose and values that we’ve ever felt unsettled and unsure of ourselves, prompting the need to refocus and rebalance.
At Wolff Olins our business is very much our people.I think we all get, in a very literal sense, that what we deliver is a direct consequence of how we feel.If the right conditions are in place for all of us to treat each other well and thrive, then so does our work and our business too.
Over the years Wolff Olins has welcomed many wonderful newcomers with a friendly “we don’t expect much from you while you’re here, just that you do the best work of your lives”.The job of leadership around the place has always been to make sure we get what we need to do so and enjoy it.
With this in mind I’d encourage any business to take a very upfront people centred approach to strategy development and to perhaps consider the following:
Hire wonderful people…better to have 100% of the right attitude and 70% of the right skills.You can only train for one of these.
Focus and liberate…be disciplined and explicit in your goals and boundary setting, then encourage everyone to be experimental and individual.Best of all give everyone the tools and resources to be successful.
What gets measured gets managed…pick your metrics carefully and ensure you understand their cause and effect.Make one of them to listen very carefully to your people and customers – they’ll tell you everything you need to know to be a success.
Practice what you preach…whatever your culture, this is where the rubber hits the road.We learn by sight, experience and action.Make what you do and how you conduct yourself as a business matter.
Pay attention to what you celebrate…everyone else will and it makes crystal clear what you believe in, reward and stand for as a business.
And if you’re wondering why your strategy isn’t working then it’s probably time to ask your people where you’re going wrong.Better still, make them part of creating the answer.
London-based designer Tomi Lahdesmaki just launched Forage Press, a new collaborative publication for artists, designers and illustrators to contribute music “articles,” (visual interpretations), born from their favorite music inspirations. Tomi is a Finland-born designer currently working with Method London (via San Francisco). We chatted this week to learn more about the new project.
LA: How would you describe Forage Press?
Tomi: Forage Press is both an online and offline publication and collaborative platform. It celebrates the union between audio and visual creativity through original, visual-based articles that are composed by creatives across the globe.
How did you come up with the idea?
Mainly the idea was born from my own desire to create the type of content that Forage Press will feature. I am absolutely crazy about music, and often find myself inspired to create visuals based on my favorite bands or artists. I wanted to open up the idea to others instead of just creating them on my own. I’ve found from my professional experience that much of the creative community is equally inspired by and passionate about music. So the idea was born to create a simple (and free) brief asking creatives of all mediums to interpret a musical inspiration through a series of original images. With very few rules to limit the results, the visual articles can end up as literal or as abstract as they want.
I also love the experience of buying albums. Listening to the music while browsing the images and package design truly heightens the whole experience for me. I wanted the articles of Forage Press to feel like one of those experiences – you enter a space a for a moment and listen to the music, immersing yourself into that moment and enjoying the visual article.
There are a few things out there based on a similar idea (joining visual and musical creatives)—countless typographic-lyrics blogs, and DesignersMX. How is Forage Press different, and can you see it being used for other purposes?
The main differentiator is the fact that the images and articles are all original content created specifically for this publication. And even though the contributors have a lot of freedom when creating their articles, there is a clear theme that binds our content and separates Forage Press from other design journals and blogs – the subject matter. It’s really important that at the end of the day, each visual article still presents and explores some form of music, whether it be a band, song, genre, era, etc..
As for being used for other purposes, I certainly have a lot of ideas for the future and how I would love to see Forage Press expand. But I’m also trying to not implement those ideas just yet because I really want to see how the publication moves organically – what kind of new relationships form from this and what ideas others may bring to the table. Even when I began this project, I had a lot of additional ideas, but I forced myself to concentrate on just the key features. That goes for any product launch – you can’t solve everything at once, and some of the most wonderful ideas come from the users and viewers.
Who do you hope will get involved in this project?
At the moment I am loving the creative network that is growing from just being in contact with our contributors. In the future I would love to collaborate with other independent companies, and have musicians create original content with the visual contributors.
Do you know what synesthesia is? I’m obsessed with it. Forage Press is kind of like that. Actually, it’s not really. But that would be an interesting angle. Especially if some of the contributors were synesthetes themselves. This is not really a question…
Yes I do, and I think this is an element of Forage Press. There is a reason visual and audio creativity have always had such a strong bond, inspiring each other. There is something truly wonderful and uplifting about enjoying experimental creativity that touches those senses, they are very much linked.
This week AOL celebrated the premier of Makers, an unprecedented digital video and broadcast initiative made in partnership with PBS and filmmaker Dyllan McGee. The program and full-length documentary aim to capture the stories, achievements and breakthroughs of America’s most iconic and prolific women over the last half century — collectively impacting virtually every aspect of today’s culture.
“AOL wants to be known for groundbreaking firsts in the digital media industry, and we are thrilled to be partnering with PBS as they stand alone in their unparalleled ability to educate the world on the most important movements of our time,” said Tim Armstrong, Chairman & CEO of AOL. “Partnering together to bring MAKERS to life is exactly the type of future-forward programming we believe in.”
The series features high-profile icons ranging from Gloria Steinem and Hillary Rodham Clinton, technology trailblazers Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman to unsung heroes such as Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, and Bethany Hamilton, professional surfer and up-and-coming inspiration. The collection of over 100 stories is just the start, “We are committed to using storytelling to help the next generation of women,” says McGee. “There is still a lot more work to be done.”
Makers.com, the dynamic media and community platform AOL launched prior to the documentary, features a deep catalog of engaging highlights from the series and works to uncover the women who are continuing to lead the charge today. Maureen Sullivan, SVP & General Manager of Women’s Content and Lifestyle Brands at AOL told the press “MAKERS.com was built to utilize the latest innovation in video and mobile technology.” The site lets users individually curate and discover the stories of all these amazing women.
We’ll be watching on February 26 at 8pm as the full-length documentary series launches on PBS.