Thank God that, these days, it's no longer just ads that get us excited; it's things like the resurrection of Wispa and Rage Against The Machine that capture our attention. But what do these campaigns have in common? They were digital, participatory ...? Blah blah blah you say, but before you protest that we live in a post-digital age and declare the digital agency dead, let's see what we've learnt along the way that can teach the big boys a thing or two about advertising.
Wispa and Rage Against The Machine were movements that started small and ended up big, because they were authentic and relevant, because they were adopted by people who then went on to generate further momentum but, above all, because if the right people get behind something and passionately believe in it, the sky is the limit.
So, if we've learnt anything at Saint, it's that with the right planning, small can become big - ie. if we design experiences that are good enough to please a few and are inherently social and have mobility, we can still go on to generate fame among many.
Design your campaign bottom-up. Be clear about the action you wish to create. Give attention to the detail. Make sure you plant your seeds in fertile soil. Go to where the audience is and give out the tools to activate your mission. Be this via content, code, a platform for them to express themselves, whatever. Make sure that if there is the will, there is a way. Start small, aim big - that's what we say. Here are three case studies of our own that have this principle at their heart.
Recently, we were asked by the V&A to help promote the UK's first ever digital art exhibition, "Decode: Digital Design Sensations". With a very limited budget, we went small and created the "Recode Decode" campaign.
We designed and built an interactive platform where visitors could manipulate the work of renowned digital artist Karsten Schmidt and then upload the results to the site. The best entries were used on digital screens on the London Underground and at other outdoor locations. The results were staggering: the exhibition completely sold out and the V&A received a whopping ROI of 1,000 per cent.
But why was this so successful? Well, first, we gave people a valuable experience and second, we spoke to the right people, leveraging their social connections. Before the campaign went live, we had already identified 30 key influencers in the world of digital art and had contacted them directly. This wasn't just PR, but a key facet of the campaign that was virtually free.
Our targeted message to a small group of influencers quickly became a broadcast message that had the reach of a campaign costing at least ten times as much using traditional media.
Another example is our work for the Home Office. "It doesn't have to happen" is a campaign that has been designed to mobilise young people affected by knife crime against the practice of carrying a knife. To launch it, we went small by creating a community website hosted on the social networking site Bebo.
We then took this a step further by creating "Freestyle King", a competition to find the UK's best young rapper. Twenty thousand virtual MC battles took place over four weeks during which members of the 11,000-strong "It Doesn't Have To Happen" community voted for their winner, Lil Dreads.
Nothing too out of the ordinary, you may think, but what was astonishing about this campaign is that Lil Dreads went on to give interviews in the national media, thus spreading the "It Doesn't Have To Happen" message to the entirety of the UK. He even appeared on Blue Peter where his contribution to the anti-knife crime movement was rewarded with a gold Blue Peter badge. This exposure alone more than paid for the entire campaign - it's just another example of how small bottom-up approaches can make a real difference.
When it came to designing our most recent campaign for the Swedish cider brand Kopparberg, we were as obsessed with the smaller nuts and bolts of how consumers would experience our brand as we were with the big glorious 60s cinema TV commercial we produced that would espouse the brand's philosophy.
We knew that our audience of urban drinkers have a particular love for the latest bands and the newest music. So we sourced an unsigned band, Joy Formidable, to become the backbone of the campaign. We then threw an amazing gig, which we filmed, photographed, and recorded. It was organised chaos but it gave us everything we needed; the independent cinema ad, the press, the posters, the online content, and a great promo for the band. We created the collateral for an entire campaign from just one tiny gig.
We also wanted to ensure the brand gave something back to its consumers, something exclusive that made them feel valued, so we created the Kopparberg Klash - a series of five underground events celebrating alterative music, photography, style and film held in partnership with VICE magazine. We hope that our campaign has helped the brand become a bit of a talking point and something worthy of sharing.
We ask for forgiveness if you think we've been a little preachy, but we're genuinely proud and excited to prove that you don't need mega-bucks to succeed. As long as you're clear what you want people to do and you cultivate the right conditions for it to happen, something small can grow very big indeed.
- Start small, aim big
- A small brand experience, designed to invite participation and to be shared, can generate its own large-scale momentum and following without the luxury of huge media budgets.
- Adam Graham is the operations partner and Zaid Al-Zaidy is the managing partner at Saint@RKCR/Y&R