Close-Up: Coke hits the right note with 24-hour recording session

The interactive Maroon 5 link-up was both ambitious and exhausting, W&K's Iain Tait says.

Never work with children and animals - or rockstars trying to write a new track from scratch in 24 hours. That's my new life rule.

At least, that's what I'd have said on Wednesday night, at the end of a 40-hour stretch - a week's worth of work compressed into a single sitting on one of the most complex, multi-agency, multi-region projects I've ever had the pleasure to be involved with.

With the benefit of hindsight, and a half-decent amount of sleep, I'm looking back at what was achieved. And I feel pretty good about it. I wouldn't choose to do it again next week, but I think Coca-Cola, the US rock band Maroon 5 and a bunch of agencies managed to do something pretty special.

It's obvious why Coca-Cola aligns with music. Anywhere that teenagers come together to enjoy themselves is a natural spot for the brand to be present. Music is one of the most powerful of those places, and in 2011 it would be silly to do anything for teens that didn't have interactivity at its heart.

But Coca-Cola's involvement in music isn't a new thing. In the late 1800s, it used to print branded sheet music so families could gather around a piano and sing. In the 60s, it asked artists to write tracks on the theme of "things get better with Coke". Contributors read like a who's who of music: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, The Bee Gees and more.

When Wieden &Kennedy got involved with the project, the idea of the 24-hour session with Maroon 5 was already in play. Our challenge was to create an engaging and captivating experience for teenagers, and make it happen.

Our goal was to help Maroon 5 write a track in 24 hours, to give music fans around the world access to the creative process and provide a platform for teens to interact with the band. It was also to create a tool to enable the band to harness the inspiration and energy of the crowd and execute the whole thing in a way that would work globally.

Did we succeed? Well, the band wrote a great track from scratch in 24 hours. We streamed the whole thing in a real-time and authentic way, and we managed to put social interaction into the studio in a way that was visually interesting and worked with the band's creative process. And the live-stream reached 139 countries in 24 hours.

The initial creative concept was that we'd turn the studio into an interface to make fans feel like they were part of the space, and create something the band could respond to without having to break out of their creative flow.

We took this challenge to Nexus Interactive Arts/Hellicar and Lewis, and worked with them to create a huge projection-mapped sculpture in the middle of the studio. We constructed a system which meant we could harness content from social media - and project it in a way that both the band and the event MC, Kim, could interact with using gestures.

The band's immediate responses on being introduced to the sculpture were "I feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report"and "This is cool, we should have one on tour."

The interactive system allowed people to influence the event in different ways, from capturing inspirational Twitter messages and curating the best ones into the space, through to setting up choices that users could vote for using hashtags. For example, we asked users to Tweet with #james, #jessie or #adam to let us know which guitarist's performance was best.

The biggest challenge for all parties was the unpredictability of a 24-hour session. In order for it to be a true reflection of the creative process, we had to be reactive to what was happening - or sometimes not happening - in the space. It is testament to Coca-Cola's bravery and its willingness to take risks that it even entertained such an undertaking - and that's before you've factored in the unpredictability of social media.

There was a point in the event, very early on, where the team realised that we had to stop trying to "direct" the event in a traditional sense. At various moments, I resigned myself to the fact that the process was similar to making a nature documentary. There was no way we could force the whale to jump, but everyone was holding their breath hoping it would. Thankfully, it did.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing for me was how many people were hooked on the slow (and often repetitive) late-night stream - tens of thousands of people around the globe, fascinated by a glimpse into a world where they were part of the real-time evolution of a new piece of music. At a time when everything is sped up and compressed into bite-sized YouTubeable chunks, it felt like this 24-hour experiment was exotic, different and important.

Iain Tait is the global interactive creative director at Wieden & Kennedy.

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