Close-Up: Why AMV is taking app users on a journey into sound

In order to stimulate the senses of young people, the agency has devised a video game without any video for its Wrigley client.

As any parent will tell you, getting through to young people is nigh-on impossible. So what chance does a chewing gum have? Well, how about if we blast them into space and challenge them to escape with their lives?

5 Gum from Wrigley has always been centred on the premise of stimulating the senses, so we wanted to create experiences that really did deliver on that brand promise.

We wanted to give young people something sensorial that would take them to places they'd never been before. As our client Nikki Kensit, Wrigley's 5 brand manager, put it: "We want to reach out to a youth audience and give them something unique and exciting."

That something we called The 5 Experience: a range of never-done-before, co-created experiences that would tap into the classic youth interests of fashion, music, art, film and gaming.

But how to kick it all off? First, we talked to our youth audience in the one place they've always got their ears - their smartphones.

Now, every Tom, Dick and Harry is producing video apps. So this really had to be something else. Which is probably why we approached a company actually called Somethin' Else. Our producer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Esther Cunliffe, had discovered Somethin' Else when looking for partners for us to work with on the project. It had produced some incredibly interesting work such as the groundbreaking Papa Sangre app using "binaural sound". Basically, it means creating sounds in a 3D way to replicate real life as closely as possible.

Suddenly, we could do something unique. We could deliver a video game without any video. Brilliant. By putting on their earphones, our smartphone owners would be able to find their way around an environment by using sound alone.

This was the springboard we'd been looking for. Myself and Thiago de Moraes, a creative partner at AMV, sat down with the guys from Somethin' Else and started thrashing a few ideas around.

There was the Victorian murder hunt in the sewers under London. Then there was the seance that went wrong and the player having to find their way back from hell. But, finally, we came up with something that excited us and set our own senses jangling: The Nightjar. Flung into the deepest, darkest reaches of space, players find themselves stuck on The Nightjar, a dying spaceship on a decaying orbit around a black hole. The crew have left you stranded. It's completely pitch black. You have to find your way around just by using your ears. You walk by using your thumbs on special pads on the iPhone screen and, by using a directional guide, you turn to locate the right sounds to follow.

There's also the voice of the mysterious "Dickie" in your ears who guides you along. We chose Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock and soon-to-be star of Steven Spielberg's film version of War Horse) to be that voice. He too had never been involved in anything like this.

Life-support is failing, danger lurks at every turn, one wrong step and you die. And then, just when you think things can't get much worse, The Nightjar becomes infested with brain-eating aliens.

And even if by some small miracle, you do manage to get to the end of all 14 levels, the ending is yet another head-scrambler where you have to choose whether to trust the computer or Dickie. Choose right and you live, choose wrong and it's bye-bye Mr Spaceman.

To launch the game, we gave the impression of launching The Nightjar spacecraft itself. Somethin' Else set up a Twitter feed for The Nightjar as it hurtled on its mission towards the Black Dog black hole, as well as another for its sister ship The Night Owl and even one for The Nightjar's computer. Word soon spread that something very special was coming.

We also commissioned five stunning posters by artists including Andy Gilmour that we released in targeted publications to get influencers on board. We wanted it to feel as though we were releasing something as big and important as a movie, rather than just another app.

But words alone could never do The Nightjar justice. The only way to truly experience it is for consumers to download it for free from the App Store. If they dare.

Mark Fairbanks is a creative director at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

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