As is so often the case, the idea to partner with Gorillaz to help launch our new browser, Internet Explorer 9, came quite late in the day. We were six weeks away from launch day when we landed the concept.
The idea was very simple. IE9's USP is that it uses the power of your computer to make online video and audio content play a whole lot better; no plug-ins are needed and there's virtually no lag-time. It's like watching HDTV on the web, making browsing a richer, more immersive experience.
Our target audience for the launch was the "tech trendsetter", who we knew over-indexed in their love for music and brands that innovate. We decided that a partnership with a band that is renowned for technical innovation, creativity and reliant on super animation and graphics to connect with their fans would be an ideal launch vehicle.
So we called Gorillaz.
Making it happen
Critical to the campaign's success was getting Gorillaz to really understand and buy into the benefits of IE9 and how it would make their website a faster, richer and more interactive destination for fans.
First up, we agreed to create a short film to showcase IE9. Unusually, very little footage remains on the cutting-room floor - the original brief was for a two-minute animation, but the great content kept coming, resulting in the final film clocking in at seven minutes long.
In the movie, Gorillaz' self-proclaimed leader and bass player, Murdoc Faust Niccals, gives a tour of his website featured on www.gorillaz.com, powered by IE9 beta. Gorillaz also created some web geek characters for him to interact with. This allowed us to demonstrate some of the more technical product features of our browser, which we knew were key to our target audience.
On several occasions, we asked the Gorillaz team to challenge us further. They were very good at protecting our brand, but we wanted them to really push us to the limits of our comfort zone; and so we gave them the freedom to play with our logo, and have some fun at our expense (there are several in-jokes and veiled references hidden in the film for the eagle-eyed).
This was really important as we wanted IE9 to be fully immersed in Gorillaz' world. It wouldn't have worked had we reined them in and asked them to be more corporate. What's the point of partnering with a super-cool brand and then diluting it to fit it into a laptop bag?
The IE9 beta corporate campaign theme is "The beautiful web" - and so we let Murdoc riff on that phrase. As a result, he describes the new browser in his own inimitable style as "a wizard's portal" - which has become something of a catchphrase for Microsoft staff - and seems to have resonated well with the tech trendsetters who are commenting about the campaign on Twitter.
Off the page
The campaign was not without the occasional hiccup - as you would expect working at such a pace.
Notably, rights for assets that appear online can be a sticky area, and is often best left to the lawyers. The challenge is that once assets are released online, anyone globally can access them - so we tackled the issue with some geo-blocking where necessary, and also by ensuring that the only place globally where the film can be viewed is on www.gorillaz.com.
Additional promotions included a free Gorillaz theme pack for Windows 7, for every-one who downloaded or upgraded to the latest browser. This includes exclusive Gorillaz wallpapers and sounds for your PC (if having Murdoc's grunts on your PC start-up and shut-down is your thing. Speaking from experience, it livens up the commute home on a quiet, unsuspecting train carriage).
The collaboration has just begun. We will be announcing a competition to develop a new Gorillaz character this month, and also have a presence on the UK tour.
It was a proud moment for the Microsoft team last month at the launch event, with Gorillaz in attendance. As I stood next to Andrea Vidler, the UK president of EMI, and Ashley Highfield, the managing director of Microsoft's Consumer Division in the UK, we looked at each other in shock (and maybe a little awe) that we had landed the partnership and successfully made a short film from campaign idea to final delivery in just six weeks. We may not be wizards but, according to Murdoc, we do have a "wizard's portal".
Paul Davies is the director of marketing communications for Microsoft UK.