11th February 14
Posted in Experiments
As Jeremy hinted at last week, we want to make more experiments this year. One of the key things we took away from Robotify is the need for a more modest approach that genuinely allows for speed, failure, mess … experimentation, really.
So for this year, we’ve baked lightness and pace into the process itself in order, we hope, to accelerate learning, but also to have more fun.
Our ambition is to create and release 10 experiments in 2014. We will do this by adopting a ‘hit and run’ approach to the exercise. Each month we’ll pose a new question, and we’ll run a live session to generate and prototype answers. We’ll force ourselves to ship something within 25 days and with a tiny budget – the month’s experiment needs to have sailed before we agree on the next brief.
We might end up with 10 failures, but we’re certainly hoping for 10 pieces of learning, 10 horizons broached, many more new people met and at the very least, to have done something fun with something new, every month for a year.
This new framework means our focus will be on people before machines, behaviours before builds and live development, not drawn out processes. Inspiration might come from platforms, from partners or from people’s imaginative uses of technologies and the web. It could come from anywhere really, as long as it gives us an opportunity to learn.
As well as more experiments, we’re also looking for more involvement from more people. So we’re going to be inviting the whole of BBH and our partner MediaMonks to experiment with us, and a bit later this year, look at how we can go even more open source. For now, we’ll post the question up on the blog before we run the working session and welcome comments and insight. And, as we did with robotify.me, we’ll make the learning process itself transparent, with briefs, ideas, and development being posted in (almost) real time on our new experiments platform.
This new home for Labs experiments is thinky.do. From now on, this is where anyone interested can follow the erratic ballads of Labs experiments, though of course we will point at new thinky.do activities from here and from our twitter every now and again.
If you head there now, you’ll see that we’ve put up our question for the first experiment of the year. It’s all to do with crypto currencies and the creation of value. We’re holding our first live session this afternoon at BBH in London, so expect to hear more very soon.
We’re excited about switching up a gear in experimentation and we’re definitely curious to see what happens. If you’d be interested in joining us for the ride, please drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment here or at thinky.do.
7th February 14
Posted in robotify.me
Tyrell: Would you … like to be upgraded?
Batty: I had in mind something a little more radical.
Tyrell: What … what seems to be the problem?
Blade Runner, 1982
Robotify.me – what we did, what we learned and what we’re doing now
In December 2012 we launched robotify.me, an experiment to test our hypothesis that seeing social media behaviour visualized could actually influence and change those behaviours. Perhaps, we asked ourselves, data visualisation might reveal surprising nuances of social media behaviour which might otherwise be overlooked?
How would it feel to compare activity – likes, links, retweets, checkins, photos – with the rest of the group’s data? Would the transparency of the visualisation cause any changes in social behaviour? Would inveterate retweeters be shamed into posting more original content? Could we encourage more checking in, more posting of photographs, more liking by visualising the effect that it had on the robot?
Robotify.me was also another opportunity to learn and experiment with process. Could we create a service rather than a campaign? Could we work fast and lean and create a mvp? Could we create a product without a brief, without a client?
A little over a year on, the answers to some of these questions are in. The first thing to say is thanks. Thanks to the team who worked so hard (and gave their time so generously) on robotify.me and thanks to everyone who took part in this project. Thousands of you created robots and we loved seeing the project come to life, reading the tweets, hearing your thoughts and feedback on this thing we’d made.
Much of what we learned is displayed in the infographics accompanying this post and some of our early learnings were incorporated into changes we made live on the robotify site in the early go-live days and weeks. Perhaps our major learning was to do with storytelling – if we wanted people to learn a little about themselves we should, perhaps, have shown more, and told more explicitly. Knowing when to intrigue and when to explain is something we will take with us in the future.
We also learned that when you have a team with demanding day jobs it’s impossible to schedule daily scrums and the focus and scheduling required for an iterative workflow are not easily applied to side projects. When we plan future Labs experiments (and more on that very, very soon) we’ll definitely be thinking about the sorts of projects that lend themselves to a leaner approach. Stretch is good, but restraints will help define scope from the very beginning.
So, we’re going to be pulling down the shutters on this particular garage and disassembling the robotifier, cleaning down the work surfaces and wiping down the whiteboard in preparation for a new swathe of Labs experiments, robotify learnings fresh in our minds. We’ll be keeping the service up in it’s current form for another month, so you can still create a new robot, revisit your robot mirror-self or download and print out your robots for your digital files.
Finally, thanks again for supporting our Robotify.me experiment.
Bleep. And out.
13th January 14
Posted in technology
Author, Helen Lawrence, Social Engagement Director, BBH London
“Two high pressure jobs, probably the city. Foreman’s a medical secretary, trained abroad, judging by her shorthand. Seven are married and two are having an affair, with each other it would seem. Oh and they’ve just had tea and biscuits. Would you like to know who ate the wafer?”
Ah, Sherlock. Impossibly switched on and observant to the point of obsession, though ultimately a troubled man for it. These scenes of fast paced detectivery delight the audience, but leave Sherlock a frustrated man. Too much going on, not enough pace, no one is keeping up, he can’t switch off, nobody else can switch on, notice something, notice something, notice something…
The trends for CES were set in stone before the last crumb of mince pie was brushed off a knee – automotives, 3D printing, gaming, TVs, phones & tablets, wearables, smart homes. And of course, the nerd glue holding all those together – connected devices. I’m struggling to think of a single product shown at CES that didn’t connect to something else in some way. Razer, Garmin, Epson, Sony, LG and Spree all launched some form of self-tracking wearable at CES.
So, nothing unexpected there.
Again, nothing unexpected there.
Each product was, in itself, a good idea (curved TVs being somewhat of an exception), but look at it all collectively we’re in a bit of a nightmare. We’re back to Sherlock. Notice something, notice something, notice something… beep, beep, beep, beep.
None of it works together. A lack of interoperability across devices and platforms will suck our time, not give it back to us. Endless notifications leave us stuck in an inescapable chain of device control. The traffic is bad. Get the heating to come on later. Delay the slow cooker turning off. Record the show you’ll miss. Get the washing machine to come on later. Stop 3D printing the cake decorations.
Brilliant that we can control such things. Amazing. But we’re looking at maybe a dozen apps here, all independent and all probably built on the manufacturer’s own proprietary system. If nothing else, the dominance of ‘smart phone controlled devices’ at CES will inevitably mean we all run out of battery about five minutes after leaving the house. I’m serious about this one – Mophie are going to sell a whole load of extra battery packs if we’re all going to start controlling our slow cookers from a meeting room.
So, for 2014 and then ahead to CES 2015, I’m less interested in the devices themselves, but instead the platforms and systems that bring them together. Will we see an open platform and data standards for device control and tracking, allowing developers to add the cross device connectedness that the manufacturers can’t? Security is a big issue, of course, but until then expect 2014 to be the year your wrist doesn’t stop buzzing with notifications. Perhaps embrace it, buy a deerstalker hat and a great coat. Rival Sherlock with your real time knowledge of any situation. Notice everything. But don’t expect it to be a smooth ride, just yet.
1st January 14
Posted in animation
In what can best be described as a blistering decision, New Jersey legalized online casino gaming in November 2013. Governor Christie was keen to shake things up and he’s no slouch when it comes to applying pressure. Christie’s vision is deeply rooted in the success of his home state, New Jersey. After the once-thriving Atlantic City hit a rough patch following the recession, 4 casinos shuttered and only 8 remain. Atlantic City gambling revenues increased every year from 1978 to 2006, peaking at $5.2 billion. Since 2007 however, it’s been all downhill for America’s favorite East Coast gambling destination.
Casino revenues have been dropping for 7 straight years from the $5.2 billion high in 2006 to $2.8 billion in 2013. Overall, that represents a drop of 53% with more to come in 2014. The 2013 slot win was a fraction over $2 billion and the table win was $798 million. The big man – Christie – had to counter with hard-hitting policies to stop the haemorrhaging, and that’s precisely what was done with new regulation aimed at legalizing online casino games. It’s no mean feat finding the biggest names in the business and getting them to fight it out for online gaming supremacy. But that’s what CaesarsCasino.com did when it went toe-to-toe against the competition in New Jersey.
