iSaw: the USB-powered chainsaw ‘measuring no larger than the size of a regular computer keyboard’The USB-powered chainsaw ‘measuring no larger than the size of a regular computer keyboard’
The i.Saw in, er, action

How many marketing campaigns can you name that are properly innovative, laudable in their intent (cheap to produce & for a good cause), blindingly simple to interact with and delivered with laugh out loud wit? Here at Labs at any rate we reckoned we would be pushed to name one. Then along comes something that completely blows us away, the brilliant i.Saw and its sister product, Papercut.

We first heard about the whole idea when our friends from BBH Asia Pacific got in touch. Inspired by mountains of uncollected pages on the printers in the office, they’d developed a unique, downloadable sound effect application of a chainsaw, designed to drive home a straightforward message: printing unnecessarily = killing trees.

Peter Callaghan, CD on the project, explains the brilliantly simple idea: “Papercut is a simple reminder of where paper comes from. When you press ‘print’, you’ll hear the roar of a chain saw. It is not to make you stop printing, just print less, using only what you need. Reminding people that printers run on trees.”

The next step was to orchestrate a campaign to encourage people to download the app. The team given that task, Noel Yeo and Shawn Loo, explained they were intrigued by the idea of creating a product, rather than a classic viral. And with that, the i.Saw was born. An entirely spoof creation, the i.Saw is a USB-powered chainsaw (the answer to all your office needs, natch) complete with its own lovingly created product page.

‘Pre-ordering’ the i.Saw on the site initially generated a classic, automated email response thanking you for your order. Now a banner informs us that pre-ordering is closed, click here to find out why… which takes you to some brief copy revealing the spoof and offering you the entirely free, downloadable sound effect app. Genius.

The story so far

Starting close to home, the Papercut app itself was tried out in BBH offices first. Peter picks up the story again: “It spoke to people as they where about to print. And it worked. It was fun and annoying and got people talking. It got them conscious of their paper usage. We sent it to a few friends and they sent it to a few friends. People liked it. We worked out that if everyone, everywhere printed a bit less, it would add up to a whole lot of paper. A whole lot. So we set about trying to get it on as many computers as possible.”

Inevitably, with no media to speak of, earned or bought, the time came to promote the app a little harder. ‘Launched’ on Monday, the i.Saw was immediately picked up by Gizmodo and Wired. Both journalists strongly suspected it was a spoof product, but clearly had some fun writing about it. 1.5 6.9 million hits (updated end 14.07.09) on the site later, it’s starting to look like there’s some momentum behind this. There’s also been a fair amount of early speculation in the Twitterverse:




And a few discussion threads on Reddit which practically had us convinced that the i.Saw might really be real.

Speculation has been rife, but no-body knew until now why the spoof product existed, nor had anyone been directed yet to the reward, the downloadable sound effect app Papercut.

The i.Saw in, er, action
Prototype 5.0

The task now..

To continue to spread the word and get as many people as possible to download the app. Which is of course where we can all get involved. If you love the idea as much as we do, please tweet, RT, comment and blog about it. This may also be the one download your mum and your mates who don’t work in the industry might actually want to receive. And please tell us about any suitable contacts you may have at relevant NGOs, environmental agencies etc. you think might be interested in offering their support.

Our aim? to get as many people as possible around the globe to download the app.


USB Chainsaw
ECD – Steve Elrick
Digital CDs – Noel Yeo, Shawn Loo
Producer – Shaun Lee
Designer – Jeff Mendoza
Props – Art Devil’s Production

Papercut Application
ECD – Steve Elrick
CD – Peter Callaghan
Art Director – Joseph Tay
Programmer – Nguyen Thanh Binh

More on the making of i.Saw: behind the scenes

Shawn and Noel were kind enough to take some questions and tell us a bit more about the process of creating the ‘product’.

The initial designThe initial design

Prototype 5.0
Behind the scenes at the i.Saw shoot

Labs: How about the idea of an actual chainsaw?

S&N: It started when we began to think of office workers as latter-day lumberjacks: the computer keyboard essentially being a chainsaw. We actually wrote a few film scripts based on that analogy. We were hoping to produce them and then hope they go viral.

Labs: Then what happened?

S&N: Cost. While you could shoot on the cheap, editing and post-production would still take up a fair chunk of money. We wondered whether we could design a product that would be interesting enough to go viral, without needing a video per se. That made us think of the humping USB dog which in turn got us thinking about USB cup warmers and the USB fridge, and how it seems you can almost plug in any electrical device these days. Which is when we decided to create a USB powered chainsaw.

Labs: What came next?

S&N: First was to make sure that a USB chainsaw does not exist! We thought of the idea during lunch, so I remember it being a rather hasty lunch as we couldn’t wait to get back on our computers to check. Thankfully, the only reference to the USB chainsaw then was a hacking tool. (The Resident Evil thumbdrive did not appear till later.)

Labs: How did you create the i.Saw?

S&N: We quickly ruled out modifying an existing chainsaw in the market, because we figured that there aren’t that many brands that make chainsaws, and people who use them would be able to identify any brand we use very quickly. So we had to build one from scratch. Thankfully, we found a prop maker who could build one for us — but from Thailand!

Labs: Why did you do a video for the i.Saw in the end?

S&N: Only because we had to make it feel as real as possible. It would have been odd not to have a video. Plus now the video wouldn’t really be a commercial, but rather a simple, straightforward product demo clip. We actually shot more scenes of our model, where you could see her posing with the i.Saw, but we decided to cut those out in the end.

Labs: The website looks well-executed, could you talk a little more about that?

S&N: The main goal was to make sure the product was as believable as possible. We spent a fair amount of time thinking just where the product could be coming from, whether it should feel as if it came from a dodgy company that makes ill-advised products, or whether it should be premium and Apple-like. We settled for something in-between. It had to feel like a credible product so we made sure the site feels suitably polished. But we kept the earnest, over-zealous tone of the copy often found on lower-end sites, so it feels more realistic.

Labs: How long did it take from concept to finish?

S&N: We started looking for a someone to make the chainsaw in late April. The i.Saw took two weeks to make. After which one day of photography. Then later another day of filming. Getting the site together took a bit longer. Had to get the tone right. Also we had to make sure it was as easy as possible to share. So we were mindful to include shots of the i.Saw that the media might want to pick up. Which was why there were two that had a laptop and the i.Saw in the same shot. We felt it made the definitive picture. You get the idea immediately.

Labs: What was your budget?

S&N: Under US$10k. We never really had a budget in the first place, because there wasn’t a commercial entity tied to it. Most of it went into the prop actually.

Behind the scenes at the i.Saw shoot[/caption]

Shawn Lee (producer) puts the i.Saw to the test
Shawn Lee (producer) puts the i.Saw to the test
Noel Yeo (left) and Shawn Loo demonstrate an alternative use for the i.Saw
Noel Yeo (left) and Shawn Loo demonstrate an alternative use for the i.Saw