TBWA's Secret Weapon: Backslash

Backslash is an editorial and cultural strategy unit as well as an agile content studio designed to inform and inspire the network, and our clients and partners, about culture as it happens.

Josh Jun
Global Director of Production and Commercial Backslash

Chay Lee
Content Director Backslash


Tell us how Backslash got started and what is the idea behind it?

(JOSH) A couple of years ago, our global CEO, Troy Ruhanen came to a realization that being aware, educated and on the pulse of culture was absolutely essential for TBWA to be the best partner it could be to 21st century brands.  That belief, coupled with the idea that no one needed another deck / report to read, and that short format video is the best vehicle to convey and consume vital information, gave birth to what is now the Backslash team.


(CHAY) TBWA prides itself on being the culture engine for 21st century brands. Essentially, Backslash became the ultimate proof point of that claim.


How has Backslash helped influence TBWA’s strategy and creative work?

(JOSH) In the nearly 2 years that Backslash has produced informative cultural insights content for the TBWA Collective, we've grown from a daily "nice to have" in our co-workers’ inboxes to an essential tool for new business pitches, strategic brand work and creative inspiration.  From being the lynchpin to winning a new brief, to being the inception of a creative campaign or even direct content for our clients, we've been able to add value at all levels of the organization.


What are the challenges of having to deliver a steady stream of content daily?

(JOSH)  Our biggest challenge is also our biggest strength, which is that we are not only working for the TBWA Collective, but leveraging them (ie: our Spotter Network) too. TBWA’s global reach and expertise helps drive our editorial pipeline.  It's our secret sauce and what's makes us confident that we are truly unique and relevant on a regional and global scale. However, it can be difficult to manage our content output because we constantly need a steady stream of insights coming in to fuel our pipeline. Luckily, we have never faced a day where we weren’t able to produce a video.  We do break for holidays and weekends... we are human after all =) 


(CHAY) We have deadlines every day and we always want to release the best output. Most times we knock it out of the park, but there are times that we don't. So, in those rare occasions, we can sacrifice quality but never the integrity of the work.


How has Backslash developed over time and where do you see the most potential for growth in the future?

(JOSH) First and foremost, our growth can be measured based on the engagement of our main audience with our content.  The 12,000+ people that make up the TBWA Collective need to find value in our cultural insights studio in order for us to exist.  We treasure feedback from our audience and have leaned into making the content more relevant and impactful for their work,  clients, verticals, etc.  We don't want to be a just source for interesting tidbits about culture, but something everyone can use to edify themselves and their client partners. 


In addition, we are working on how we take our cultural insights studio model to help other multi-national corporations with their understanding about culture. 


Lastly, we want to take our “Entertaining Intelligence” approach that speaks specifically to "culture as it pertains to business" and find a broader audience in the public-at-large as a media company.  This is our ultimate objective.


How do “culture briefs” support TBWA’s network and brands?

(JOSH) I think this was partially answered in questions 2.  But generally speaking, our briefs on what's happening in culture are there to edify, educate and entertain the TBWA Collective so they are informed and inspired to do their best work (and to be the most interesting person to talk to at any given event).


What are "Edges" and how does Backslash use them to predict changes in culture? What predictions have you made for 2018 so far?

(JOSH) Plainly speaking, "Edges" are ideas, issues, movements that are starting to become more apparent on the outer realm of culture.  Whether it’s something that is closer to core culture like our Wacko World Edge or our Convenience Economy Edge; or an Edge that is more on the fringe of culture such as our Augmented Self Edge, which is just starting to become more apparent (and may have the potential to disrupt core culture), our Edges put a name to it. We then use the Edge to filter and monitor for the stories and activities we see throughout the year.  We refresh our Edges on a yearly basis.  In fact, in 2017, we released a yearly pre-trend report where we predict the main edges we believe will be prominent in the following year.


Backslash 2017 Pre-Trends Report:   



What are some of your favorite culture briefs?

(JOSH) Here are some of my favorite ones:

  • Female Sneakerhead Culture - a deep dive into the world of a female sneakerhead.  we interviewed Miss Info, hip-hop journalist and owner of Stadium Goods in NYC.
  • New Macho - a story about a Latin America fashion designer that is reimagining what it means to be masculine.
  • The Art of Memeing Yourself - interview with Ka5sh, an internet star and meme-rapper.

(CHAY) Here are some of my favorites:  

  • Into the Mind of a Flat Earther - We sat down with a passionate "Flat Earther" who plead his case for the earth being flat.  This was our Denialism Edge, people denying facts in the face of obvious truths, to a tee!
  • Ride Sharing in the Gig Economy - We profiled a few colorful Uber drivers who are thriving and making up a new type of empowered worker.