Absolut Silverpoint: Marketing that takes over your life, not your screen

Absolut Silverpoint: Marketing that takes over your life, not your screen

October 12, 2015

When Advertising Week happened a couple of weeks ago, I joined a discussion about Absolut Silverpoint, a marketing campaign that ran in London for 14 days last April. Silverpoint was noteworthy because it was an app, not an ad. It didn’t take over your computer screen unbidden; you had to download it. It was the kind of marketing people actually want to experience, as opposed to the kind they go out of their way to avoid. It was immersive, not intrusive. As Brand Republic put it, “Absolut’s Silverpoint app has taken over our lives.” Which makes it a sort of model for what marketing has to do in the future.

How did it work? It started off as a simple iPhone game you could download from the Apple Store. As you played it, it morphed into a story—a mystery story about a woman named Chloe who has gone missing. New bits of story were unlocked as you moved up through the levels in the game. Finally it morphed into a live theatrical experience staged by Punchdrunk, the company behind Sleep No More, the immersive theater production that’s been running in New York for more than four years now.

Absolut’s goal was to re­new its con­nec­tion with Andy War­hol, whose participation in the 1985 Absolut War­hol campaign became the first in a series of collaborations be­tween the brand and hot artists, and to call at­ten­tion to a new limited-edi­tion An­dy War­hol bot­tle series. Created by the London agency Some­thin’ Else in partnership with Punchdrunk and the Andy War­hol Founda­tion, the ex­peri­ence played off a set of long-for­gotten draw­ings War­hol had made in the 1950s, well before he be­came fa­mous. The drawings were done in sil­ver­point, a trad­itional tech­nique that involves drawing with a silver stick. Hence the name.

The Warhol imagery served as a starting point for the game. As you set about retracing Chloe’s steps, the game began to learn things about you. Eventually, using iBeacon tech­nolo­gy to com­muni­cate with your phone, it might lead you to a London bar where you’d be given a free drink of Ab­solut. Those who were most en­gaged found themselves led 15 to 20 at a time into the sub-basement of a Victorian shop­ping ar­cade in Isling­ton. There, in a small and claustro­phobic room, the mys­tery of Chloe’s dis­appear­ance took an unnerv­ing turn when one of the group was hurled into a pit—or so it seemed. (In truth a manne­quin was involved.)

Ac­cord­ing to Some­thin’ Else, more than 20,000 people have down­loaded the game, and about 2,500 took part in one of its live events. (The app can still be downloaded in the UK, but the live portion ended in April.) Some 13,000 played the game for five hours or more. The campaign reached nearly three-quarters of the 25-to-34-year-olds in London—the dominant age group in the capital, with a much higher percentage of the population there than in the rest of England.

A couple of years ago, some­thing like this might have been billed as an alter­nate re­ality game. Not now. “We call these things content systems,” Somethin’ Else’s chief creative officer, Paul Ben­nun, told me as we sat in the green room with Adam Boita, head of market­ing for Pernod Ricard UK, and Punch­drunk founder Felix Bar­rett. “When every­thing is inter­connect­ed, it means that everything is in­ter­de­pendent. You have to see it as a sys­tem. You have to use systems think­ing”—and story is one element in the system.

At the same time, Absolut Silverpoint demonstrates the blur that digital en­cour­ages. The Absolut Warhol cam­paign 30 years ago was a blend of art and com­merce, but it ran in magazines where it was clearly cate­gorized as advertising. Ab­solut Silver­point was not an ad in any con­ven­tional sense. Instead it was many things at once: market­ing, promo­tion, enter­tain­ment, game, story, thea­ter. . . . Most importantly of all, it aimed to draw you in, not to leap out in front of your screen.

The Sea We Swim In

"It’s a zingier version, then, of the post-Aristotelian story-theory books beloved of screenwriters, with a rich range of reference that takes in the novels of Gustave Flaubert as well as the twists of ABC's 'Lost.' But the analysis has a wider salience. . . . It’s critical thinking for an age of pervasive media."

— Steven Poole, The Wall Street Journal


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