Gabey Goh
Jun 22, 2016

Tech for tech's sake is so last year: McCann Melbourne

McCann Melbourne's ECD Pat Baron and MD Adrian Mills discuss change in the air, and what it means for their own 'shocking' work.

L-R: Pat Baron & Adrian Mills
L-R: Pat Baron & Adrian Mills

CANNES - There’s a sense of shift at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, according to McCann Melbourne ECD Pat Baron, when it comes to how juries evaluate technology-centric campaigns.

“There’s a change in the wind,” he told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “It’s going back to the idea, good old-fashioned analogue ideas that also happen to use technology.”

MD Adrian Mills noted that in recent years, “awards have been awarded just because it’s technology”, but shiny coded novelty appears to be waning, probably to the long-term benefit of the creative industry.

The McCann execs believe desire from Cannes juries to see more than just interesting technology at play for “technology’s sake” might hold their submission this year in good stead.

‘The Emotional Trailer’ for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has been submitted in a few categories, notably Cyber, Digital and Creative Data.

More Cannes 2016 coverage

Looking back at the campaign, which ran in mid-2015, Mills shared that the client was grappling with an Australian movie-going audience that had little to no interest in foreign or art-house films.

“Movie-going Australians are pretty dull as it turns out," he said. "They prefer to know what the film will make them feel before going in. The top three films of all time are Babe, Crocodile Dundee and Australia, and with the top 50 movies, 44 are sequels.”

The problem then, was how do you get people who want a predictable outcome to go see a movie in a language they don’t understand starring actors and a director they’ve never heard of?

The answer, and creative concept, centred on the notion of connecting with audiences via emotions, to “Feel the film; before you see the film”.

“When there’s no law for it, you know it’s pretty new,” said Mills. “We effectively invented a way to electrocute people in the name of advertising but also, a novel way to experience a movie.”

Hack the face

During special preview screenings with prominent movie critics, the agency captured the six key human emotions for every film at the festival via a mobile app and biometric sensors. This data created an ‘emotional script’, condensing a two-hour film to one minute.

The data was then fed via electric stimulation into the facial muscles of willing participants to "act out" the emotional arc of the film, essentially using the human face as a display. 

At the festival, audiences also experienced the 'scripts' in a custom-built movie chair called the Emotional Simulator. These experiences were filmed, and created 'emotional trailers' for every film at the festival.

Distributed through social media, the trailers linked directly to online ticket sales.

Technical and production partner Airbag led the technical aspect of the campaign, and director Steven Nicholson experimented on himself with a small multi-tap transformer before moving on to TENS devices in order to isolate combinations of stimuli and electrode placements that worked for the muscle groups on the face.

“It took him a while to get the voltage right and the right machine, he even burnt himself in the process,” recalled Baron.

Nicholson also wrote the software that converted the data gathered about the films into a format that worked for the Emotion Simulator [read Nicholson’s own blog post about the project].

Cannes chances

The campaign resulted in the highest ever ticket sales in MIFF’s history. The trailers drove an 800 percent increase in social shares, and tickets to preview films sold out within two days.

The agency also reports that the campaign led to US$30.1 million in earned media, 14 million people reached and a 40 percent Increase in mobile traffic to the festival's website.

“We use creativity to solve business problems, and invention is the strongest from of creativity,” Mills said. “There’s more likely a tech solution for an idea theses days and if not, we invent our way into it.”

For Baron, ‘The Emotional Trailer’ was a playful and clever use of data and technology that people could experience, and another step beyond just using technology “for technology’s sake”.

Asked about their chances of bringing a Cannes Lions home, the duo honestly answered that they don't know.

But keep in mind that this is the same shop behind 'Dumb ways to die', for Metro Trains Melbourne, which took home five Grands Prix plus 18 gold, three silver and one bronze in 2013.

[Update: The campaign won three awards in the Creative Data category: one Gold, one Silver and one Bronze.]

Mills noted that “it’s a pretty small campaign” and one that the team is quite proud of given that the task at hand was to sell something to people who don’t want it, and that included members of the team themselves.

“We proved we can sell the unsellable and in the process invented a new kind of trailer,” he added “Which is cool because art-house film trailers suck.”

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