10 Things I Learned in a Creative Hot House
Last summer, about 20 of my colleagues from around the global Ogilvy network and I as well as executives from The Coca-Cola Company, all took up residence in a brownstone in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn for a 2- week brainstorm.
We had a problem to solve: research showed that in the U.S. 80% of people never tried Coke Zero. And if they have tried it, they think it tastes just like any diet soda. Yet 60% of people who do try it, like it.
So, how could we get more people to taste Coke Zero?
The client needed a new campaign, and nobody thought that the idea we would ultimately sell in would be a trial campaign, but that’s what they bought, and incidentally, that’s the work that’s been entered into Cannes this year.
Every day for 14 days, we began work at 9:30 a.m. and continued well into the night—in the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, den, backyard, front steps. People in the neighborhood began to address us by name on trips to the deli.
Because there’s already a lot of creative tension at the beginning of any hot house session, it’s important to agree on the essentials right from the start: the foremost being food and what to order in for that many people from different cultures. We chose cuisine themes each day, which Brooklyn was well equipped to satisfy—Hungarian, Greek, Ethiopian, Mexican, Vietnamese, etc.; you name it, Brooklyn can deliver it.
Here are some of the lessons one can learn about life and human behavior when spending that much time in such close quarters with the clock ticking towards an important goal.
1. Surprisingly, the one food on which we imposed a moratorium was pizza. It reminded everyone of too many late nights at the office and was therefore banned.
2. The personality of the family with four kids who live in that brownstone year-round (they were on vacation) became evident by their detritus—toys, shoes, and worn-down couch cushions were just a few indications of the bonhomie that takes place when they’re home.
3. It is very hard to navigate through a family home and not stumble over hundreds of computer charger cables and bodies working in any available corner.
4. It takes as much time cleaning up a house for our clients to come in as it does to prepare the actual client presentations.
5. My biggest surprise—it never felt like work even though that’s all we did. Being creative without distractions can be beautiful and inspiring.
6. The smallest room in the house, one of the kid’s rooms, was the most popular because it had a bunk bed and a great selection of He-Man figures.
7. Fights broke out, not about the creative, but in lines for the bathrooms.
8. Looming deadlines make people surprisingly blunt and thick-skinned.
9. Friendships were formed and romances bloomed but what happened in Clinton Hills stays in Clinton Hill.
10. Having a developer who can bring ideas to life in real time generates an intense willingness to try even far-fetched ideas, hence the idea that the client bought—Drinkable Advertising.
And that’s what we did, we made advertising drinkable. From OOH, to social, to digital, to print, every medium became an opportunity for people to end up with a Coke Zero in their hand.
The campaign launched during March Madness earlier this year carrying the tagline, “You don’t know Zero “‘til you’ve tried it.”
We created a two-story high traveling billboard that toured some U.S. cities dispensing real Coke Zero. Print ads contained detachable cups that could be redeemed and filled with free Coke Zero. We even made TV and radio drinkable by using the audio recognition technology Shazam in an unusual way. March Madness viewers who watched Coke Zero commercials could open Shazam, hold their phones up to the TV screen, and get a Coke Zero “poured” into their smartphones. They can then redeem a free coke zero at Target.
All in all, the tension, the thinking, the cultures, languages and ideas gave us the feeling of anything being possible. It’s what kept us going even when energy flagged. The ebullience that comes with getting to that big idea never gets old.
Corinna Falusi is chief creative officer of the New York office of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising