“As an industry, communication contributes to the depletion of mental, physical and energetic resources. That is a bug.”
Hélène Sagné is an expert in brand strategy and an entrepreneur. She is a pioneer almost unwillingly. 15 years ago, she founded the BUG communication agency, based in London and Paris. So she is in a good position to know that ‘bugging’ can sometimes be salutary. Just like when it comes to reinventing our profession in a frugal manner to answer our civilisation’s environmental challenge. Should communication decrease? It is an existential question and Bug Me Tender had to tackle it.
Hélène, by getting carried away by digital media efficiency, communication has in fine strayed from its traditional role. By going down a slippery and pernicious slope, has communication ‘bugged’?
We learnt in school that communication is about an issuer, a recipient and a message. A message which consists in giving information, but also shifting a product or a brand’s perception. Interestingly, the development of digital media drove to an agile, fast and in real-time broadcasting of messages. Nowadays, there is an injunction – we can even say a requirement – to produce digital media contents. And it has never been as high. Digital media has become an ogre: inciting brands and their providers to multiply content production just to exist.
This is a dangerous drift: all brands are almost competing around who will broadcast the most videos, motions, image on social networks, for ‘speaking time’ which only lasts a few hours in average. Unpaid communication does not contribute to questioning how efficient they are and even tends to suggest they are harmless…
When listening to what you say, communication has inadvertently slipped into a bottomless pit…
Indeed, there is a rush because in order to the play game of real time or to de-multiply contact points and conversation subjects, communication is producing objects that are a kind of pollution. Not only was communication born with the current consumption system boom and the brother in arms of marketing (but not only!), but as an industry it contributes to the resource depletion (mental, physical, energetic). This is the communication bug!
Media have taken over the power in the sense that we are less compelled by the message relevance or the issuer’s legitimacy than by visibility per se. To stand out, especially since it is easier than before, brands play that game by trying to reach as many targets as possible. Thus locking themselves in an inflationary mechanism.
Wouldn’t it be just the right time for communication to ‘bug’ in a positive manner in order to start communicating differently?
Yes. Companies started with CSR initiatives years ago… and with the PACTE law, companies who wish to do so can include preserving resources early in the definition of their reason for being and business model.
If communication conventionally includes CSR in its statements, we rarely ask ourselves if communication as such is a sustainable industry… or if it has developed practices that aren’t or no longer are. To use an image applied when we speak of Society, communication has developed a cancer. How can we get rid of that? Certain actors won’t change a thing to their behavior and will remain in this schizophrenic system. Others will evolve.
As communication or consulting agency, we can’t spend days on end listening, advising or providing recommendations to clients on topics as sensitive as responsibility, ethics or transparency, and just not apply them to ourselves. If we believe, are committed to these topics and put all our energy into talking about them, shouldn’t we go that step further and see how communication can implement them?
The current model fundamentally questions us. What does this mean for communication agencies?
This does not mean we should stop communicating, but simply do things differently. Let me give you an example: one million websites are obsolete but still exist on the web, requesting servers all day long… and this whilst they are related to years-old campaigns, whilst they were supposed to be ephemeral. There are also neglected blogs that have never been closed… There is an invisible world of unnecessary digital pollution.
As a communication agency, we must be very aware of the communication product lifecycle and must not forget to close or recycle it when obsolete. For one of our clients, we recently designed a website to promote the agricultural professions. This communication action was due for a specific period of time since it was supported by a digital and off-line media campaign. At the end of this scheduled lifetime, we went back to the client and suggested to recycle this platform into a recruitment site. This is a way to put what is ‘right’ back at the centre of the debate. By right, I mean useful and relevant. There are very easy ways to reduce the communication carbon footprint.
If I understand correctly, when a communication agency asks itself the question of the message usefulness, obligation and format, it is necessarily ‘bugging’?
There are a number of actions that must be carried out a posteriori, but also a priori, beforehand. How? First of all, by just asking ourselves “is this really useful, must I really communicate on this subject, in this format?”. I read an article recently about an agency whose concept is to fallow companies from time to time… this is interesting! We should also ask ourselves if it can be re-used: “must I always need to produce new content? Maybe I can re-use, in a different form, something that exists?”
Is the new communication, that accepted to ‘bug’ positively, frugal? Decreasing? Alter? Anti…?
For us, communication must be frugal by becoming the sum of de-communication and alter-communication, by re-thinking both quantity and quality. Are brands and companies ready to become frugal? This molt might seem counterintuitive. The real question is: do we remain in the system or should we examine how we can make it evolve? If we choose to make it evolve, then everyone will choose how she / he wishes to contribute. A company can lead the way if it asks the question of how communication as such can contribute to the company’s responsibility.
Are advertisers ready for this type of communication?
The real way to make this acceptable, is to, in the first place, make people understand that eco-design (i.e. using less resources to do the same things) enables to impact the way companies do things without necessarily having to change content or implying extra costs.
For instance, nowadays, we can develop a website which consumes less energy by using Google fonts, resized content formats, well configured servers (if half full a server consumes more energy than a fully filled small server), a specific code or appropriate colours (use black instead of white, which consumes a lot more electricity)… Levers exist in tech, UI and UX. Ideally, all levers should be combined.
How must BUG bug to re-invent a more sustainable frugal communication?
Our bet at BUG is to embark our clients by beginning with eco-design, re-development and re-design solutions which will enable to have the same digital presence while consuming less. It is a first step that generates virtuous thinking. One of the levers of eco-design is UX: if browsing is clear, there will be a lot less unintentional clicks, knowing that the later consume resources. This is the brother in arms of the communication simplification approach. And this creates value for the brands: on one hand it diminishes carbon impact, and on the other it can enable us to make them consider simplification and get back to the fundamental question: at the end of the day, is this useful and efficient?
Let’s end this interview with our two traditional closing questions. First, what is your personal definition of the word bug?
My definition of the word bug has been driving the agency since its creation: “A bug is an idea that expands and turns into a concept”.
In your profession, what is the greatest bug?
Initially – and this why the agency has this iconoclastic name – bug describes the strategic and original creative solutions we have focused on recommending to our clients for years now. But ultimately the greatest bug is the current re-invention of our profession. It forces us to come back to the real essence of communication.