Owned and operated by Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), Caesars Online Casino now offers a virtual gaming platform featuring an impressive array of HTML 5 compatible games. The beauty of the online gaming platform is that players can enjoy the self-same casino excellence that has come to signify the Caesars brand. For over 30 years, Caesars has dominated traditional casino-style entertainment, and online gaming is the new frontier. The no download gaming platform offers no holds barred action. The games come at you fast and furious, direct off your browser and there is no respite from the adrenaline loaded entertainment. It’s akin to the electric atmosphere of being ringside at an MMA punch-up, as the big boys and big girls fight for glory.
Stepping into the Gaming Ring: Caesars Online Casino Hits Hard!
New Jersey is known for its rough and tough attitude, but there’s also a compassionate side that locals often allude to. At CaesarsCasino.com players across the Garden State can register, and play for real money. However, there are strict qualification requirements for all players: only players aged 21 and above can play real money games at Caesars Online Casino and all players must be physically present in the state of New Jersey. After lots of tweaking with the technology, geolocation tracking can now accurately pinpoint a player’s precise location.
It’s been a slugfest getting to the top, but this online casino is a brawler. In just a few months, the brand became the most respected name in online casino entertainment in the state of New Jersey. Players can easily make deposits and play real money casino games online. There are multiple convenient payments options including the Caesars Atlantic City cage, bank wire, Visa credit card, MasterCard, ACH, Neteller, and PayNearMe. There are 3 withdrawal methods including Neteller, check and USPS for players to use. Provided you have the funds available in your account, and provided you have met the wagering requirements, you’re free to withdraw your money.
Gaming Variety for High Rollers and Low Rollers
There is plenty of gaming variety for players to enjoy, including table games, slots games, video poker, roulette and everyone’s favourite casino card game, blackjack. To get players in the mood, there is $10 free for all players who register an account. Plus, you get to enjoy a dollar for dollar matching bonus up to $300. This is plenty of bankroll firepower to try your luck at any of the fun-filled slots, table games and skill based games like blackjack. Top titles include: Quick Hit Platinum, Cats, Chilli Gold, Monopoly Plus, Cleopatra and 5 impressive blackjack variants. Whether you’re a novice or a pro, blackjack is definitely the game to beat. It offers a low house edge, and players of all skill levels can go toe to toe against the dealer for the ultimate glory.
Blackjack Micro Limit 10, Blackjack Micro Limit 25, European Blackjack, Sidebet Blackjack and Vegas Blackjack are available. Each of these games ramps up the excitement with big winning potential on every hand. Players can employ basic blackjack strategy to improve their winning chances against the house. A great way to gain experience without wagering any real money, is to practice online blackjack games for free. Once you gain a level of proficiency in your game, you can switch over to real money mode and start raking it in.
Caesars Online Casino includes a complimentary blackjack strategy chart in each and every game. Players can use this chart to help them make statistically sound decisions in each of the hands that have been dealt. Games begin with players being dealt 2 cards face up and 1 card being dealt face up to the dealer. Players must base all of their betting decisions on what is known. You can choose to hit – always a favourite with MMA fans –, stand and take whatever punishment is being dealt to you, split, or take insurance if you suspect the dealer has blackjack.
18th November 13
Latest in a series of cross-posts we’re publishing here from the monthly tech column we write for Marketing magazine in the UK. This article first appeared in the October edition.
For half a decade or more, marketers have been told to expect ‘the year of mobile’ as we watch helpful graphs plot an inexorable path to where x marks the spot: the moment mobile overtakes desktop usage globally. And yet still we see mobile marketing spends failing to keep up with user behaviour (source: KPCB, Internet Trends report, May 2013).
Some businesses are notable exceptions. It’s no surprise that smartest and most marketing-savvy of CEOs, Burberry’s (now outgoing) CEO, Angela Ahrendts, recently declared a wholesale commitment to a mobile first strategy:
“Our design teams design for a landing page and the landing page dictates what the store windows will look like, not the other way round. In creative media, they’re shooting for digital, then we are turning it back to physical… now let’s do everything for mobile and then take it back to desktop.” (CEO Talk, Business of Fashion, September 2013)
Okay, so this approach may not work perfectly for every geography, category and every audience (Ahrendts is clear that their core target audience are Millennials), but if a company the size of Burberry can adopt behaviour like this and win, what’s stopping other organisations?
