Close-Up: Nokia and the rise of social benefit storytelling

Conspiracy For Good enlisted Nokia for a groundbreaking form of social responsibility. Tim Kring explains how it works.

On my television show Heroes, we talked a lot about saving the world.

We wore this high-minded goal proudly and unabashedly on our sleeve. It turns out there was a very large segment of the audience who passionately connected to this message of interconnectivity and global consciousness.

So, after exploring these lofty themes in fiction for a few years, I began to think: what if this "save-the-world" goal could roll out into real-world? What if I could create a narrative where the audience would actually become a part of the story? And what if the whole thing ended up achieving positive, real-world results?

What hatched from these questions was an idea called the Conspiracy For Good, a groundbreaking form of entertainment that marked the creation of what we are calling "social benefit storytelling".

We presented this idea to Nokia, and it was then that the true power of the Conspiracy For Good came to fruition. Nokia was enthusiastic about creating a unique form of content and as a company with a deep sense of social responsibility, it understood the power of mobilising and connecting people for the purpose of doing "good".

The goal became to create a narrative that could play out on multiple media platforms - www.conspiracyforgood.com, mobile, music, Twitter, Facebook. It would have to become a pervasive story, something you lived "inside" of all the time. The clues to the story would be hidden in the world around us: on the sidewalks we walk down, the music we listen to, the billboards we pass on our way to work.

Our partnership with Nokia made much of this possible. This giant tech company opened its doors to us, allowing us to truly develop and blend technology with story. Mobile devices have the unique qualities of GPS, applications, a camera, texting, e-mail.

We worked with all these tools to make sure that they added to the deep canon of the story that was already beginning to live on various websites.

At the heart of the pilot for the Conspiracy For Good was a mobile application, powered by Nokia's Point & Find technology, which allowed its members to use the camera in their mobile phones to find and create specific "tags" on realworld objects. These physical tags could connect them to an image, text or a video on their phone's web browser, all in interactive service of the story. Suddenly, the streets of a city could be converted into a secret treasure trove of hidden clues and messages: a city could become a gameboard itself!

London was chosen as the test city for the pilot of the Conspiracy For Good this summer. We began to build the narrative online two months before its launch in the city, with the introduction of our villain, a fictitious, evil, omnipresent multinational corporation called Blackwell Briggs.

Then came the introduction of our protagonist, Nadirah X, a simple schoolteacher in a village in Eastern Zambia, who had recently promised her students that she would have a library built for their school. This allowed us to incorporate a real-world non-government organisation called Room To Read, an organisation that has built more than 10,000 libraries in underdeveloped areas around the world.

When Nadirah discovered that Blackwell Briggs was illegally building a pipeline through the property where the library was to be built, she embarked on a dangerous, real-time journey to London to confront Sir Ian Briggs himself with the evidence. Four weeks later, after following her harrowing sojourn to the UK online, Nadirah arrived in London. Our participants physically met her at the Tower of London and kicked off a four-week immersive experience on the city's streets.

Over the following three consecutive Saturdays, conspirators came together to find "tagged" clues, solve mysteries, move the story forward and interact with each other and actors on the street. These events were highlighted by concerts and impromptu flash mobs, creating an immersive story that played out all around them. In the finale, Briggs was taken away by Scotland Yard for his crimes, clearing the way, in reality, for five libraries to be established in Eastern Zambia, stocked with books from the Pearson Foundation, and 50 scholarships given to schoolgirls.

The success of the project was its groundbreaking nature. The combination of real-world results with multi-platform storytelling captured the public's imagination and proved that becoming part of a story is an enormously effective tool to activate, engage and mobilise people to get involved in creating positive change in the world.

There was no such thing as the Conspiracy For Good ... until we built it. Now it exists and it's up to us to keep it alive. I am not allowed to tell you right now what is next. What I can tell you is to look for the clues. They're everywhere.

- Tim Kring is the creator, executive producer and writer of Heroes.

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