All quiet on the Blak Labs front?

It’s been ages since we last posted here.

Have we run out of good news to share?

Have we got nothing to say?

Are we at a loss for words?

Far from it.

In fact, as you can see, we’re pushing so hard that our Macs and phones seem to be having a hard time coping.

Since July, we’ve been heads down and hammering away at new projects for clients in both Singapore and Myanmar. B2B, B2C. B2B2C. And everything in between.

Suffice to say it’s all P&C. Hush-hush. Need to know. On the down-low.

Until we write again from the topsy-turvy world of Blak Labs. Where we do everything we can to deliver with Creative Care.

the upside of facetime

Waning Influence

The web has empowered so many individuals in so many different ways. And now the social web has truly exploded that potential.

YouTubers, Instagrammers, Facebookers and all sorts of other-ers (including the Chinese We Chatters and Weibo-ers) have sprung up everywhere. They appear in your feed like uninvited guests occasionally. And while their posts are pretty inoffensive, here at Blak Labs, we think clients are wasting their money paying for their influence.

A few recent examples.

The first, a humorous take down by Aaron Wong, suggests better ways for influencers to earn airmiles – that’s his thing. You can read it here.

The second? We’ve observed that influencers who post about how much they love travelling with a particular credit card tend to drop followers per brand post.

Posts either side of these endorsements have at least 3K likes or more and numerous comments. The brand-related posts lose at least 2k followers.

Last but not least – the fashionable instagrammer. Again, a store signs on a bunch of influencers to lend some sparkle to their charity shopping event. Among them, one very fashionable instagrammer who shall remain nameless.

Thing is, beyond the two posts about said charity event and an appearance in one paid-for promo piece, there was no ‘real love’ for the client, nor evidence of actual brand loyalty. And again, the posts for this brand fared less well than others.

Followers see through these thinly veiled endorsements and IMHO, each goes against the grain of ‘authenticity’ that these influencers purport to offer. And while like celebrities, we have to marvel at their ability to be “famous for being famous”, we find ourselves wondering what credibility do they offer?

And when you know that certain influencers receive huge payouts for a single tweet or post (up to US$100k or more), then this form of endorsement just looks even more ridiculous.

Because in the blink of an eye, they’ll stick something else up to get more thumbs up. And your post will disappear down their feed into social oblivion. #justsayin

 

ICYMI: 6 take Blak to the future

We recently announced some new arrivals to our little gang at Blak Labs. Here’s the official release. VAL20012.jpgFrom left to right: Ben Amdur, Pui Hun, Praveen, Ben Lim, Jun Hong, Dawn.  

Joining the agency are Benjamin Lim (art), Dawn Koh (art), Teh Pui Hun (art), Tan Jun Hong (copy), Praveen Amarasuriya (copy) and Benjamin Amdur (copy).

Lim, a recent NAFA graduate, converted his internship with Blak Labs into a full time gig following great work on SIT and other blue chip clients.

Dawn Koh was most recently with Havas Creative working as art director on Fairprice, Tokio Marine Insurance Group and CIMB Bank Singapore. She was also part of the team that clinched a D&AD Wood Pencil for their work on the Havas Gazette.

Pui Hun recently arrived from Malaysia’s Leo Burnett and ARC where she worked on Kronenbourg 1664 and Sunway Pyramid.

Jun Hong joins from Formul8, where he worked as a copywriter on MINDEF, CapitaLand, Temasek Holdings and Singapore Sports Hub. Prior to that, Jun Hong began his career at IPG Mediabrands, handling accounts such as Johnson and Johnson, HBO and Sports Singapore.

Praveen’s writing experience at Mandate Communications includes stints on JTC, RHB, Thai Airways, SingHealth, JurongHealth and MINDEF among others. Having started his advertising career in account management, he brings a well-rounded perspective to his work.

Benjamin Amdur arrives from Sydney and gigs at Zoo and FCB KL. Says Amdur,
“I grew up in Hong Kong and worked in Malaysia, so I have always had a soft spot for Asia. The chance to work in a world-class city in a world-class agency was a great opportunity.”

Said Charlie Blower, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Blak Labs, “Blak Labs has just celebrated our 6th birthday which is why we’re delighted to announce the arrival of these 6 young stars.”

“It’s a pleasure to be able to reward their talent and promise with an opportunity. Attracting good talent is particularly tough, especially in a market where there is so much good competition. We’re lucky they’ve chosen us and look forward to their contributions.”

 

Now we are 6

Thoughts and thanks on Blak Labs reaching our 6th Anniversary.

Yesterday we celebrated Blak Labs’ 6th birthday with awfully chocolatey cakes, bowling and dinner.

Over 3,800 days ago when we first started, we had no idea how far we could go or how long we would last.

And when you consider the stats that say over 90% of start-ups fail, it feels good to be able to sit back, enjoy a slice of cake and a glass of good red for a minute.

We’d better make the most of those 60 seconds though. Because if we relax any longer, we run several risks.

In this economy, we have to work twice as hard to earn every penny. Clients nowadays are squeezing every drop of thinking and value out of every job to get the best result. That’s because their livelihoods, and jobs, depend on it. (As do ours.)