With the benefit of hindsight, the issue is easier to call. We’ve had at least three false dawns for mobile marketing:
i. innovations in hardware, specifically tablets
ii. mobile apps
iii. responsive design practice
Don’t get me wrong, each of these has brought tremendous value in multiple ways, but none of these has provided a perfect solution to marketing on the move. We know most tablets stay at home. Branded apps fail more often than not (as I’ve shared before in this column, 80% of branded apps have less than 1,000 downloads according to Deloitte data published in 2011). Responsive design is an elegant solution some of the time, but of course can’t solve every communications and design issue all of the time, particularly with banners.
Truthfully, most marketers still stare at the real estate available on a mobile ‘phone and frown at the tiny little ad units with even tinier little links contained within them.
So what now? Enter cards. Yes, cards. They don’t sound like the key to the mobile marketing universe, but bear with me for a bit. Cards, aka modules, are not new in digital media, services like Pinterest and Flipboard are built on cards, for example. What is exciting is how cards are rapidly emerging as an elegant design pattern to distribute individual, small packages of information (if you’re a marketer, a light bulb should have just gone off in your head). Witness Twitter Cards (enabling multi-media data to appear in-stream alongside tweets), Google Now, Spotify’s Discover service, not to mention Google Glass, for which “timeline cards are core to the user’s interaction” according to their developer guidelines.
It’s important to note cards aren’t simply an html rectangle; think instead of a manipulatable pattern you can arrange in stacks, flip over or fold to expand or contract the information. Aggregated content can be marshalled and presented depending on different, personalised criteria: location, interests, behaviour etc.
Quite fundamentally, the likes of Google Now show us how mobile use is forcing a move away from a web that mimics the publishing world of old (linked pages of content), to individual, dynamic and shareable pieces of content instead. Cards that feel beautifully native to a mobile experience, not a mobile version of something born on a desktop. As cards as a communication canvas becomes a new norm, it strikes me the opportunities for more effective, more exciting mobile work will only grow.
Perhaps finally, we have found an elegant solution to the real estate of a small screen.
14th November 13
Posted in strategy
Authors: Jim Carroll, Chairman & Nick Fell, Strategy Director, BBH London
The Marketing World is in awe of tech brands.
It has visited the Valley, gathered at the Googleplex. It has listened to their leadership and consumed their case studies. It has invited them in for partnerships, hangouts and huddles. It has adopted their products, processes, principles and patter. It has acquired their interior design, appropriated their casual clobber.
But has the Marketing World learned how to talk like a tech brand? Is there an underlying assumption that tech brands can teach us how to behave, but not how to communicate? An ongoing suspicion that the engineer-led cultures of tech brands don’t quite ‘get’ communication?
We suspect the Marketing World has a long held, deep rooted belief that tech brands obsess too much about their own product and experiences; that they’re introverted.
Tech brands may make cool products, but they’re not so hot on insights and benefits, emotions and humanity. They don’t understand empathy. And whilst tech brands revel in the complex, coded and arcane, they’re not schooled in single-mindedness and sacrifice. They don’t know how to drill down or ladder up. They may get big data, but they don’t get big ideas.
So for all their many virtues, there’s not much the Tech World can teach the Marketing World about communication. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.
But conventional wisdom may actually be an albatross around our necks. This same wisdom tends to create a convergent mush of mood board marketing, a farrago of facile insights and shallow lifestyle posturing. Modern brands from all sectors would do well to look properly, not just at how tech brands behave, but at how they communicate.
Let’s consider a few themes.
1. Pride in product
Tech brands spend the vast majority of their time and energy in the pursuit of innovation; creating astounding products is their main obsession. There is always something new to say, whether it’s a big breakthrough or a modest upgrade. Which is why their communications are so firmly rooted in product truth.
