Armistice Day: a moving masterclass in experiential
A view from Sam Oxley

Armistice Day: a moving masterclass in experiential

From The Tower Remembers to the silhouettes of Tommies, Produce UK's managing director considers the takeaways for brands.

Over the weekend, we were presented with a masterclass in how to create highly engaging and moving experiences from the installations and moments that commemorated Armistice Day. While Donald Trump dodged the rain in Paris, thousands of people paid their respects at some incredible cultural installations taking place in Britain and around the world.

At Produce, we’ve been reflecting on how many of the events were inspired and driven by art and culture. In an age when brands are working so rigidly to ideas and creatives driven by algorithms and data, the events that took place over the weekend felt like they were informed by a different motivator: emotion.

One can’t help but feel moved and impacted by every moment of commemoration witnessed – from the more personal statements, such as the driver who created a WWI scene on the back of his van, to the Seaham Tommy crying poppy "tears" to large-scale experiences such as Danny Boyle’s wonderful "Pages of the Sea" project, which created sand portraits on beaches across the country to remember the men and women who left our shores during the war.

For us, there are some moments that stood out. The rounded storytelling and curatorial depth of the Tower of London’s memorial project was quite literally illuminating. Ten thousand memorial flames were lit for "Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers", creating the ultimate Instagram moment and filling the moat of the tower with light. But the slow, thoughtful performance and process of lighting the flames – taking 40-50 minutes each evening – provided the space to pause and consider what Armistice Day really represents.

As placemakers, we were impressed by the approach of the Canary Wharf experience. Mark Humphrey, who worked with the Canary Wharf estate in 2016, returned to the site this year with 11 artworks to create an inspirational journey around the area in partnership with The Royal British Legion.

Less high-profile artwork caught our attention, too – 72,396 shrouds were placed in lines in the Olympic Park, each representing a British or Commonwealth soldier who lost their life at the Somme and was never formally identified. The piece, titled "Shrouds of the Somme", was created by artist Rob Heard. Each delicately shrouded soldier was placed carefully in the field, representing the fallen so simply and so perfectly.

What binds so many of these ideas is how they are at once relevant, creative, thoughtful and inspirational. And not one compromises on quality or integrity. Every idea is born from a desire to genuinely connect. And that’s just what art and culture and brave thinking does – and what brands can learn to harness.

The work we have witnessed demonstrates that there is an innate desire and receptiveness in all of us to participate, to be touched with emotion in a way that all other marketing channels just can’t compete. In real life, activations create dialogue, intensely personal and deep, two-way connections that just can’t be replicated with other approaches.

Of all we have seen, our best-practice beacon is the "Wave and Weeping Window" project, live for the past four years and witnessed during that time by more than four million people. This campaign has everything: longevity, accessibility, beauty and bravery. Bravo to Paul Cummins and Tom Piper for showing us all how it’s done and demonstrating that artful thinking can transcend boundaries and connect us all.

Sam Oxley is managing director at Produce UK

Image credit © Historic Royal Palaces