The second risk is this – relying on a single client, or a single market.

Fortunately, we have learned to think beyond businesses and borders; with nascent success in Myanmar.

Since we added new talent to our Yangon office and moved to a much improved home/office, business has improved significantly too.

As I write, we have one team missing our birthday celebrations to shoot a new campaign near Mandalay. Later this month, another team will be filming two success stories in Yangon.

The third risk? Believing you can do it all on your own.

We wouldn’t have made it this far without each other. A team of partners who support and challenge each other every day.p1120731

In turn, we are thankful that we have the support of several other important groups. First of all, our talented teams of creatives and project managers in Singapore and Yangon. Not to mention, the producers and photographers, retouchers and directors, printers, publications and couriers we work with.

Secondly, our clients. From those who took a chance on us all those years ago, to newer ones who choose us because of what we’ve achieved.

Finally, our families. We couldn’t do this stuff without the love and support that our loved ones provide.

So whether you’re a partner, a team member, a client or a loved one, THANK YOU for helping us reach the age of 6.

Cue the commercial message: If you’ve got a business problem or are looking to do extraordinary work (the two are closely linked), please give us a call or drop us a line at talktous@blaklabs.com

FYI, we’re not so good at bowling, better at creating new ideas.

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Blak Labs does jury duty…a reflection

As we head towards another festival of Asian Creativity at the Spikes, it’s timely to reflect on my experience as a Cannes juror this year.

Perhaps you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to write this after Cannes? Well, apart from the fact that I have a business to run, clients to tend to and Campaign asked me to write a little more, there is another reason. On the journey home, I remembered the words of Keith Reinhard, Chairman Emeritus of DDB. He told me that “the high from Cannes lasts about 2 weeks before you’re back to normal.”

So how has my time back in Singapore been?

Following my stint on the Cyber Lions jury, I took a short break in post-Brexit England. Lunch with my mum and my sisters in the pub across the road. As we sat down to eat, I was peppered with questions. “Is Cannes important?”, “Who goes apart from you ad people?”, “Why on earth did you spend a week on the Cote d’Azur in a dark room?”

I tried my best to explain using the Jury’s two Grand Prix winners. While they seemed to appreciate the Pixar-level storytelling of ‘Justino’, they weren’t so sure about ‘The Next Rembrandt’.

But it was their real-time responses that sum up for me how most of the world views what we do. Before the end of each viewing, attention had turned to more important matters; “What was the other half of Britain thinking?” etc.

In the Cyber Lions category, we judged almost 3,000 entries of which around 20% were from this region, if we include Australia and New Zealand. We ended up with a shortlist of 230 pieces. Out of 91 metal, 8 Lions came back to Asia.

Campaign asked for my view on why Asia is under-represented in this category.

Before I get into that, you should know that I live in Singapore. My view is very much based on what I see from this cultural and commercial crossroad.

Is it representative of Asia? Hardly – much like my opinion.

Cannes is an English language-led festival. Asia is a wonderful mix of diverse cultures and peoples, all who speak languages other than English. Stories and concepts are expressed more clearly and in more nuanced fashion by local storytellers.

Do these ideas always travel well? No, but many could give themselves a better chance. One entry from China somehow made it through with a case study that must have been created with Google translate. I kid you not.

The point here IMHO is that there often isn’t the patience to let storytelling develop. “I want it yesterday” is SOP. Everything is urgent. With the result that very little is given the opportunity to be outstanding.

Upon my return to Singapore, I had to give a major presentation. Out of 20 attendees from the client side, about 70% of them were focussed on their smartphones. What were they doing? Checking stock prices? Facebook? Texting each other where to go for lunch? Search me… but their ‘attention’ certainly wasn’t on the presentation that defines their next two years worth of marketing. This is what I’ve begun to call AAD – Asian Attention Deficit.

Looking at the ideas that won, the jurors tried hard to award stuff that was truly outstanding.

We chose work that moved us with the power of a simple idea (Hello for NZ Road Safety). We awarded executions that brought people together and overcame the barriers of clunky tech (the VR of Field Trip to Mars, Giga Selfie). We celebrated those hacks for hope that turned a social platform on its head for a good cause (Manboobs, Check it before it’s removed).

The organisers gave us a book called “The Case for Creativity” by planner James Hurman. It’s a long-term study that links ‘imaginative marketing’ with commercial success. Keith Weed of Unilever and Jim Stengel of P&G both agree there is a link.

Even though the book is one long case study for entering Cannes, clients in the boardrooms all around the region would do well to heed its message. I too believe it is worth investing in the kind of thinking that delivers outstanding ideas first and seeing what happens next.

My view is that collectively, Asia needs to slow down and find the time to deliver. We need to find the time to avert AADD – Asian Attention Deficit Disasters. Because we have all the potential and the promise.

So has my own Cannes high survived the subsequent weeks back home? Am I back to normal yet?

Very much so. But with a clearer idea of what we can and should be doing to help our clients win. And no, it won’t be a crowd-sourced app that rewards those who go out of their way to save refugees.

Blak Labs does jury duty, the Grand Prix edition. 