This might be considered old-fashioned in a world of purpose-led brand building. But it provides a refreshing break from the pseudo-insights, hyperbole and overly-elaborate ideas which fill much of today’s communications landscape.
2. UX meets advertising
User experience has been defined as “the totality of an end-users’ perceptions as they interact with a product or service” (Kuniavsky, 2010).
Tech brands employ user experience design to create products which we love to use, but the influence of UX is also clear to see in how tech brands talk.
Thinking in terms of “end-users”, not audiences, means the usability of the communication is given primary importance. The result is often a visual language which is clean, precise and with plenty of white space (more on the rise of “flat design” in Adam’s post here). Tech brands also use as few words as possible to meaningfully make the point. This type of communication is disruptive precisely because it respects our desire for space and time.
3. Narrative through product
Tech brands cannot rely exclusively on the elegant delivery of product truth to succeed.
As in all other categories, communications which evoke an emotional response help brands to create affinity and preference. However, tech brands do not treat emotional and rational approaches to communications as mutually-exclusive, like oil and water. Instead they intimately combine the two; using the product as a medium to weave rich and emotionally-engaging narratives.
For example, telling the story of a teenager building a media empire through interactions on a web browser in BBH’s Google Chrome campaign or showing a dramatic rescue through a GoPro camera attached to a fireman’s helmet.
4. Cultural collaboration
Conventionally, brands employ celebrities as a means to gain attention and credibility. These are often one-dimensional, transactional relationships.
Tech brands, on the other hand, enter into genuine partnerships with individual and institutional players in culture with the aim of creating something fresh and interesting for the world to explore. Google and Arcade Fire, Samsung and David Bailey and Intel and Vice are all examples of this.
In these relationships, both parties have a part to play; the cultural collaborator is the “cool kid” to the tech brand’s “geek” persona, bringing creativity and humanity to code and hardware.
When the most innovative tech brands work with the foremost tastemakers, the result can be an irresistible combination of science and art, left brain and right brain, intelligence and magic.
5. Built-in marketing
With the previous themes, we have considered the unique way in which tech brands talk in their marketing communications.
But tech brands are also highly skilled at building marketing directly into their products. When we use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and SnapChat, we also promote them. For example, to access my friend’s pictures on WhatsApp, I have to download the app. This built-in network effect means that WhatsApp has grown to over 350m unique monthly users, with 400m photos being shared every day. All of this without any significant marketing investment.
So, let’s not just admire the Tech World’s innovative culture, agile processes and beautiful products. Let’s embrace their very particular perspective on communication. It’s a perspective that could perhaps lead us out of some of the cul de sacs of contemporary marketing. Whatever business we’re working with, in whatever sector, shouldn’t we all consider talking like a tech brand?
5th November 13
One more in a series of tech columns we’ve written for Marketing magazine this year. This article by Adam on flat design appeared in the September issue.
Author: Adam Powers, Head of UX, BBH London & BBH Labs
Sir Jony Ive revealed his vision for Apple’s iOS7 operating system on September 10th, and the SVP of Design’s vision of the world is flat.
This redesign is about more than just eradicating embossed buttons and drop shadows. In typically thoughtful mode, Ive declared, “True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter.” For the first time in perhaps a decade though, Apple is joining a movement rather than creating one.
The flat design movement has been gaining momentum amongst technology companies for some time now. Looking back, it may well have been Microsoft Windows 8 design team that pushed things past the tipping point. They created a crisp, clean and minimalist approach where geometric shapes, bold colours and sharp corners dominate the rather nice operating system. The next flat design fans were Google, with their new aesthetic applied across a dramatically improved suite of applications (Google Maps, I adore you). Then came Yahoo’s elegant weather app, but many others have followed.
Like many art and design movements, flat design was a reaction to the dominant aesthetic that preceded it. Skeumorphism – the approach that borrows affordances from a user’s day-to-day life and translates that to screen-based design with the aim of aiding comprehension. All that stitched leather, aqua shine and drop shadow of the past few years was borne from that belief. It goes back further, to the days of WYSIWYG computer desktops where the workplace norms, such as files, folders and trash cans, were employed in the language of the operating systems to help us comprehend and participate in the desktop computing revolution.
