Close-Up: Purefold puts creative idea into public's hands

But are clients ready to hand over strategic control of their brands' ad campaigns to consumers? Noel Bussey investigates.

The way in which ideas for ad campaigns are generated is about to dramatically change. No longer will a marketing director hand a brief to an agency, which then gives it to its planners and creatives and, voila, up pops a piece of film.

Now the audience will dictate the idea through their day-to-day weblives. This is filtered, written, shot and fed back to them by Ridley Scott. They then decide on its future and how it develops while being able to use any of the material for their own purposes free of charge.

Described as an "open licence cross-platform franchise", Purefold takes user-generated content and product placement and meshes them together to create ad- funded, user-generated, premium quality online programming.

Understandably, the originator of the franchise, a company called Ag8, is very excited.

The Scotts (Ridley, Tony and Luke), who are adding the considerable weight of their names and expertise to the project, are also extremely excited, as are a number of partners from media agencies, such as Aegis, WPP and Naked, and a number of clients, who will be announced in the coming weeks.

Simon Andrews, the former chief strategy officer at Mindshare Interaction, says: "The vast majority of web content is soulless and pedestrian. Purefold positions film as an invention enabler rather than an invention presentation and we have a number of our clients getting involved."

If the idea works as Ag8 says it will, then the benefits for clients could be huge - a successful campaign could run indefinitely with hundreds of episodes spreading into a huge volume of work with never-before-seen levels of consumer interaction.

It could also spell the end of research, because the customers will be effectively doing that themselves by dictating the path of the storylines.

There is also a first-of-its-kind distribution deal that gives audiences, brands and media platforms unprecedented equal use rights so they can re-use, re-work and replay with the content as often as they like.

However, there is a certain amount of scepticism (and lack of understanding) around Purefold.

For example, there is the question of whether enough clients will be willing to open their brands to the public at large without wanting to research any ideas themselves or take control of the editing.

David Bausola, a co-founder of Ag8 and former creative technologist at Imagination who co-created the successful "Where are the Joneses?" campaign for Ford of Europe, tries to allay these fears: "Editing is for narrative needs. As long as brand and agencies define the proposition (the conversation they want to sponsor), they will not need to have final cut. Equally, as we increase the frequency of publishing, the process is time- critical (listening to the audience and responding with film within days, not months). This will require editorial and creative teams to work without interference."

There is also a fear that the recession makes the idea too much of a gamble for more than a handful of clients with big enough budgets.

An insider says: "The guys need to work out an elevator pitch. Not everyone can get their head around it."

Tom Himpe, a co-founder of Ag8, retorts: "Brands can share the costs of production and any media promotions. From ensemble cast through to open source technology, we've built the project as a platform for participation."

Plus, there is a pilot season being put together as a way for brands to sample the process before committing to longer commissions.

There is also the commonly held belief that as exciting as consumer-generated ideas sound, there is only a tiny percentage of people who have the time or inclination to become so involved with a brand.

However, Bausola points to the Community Power Rule: 1.9.90 as an exact representation of who will be involved. It states that 90 per of the audience will be passive, 9 per cent will be highly active participants and 1 per cent will be the production artists. An equation that Ag8 believes completely justifies any client spend and will result in huge effectiveness ratings.

Past cases of UGC and product placement have also led to consumers feeling alienated instead of included.

"This is a huge danger," Mike Watson, a creative director at EHS Brann, who managed to get his head around the concept, says. "This is where these ideas often fail. But the presence of Ridley Scott should help, and as long as they can ensure that the consumer feels ownership and that they believe they are working closely with the director, then it should be successful."

There is obviously a certain level of distrust about the concept with many questioning, for all its hard-to-grasp concepts, whether it is new at all.

Graham Fink, the executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, says: "Any good agency will already be doing this sort of thing anyway. All of our creatives are constantly in tune with ideas from the world around them and are always picking up stuff from the internet and making it into viable creative, whether it be virals or TV. My question is: how does it differ?"

Bausola says: "Purefold will thrive with diversity of brands; Ag8 being neutral and not looking for direct client relationship, Purefold is positioned as a vendor product, with all of the content issues worked out. It's plug and play for brand content with a broad diverse global audience of committees."

There is also the obvious question of whether the general public, through its conversations on websites and blogs, can be a substitute for that flash of inspired creative genius that the multibillion-pound global ad industry has been built on for so many years - many think not.

The idea behind Purefold is certainly a very interesting one, and the fact that Ridley Scott is on board lends it gravitas. If handled successfully, it could change the way in which UGC is looked at - however, it is worth remembering that the audience and client bases are still very small and any developments in Purefold will take time to come to the fore. It seems, for now, that agency creatives probably don't need to be worried for their jobs as ideas originators.


1. The web aggregator Friendfeed scans social networks for conversations.

2. Popular ones are used by brands, who pay a flat fee for the service, as the basis for storylines for online films.

3. The ideas are fleshed out by professional writers, including Henry Normal, a British comedy writer and the co-founder of Baby Cow Productions, and Cory Doctorow, a blogger and Sci-Fi author.

4. The scripts are developed into five-minute films directed by RSA directors (such as Tony Scott) from around the world.

5. Once made, the films are seeded online, where consumers can develop the storyline through talking or blogging about it. The highest-rated bits are kept and developed into further films, while the worst bits are unceremoniously dumped.