Today is “Brexit” voting day in the UK. And after a week of jury deliberation, discussion and impassioned defences, we have just witnessed the effect our votes had on the winners of the 2016 Cannes Cyber Lions awards show. Before we get to the winners, let me take you back over the last couple days of being in the room.

Blak Labs Singapore in the company of inspirational Jury members during a break in our final Lions deliberations. L-R: Blak Labs Singapore, Ignacio from Google Argentina, Ravi from Whyness India, Fred from Mirum NYC, Chloe from RGA NYC, Bob from Host Sydney, Kris from Happiness Belgium.

Total number of entries reviewed. 2800. Total entries judged in Cannes: 1700. Final shortlist: originally 280. After a final prune: 230 if memory serves me correctly. http://www.canneslionsarchive.com/winners/entries/cannes-lions/cyber/

Chloe gives some last minute advice before we head back in.

 

We can award three Grand Prix. But will we?

Of those that made it through, you have already achieved something truly significant. Your work beat some world class crud. Our final list of golds looks like this. Not nearly enough from Asia.

 

 

The game-changing Gold winners. I wish I’d done any one of them. 

And after one round of voting for the Grand Prix, we have eliminated all but two pieces of VR. We pause and take a moment to discuss what that outcome would say about the category and our industry, not to mention our collective reputations. We vote again on just keeping these two exceptional pieces as golds. It is just too early for VR to lead the way. The craft has a long way to go. The experience needs to be more inclusive.

 

After the struggle, and the respectful discussion on our choices, we review, debate and vote on our final Grand Prix contenders. When we’re done, there is a huge cheer and lots of hugging followed by champagne to celebrate.

Cheers to an inspirational jury. Amazing people. New friends.

We realize what we have just achieved. And in record time apparently. So we head out to celebrate.

Prelim celebrations.

 

L-r: Megan from New York, Dirk from Germany, Ignacio from Argentina, Bjorn from Sweden.
A few hours later, we all attend the press conference for the announcement of the 2016 Cyber Lions and the Innovation Lions.

 

At the Press conference. Smile…you’re on Chloe’s camera.

After the intro from Phil Thomas, the Cannes Lions CEO, Chloe Gottlieb, our jury President and a Grand Prix Winner herself, takes the mic along with the President of the Innovation Lions, apparently the ‘fun’ jury…

Chloe kicks off the press briefing with an update of the key trends.

With the new filters that the jury has defined over the past week, we think that the biggest ideas deliver on several levels.

Final category defining filter notes.

They are seamless in how they travel between the cyber or digital world and the real world, i.e., no clunky tech getting in the way of the storytelling.

They’re beautifully crafted and above all, the thinking and approach deliver magic in how they touch people’s lives and move us towards ideas, brands and causes.

We decided to award gold to ideas that are game changers. To achieve a Grand Prix the thinking has to be iconic, enduring, universally appealing and live seamlessly in whichever part of our connected world you experience it in.

The two Grands Prix are quite ‘amaaaaazzzzing’ as Ignacio, everyone’s favourite Argentine from Google, occasionally says.

Jurors with everyone’s favourite Argentine. L-R: Ignacio from Google Argentina, Fred from Mirum NYC, Ravi from Whyness India, Blak Labs Singapore

One of them showcases how tech and AI has helped create a new Rembrandt centuries after his death. It’s brave and beautifully crafted.

 http://www.canneslionsarchive.com/winners/entry/754936/the-next-rembrandt

The other is the unbelievably charming story of Justino. He is the night security guard who engages the staff he never sees with simple beautiful stories and pranks told on Instagram and Facebook. The quality is Pixar-level, and the individual stories just make you laugh, cry and much more. (I am a huge fan, having followed Justino on his Instagram during the campaign.) ICYMI, it’s for El Gordo, the Spanish Lottery. Take a look http://www.canneslionsarchive.com/winners/entry/756159/justino

The team behind Justino. They arrived earlier in the afternoon. So it could only be gold. Little did they know that we gave them the Grand Prix. Lovely bunch. And that’s the lovely Teresa from Shackleton in Madrid in the middle foreground.

This is where ‘Cyber’ has its true strengths. As a means to connect and unite people behind a single possibility over a variety of digital and ‘real world’ channels. Which of course is the point. The category has evolved so much that the best work is alive wherever you experience it.
We hope you’re happy with our votes. It was exhausting, exciting and eventually extremely rewarding. Thank you to my wonderful fellow jurors, thank you creativity and thank you Cannes Lions and Mediacorp.

And congrats to Team Singapore for winning the Young Cyber Lions!

 

 

Blak Labs opens for business in Yangon, Myanmar

Our latest experiment is building a business in a new market. And here’s our new office at Hotel Yangon, complete with wifi, table, chairs and our team. Our first work is now in the market and making the competition nervous – our clients’ competition, that is.

If you have a project you’d like to discuss, please contact Charlie.blower@blaklabs.com.mm Ruth.goh@blaklabs.com.mm 

Or if you prefer to connect in the local language, please connect with 

Sett.kaung@blaklabs.com.mm

And cc us all. Thanks!

   

  Early days but exciting times. Watch this space…!