Fans of this flat aesthetic, ahem, cite this change as a sign of the maturity of human and computer interaction. Our interaction with technology no longer needs to be disguised to make it more palatable. Flat design embraces the constraints and challenges of screen-based design and runs with it. Minimalist and utilitarian design that foregoes excessive ornamentation and is sensitive to bandwidth and functionality.
Before I get caught up in adulation of this latest expression of modernism, we should pause.
It would seem that flat design might come with risks. That (once?) esteemed voice of digital usability, Jakob Nielsen, has undertaken extensive user testing focussed on everyone’s must have tech – the tablet. After testing on a whole range of fondle slabs, Jakob concludes that flat design is not optimal for tablet devices. It would appear that the absence of hover-states on tablets, combined with departure of drop shadows and the ‘less is more’ conviction of flat design, means there is “…a dearth of distinguishing signifiers for UI elements.” i.e. It is harder to intuit what is and is not clickable and therefore things are harder and less satisfying to use.
This presents a very specific challenge, but I would suggest that there are a couple of wider reaching challenges that face the flat design movement.
The first is the ever present spectre of commodification of the web. Look at the search returns page on Google, the tightening embrace of iOS and Android design guidelines or the increasingly far-reaching rules for brands on Facebook or Youtube – it’s just getting harder for brands to cut through on tech platforms and services. Though the folks at YouTube etc. might argue that brands should focus on the quality of their content rather than the ease with which they can spray their colour palette across their respective brand channels. Either way, the flat design movement does appear to be at risk of further contributing to the commodification situation.
The second challenge that I see is that much of the impetus behind flat design is from Europe and North America – where there is long history with Modernism.
What does a critical market like Asia make of flat design, for instance? A Hong Kong based expert, working at the juncture of global marketing and technology, advised me, “Whether you’re considering ux design, user testing or anything else for that matter, you mustn’t think of Asia as a single market. China is as different to Japan as it is to Australia…and each has quite a different relationship with technology…”
Actually, one doesn’t have to look too far for some quite specific insights. This Tech in Asia blog observes that in China, Vietnam and Thailand, flat design may frequently be interpreted as overly austere or ‘…a lot of hot air…” It also proposes that for many of these commercially important markets, it is in fact ‘crowded design’ that performs best.
Somebody better tell Jony.
24th October 13
Guest Author: Tom Uglow, Creative Director, Google Creative Lab
> No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse. – Theseus
On the 21st to 23rd June 2013, the Royal Shakespeare Company put on a unique, one-off performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in collaboration with Google’s Creative Lab. It took place online, and offline – at the same time. It was the culmination of an 18 month project looking at new forms of theatre with digital at the core.
Midsummer Night’s Dreaming occurred as a live performance in 4 locations over three midsummer days, following the time structure of the play (which, it turns out, meant mainly at night. Clue is in the title apparently). Simultaneously, an universe of 30 new characters were created on Google+ (i.e. Hercules, Theseus’s best man, Phoebe the Moon & Bottom’s Mum). Their role was to illuminate and augment the play. We didn’t really expect them to go spinning wildly off from the play into their own fractured and fragmented narratives online. But that happened. Even fictional characters like to document their mundane (fictional) experiences: a concept that an audience member described as “like a live online soap opera wrapped round the drama of the play”.
This piece isn’t about what we did or why – for that see about.dream40.org/why. Our collaboration on Midsummer Night’s Dreaming was an experiment for Google and an experiment for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It wasn’t really marketing or sponsorship, it wasn’t a live stream; it was a trial, a rehearsal, an attempt to do something new. #dream40 was an experiment in online narrative for the digital creative world from local theatre through to global agencies. It wasn’t a passive broadcast of a play and it was always meant to be more about questions than answers – so that is why we want to share our thoughts, what we learnt. It’s for you, if you are interested in this sort of thing.
We soon discovered that our experiment had two paradoxes buried firmly at its heart.
1. Until we saw what we were creating we didn’t know what we were creating.
2. Until new paradigms for interaction are defined it is impossible to interact within them.
And finally a truism: An audience with no idea what to expect can only have their expectations confounded. People ‘watch’ plays, they don’t ‘perform’; cultural consumption is traditionally passive. I personally realised that physical theatre is magical, transformative. It is a form of virtual reality.
“We learn through doing” said Sarah Ellis. Wisely.
And what did we learn? Well, we learnt a lot. There is almost nothing that could not have been done better, but there was also nothing wrong with what we did. And if it were a rehearsal we would be able to change up for the big night – instead of which (alas) these ‘notes’ are for other players with similar ideas.
Fail once, fail twice, fail better said Beckett. Although I am not sure who was there to hear it. Maybe Mrs Beckett tweeted it.
This project started out as an essay for Sarah Ellis’s MyShakespeare project of 2012.
It began as a question: What would theatre look like if you invented it in 2013? Would this new theatre would be physical, with a stage, un-augmented by the dominant technology of the day? A format uniquely unaffected by the profound shift from static to fluid information?
Then, we thought the essay would work better as a single scene translated via social media. This became a single act. Then a whole text, perpormed live, in real-time, in Selfridges, with cctv, and celebrities. But we never quite got to that. Google finally committed to the dream in Jan 2013 and a more modest schedule that involved a full RSC production performed over three days in the middle of the night, a creative team of five writing 2000 pieces of material for 30 new characters to be shared online non-stop for 72 hours, and a digital team of three.
Our expectations also scaled up as the project became more visible; the more people we brought in the grander the vision became. We all know how that story ends. Several things didn’t change: 1) the principle – to illuminate a traditional play with online augmentation; 2) the core team (Geraldine Collinge, Sarah Ellis, myself and James Boyce); 3) the budget.
Looking back what we achieved seems unimaginable.
Energy and reach – the ability to reach so many people worldwide on our terms was unexpected.
Theatre – the RSC’s ‘scratch’ performance was transcendent and mesmerising.
Behind the scenes – the transparency of RSC process (e.g. Hangouts) was a special win.
The RSC went from 0 to >300k followers on Google+ moving them into the top 1k brand pages globally. Their page has 375,000 +1′s (‘likes’)
We assembled a community of more than 1k creators as part of the project.
On twitter we reached more than 20m people; we assume similar reach on Google+
#dream40 trended 4th worldwide on G+ for two days
The project lives on in as a timeline and in archive form at http://dream40.org
We made a film
What people said: storify.com/tomux/dream-quotes
Behind the scenes: storify.com/tomux/dream40
What would we do differently?
1. Do all the new writing a long long long way in advance. Like a long way. Really long. We hurt the production through the anarchic chaos of having creative arriving simultaneously to the performance, and trying to incorporate live content via the audience, and having creatives live-write for their characters. Having said that, it was great fun.
2. One vision directing every aspect. We had digital, artistic and creative directors without oversight of the other teams. It was a miracle the three parts came together at all.
3. Have a strong, obvious over-arching narrative that brings in the online characters. In television a show-runner makes sure every line, every character feeds back into a topline story arc. So photos, responses, quotes should all be part of a grand whole. Keeping it firmly in the world of the play and with characters who digress less wildly onto their own orbits.
4. We didn’t let the main characters speak (which was correct,) but we should have involved them more. The play must be real, and have integrity and you shouldn’t break from the words Shakespeare wrote, or their characters — but those characters needed to exist more online and interlink with the new cast more intelligently.
5. A story requires the audience to see themselves revealed through a character. Action: Have a hero online, as well as on stage. Puck got closest to this for us and created the most interaction online. He was brilliant but we could have made more of his part.
6. Create strong media channels. People understand how to share news and gossip. We allowed too much content to be led by the characters not the events. This is the thing I feel we did least well.
7. Introduce your characters more slowly and clearly. Clarify the characters and introduce them easily. (Big profile pieces).
8. Know your content. Build a content library (including imagery & video) which can be drawn on – digital content needs significant pre-production to make sure it responds to the original text appropriately.
8. Have a stage performance that made sense of the online characters. It was a shame that the online characters did not ‘appear’ in the live performance – which in turn could have made the use of their phones make sense in the context of the play.
9. Contrive opportunities to ‘show’ the live action more, ‘Film’ must be contextual, you can’t just ‘live-stream’ – but we could have done this better than just letting audience members film and share raw from the room.
10. Screens break the wilful suspension of disbelief. When we physically sit together as a collective audience (simultaneity) this we become part of that moment; the actors transport us as a whole (transformation) to another world. But operating a phone or ipad drags us out of that world into a solitary world connected to our lives. Which is not where we should be at that moment. Mediating a shared reality or fantasy through a screen removes the possibility of being present in the reality/fantasy. This probably applies to life in general. Ban screens unless they are integrated into the dynamic of the performance.
11. The power of music. The live musical arrangement created magic and drama and tension – right down to the blackbird at daybreak in Act II – we completely failed to transfer this to the online. Which was a shame.
12. Know your tools better. I came away impressed with Google+ but we should have used it more widely beforehand. It has endless confusing but epic properties. Communities, Events, Circles, Photos, Q&A, Hangouts, +1′s, Pages, API’s etc. Fb wasn’t a focus but Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Storify were all great tools.
13. The digital stage confounded some, annoyed others, and delighted a few. It suffered from trying to show too much, yet also carried too much exposition. Trying to show the story but also not baffle first-time visitors.
14. To ‘watch’ the play, the online audience took a ‘research’ approach. While the site was pretty, the audience indicated that the play worked best in conjunction with their native G+ and Twitter i.e. as if they were browsing a news event, rather than watching a channel. Allow and encourage multiple ways to experience the action online (and maybe offline).
15. Don’t confuse the hell out of your audience. However much we hide behind the “first time” or “experient” argument, clearly the structure was baffling to some we could have done better at guiding our audience. Create catch-up trailers and hold the hand more.
16. Ask clearly and make it easy. When we specifically asked people to do something it worked well. Yet we had a community of 1k people who actively signed up yet we didn’t successfully ‘ask’ them to do as much as they clearly wanted to. Choose clear activities, create roles and jobs and assign those roles to users.
17. We obey 4th wall dynamics even when told not to. It was optimistic to imagine that our audience would disobey the natural instinct to ‘watch’ a play rather than interact. Those that did found it rewarding but those that didn’t found the fragmented, fractured and intentional disorganization off-putting. We could have helped them more. Don’t fight the desire to consume passively – give easy ways to ‘just watch’.
18. Know your level. Working with the RSC actors was incredible and perhaps highlighted the distance between 10 years of social digital and 500 years of theatrical practice.
19. Be in the room. We made it so hard by having the digital, creative and theatrical teams on different sides of the planet. That was dumb.
20. If you don’t tell people, they won’t come. Online advertising works. I know you think I would say that, but it is true.
21. Involve everyone. Alix Christie brilliantly suggested (the day before) that a journalist would have wanted a hangout round-table on issues around subjugation and misogyny in Athenian/Fairy marriage. Talk to everyone about your idea, all the time. No one will steal it.
At the end of the project we must re-examine the hypothesis and interrogate our ambitions.
Have we explored? Certainly.
Have we reached new audiences? Yes.
Was it successful? No idea.
We believe it was a blueprint for something with enormous potential. As a kindly friend put it, something that shouldn’t have worked, did sort of work – and for that reason we are very happy with the outcome.
There is more we could have done with the content and activating passive audiences. This is the power of retrospect. Also I disliked the way we used phones and cameras. They broke something – so we need to integrate the hardware, more intelligently. They need more context to be less clumsy. The actors were unperturbed, nor was everyone in the audience bothered – so possibly just me.
Throughout the project I was astonished by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it’s bravery and energy, it’s ability to conjure fairy worlds, and its belief in trying. Both from the board but also the people there, everyone was so many passionate, courageous, involved – so I would like to offer a one-person standing ovation to the entire Company. Bravo.
This was a disruptive experiment and a hugely successful one if judged simply on what we learnt and where we now move forward from.
My hope is that the next time someone wants to have a non-linear play that leaks across multiple realities in real-time performed physically and digitally simultaneously to a global audience they will not have to explain it from the ground up to blank looks and puzzled faces. They can point at the RSC’s seminal 2013 production and say “like that, but much better”.