Drawing a Music Video with MEC and Sarah Harmer

What if you could create a music video using drawings by thousands of fans?

That's the idea that Capulet recommended to outdoor gear retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), as part of our work on their multi-year conservation campaign, The Big Wild. Capulet brokered a partnership between MEC and Canadian singer-songwriter, Sarah Harmer, to launch a digital campaign called Drawn to the Wild

Canadians were invited to participate in the campaign by making artistic contributions to Harmer’s "I'm a Mountain" video. Members were asked to use web-based drawing tools to trace or enhance one of the thousands of frames that comprised the original music video.

This campaign was designed to raise awareness for threatened Canadian landscapes. For every re-envisioned frame submitted on the website, Mountain Equipment Co-op donated funds for Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL), Harmer’s environmental organization dedicated to protecting the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario.

"The Niagara Escarpment's survival as a unique natural environment is seriously threatened. Drawn to the Wild is one way Canadians can both support its protection and collaborate with me and each other in a fun and creative way." - Sarah Harmer

Drawn to the Wild was one of many campaigns and platforms we invented and developed for MEC over our five years of work with them. With Drawn to the Wild, we created something fresh and fun for the MEC audience, who are regularly contacted via email marketing, advertising and social media about environmental campaigns. 

Where did this idea come from? We're advocates of “distealing”--distilling an idea you stole. In this case, Drawn to the Wild was inspired by the remarkable Johnny Cash Project, which was way ahead of its time back in 2009. The world of marketing is full of the pretence of originality. When you're inspired by other projects, it's very important that you acknowledge those sources. We acknowledged the Johnny Cash Project on the project website and in MEC's communications about it. 

We worked with Agentic Digital Media, who designed and developed the microsite. They developed a user experience that was fun and straightforward to use. Importantly, it also  enabled MEC staff to vet and organize submissions. Frames were added to the video on the fly so that participants could click play to watch the music video take shape right before their eyes.

Lessons Learned

What lessons did we take away from this project?

  • Don't assume too little of your customers or supporters. While drawing on a video frame was fun, it was much more complicated and time-consuming than entering an email address or tweeting a message of support. This was a 'high-friction ask.' The average visitors spent six minutes on their frame, so we created a how-to video to walk users through the process. Still, the average user of Drawn to the Wild actually submitted two frames, and two enthusiastic contributors drew over 50 frames each.
  • Your celebrity partner's digital reach really matters. While Sarah Harmer is a household name in Canada, she wasn't particularly active online. While we were grateful for her assistance in promoting the campaign, her contributions didn't make much of a difference. We can contrast this with our work with Ian Somerhalder at the United Nations. His millions of social media followers were a powerful asset in telling the story of climate change innovators.
  • Ask yourself, "what does the web love?" Deriving inspiration from something that’s already succeeded on the web reduces your risk and gives you a blueprint for success.

Making "The Funny" Work For Your Marketing Plan

When you shop online, the last thing you want to worry about is the actual process of shopping--what designers call the “user experience”. Yet the energy and work that goes into making your online shopping experience seamless is vast. That's where Elastic Path comes in. Elastic Path is an e-commerce platform that works with companies to help them sell goods and services in the best way possible: the easy way.

Making Movies

In 2007, Capulet was invited to spearhead a short video series for Elastic Path, a tall order when you consider how hard it is to make e-commerce compelling. After all, e-commerce is the kind of thing most consumers don't want to think about. A customer wants in and out with their product. That’s where we decided to start: the point of sale and what would happen if shopping in a real-world store was just like shopping online.

We produced seven videos for Elastic Path. All seven were shot in one day and we cast an outgoing executive from Elastic Path and local actress Mercedes Dunphy to star in them.  There's a nifty jingle, and the second video proudly features a turnip. They're short, sweet, and designed to make you think about your online shopping experience and what it would be like if all of your shopping experiences were the same. Are we the next Scorsese? (No.) We’ll let you be the judge. Here's the first of the seven videos called "If Only Search Engines Could Understand What We Want":

Upping the Ante

It doesn't hurt to add a little extra incentive and encourage your viewers to share your videos. That's why we ran a contest asking people to embed Elastic Path’s videos on their own sites. Those who did entered to win a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Contests may be inevitable when encouraging people to share your content, but they also work.

In the end, finding “the funny” in your online shopping experience was key to building a video series that stands out.

Getting Results

Elastic Path used the videos to entice more visitors to its new blog, and as eye candy at industry events and trade shows. Jason Billingsley, the co-founder and vice-president of innovation at Elastic Path Software at the time, was pleased with the results. He’s quoted in this  Financial Post article about creative online ideas:

"The blog got more popular in the search engines, which bought in more traffic, and more people saw the videos, which generated more links, which generated higher rankings in the search engines, and the cycle continued," Mr. Billingsley says.

The firm then capitalized on the extra traffic by bringing in another blogger who blogged on its site more frequently. It increased the number of subscribers to its blog from 100 to about 2,000 in seven months.

Imaginary Marketing

How do you capture the attention of online influencers, tech bloggers, analysts and journalists with a marketing campaign? You delight them with a fun, personalized campaign. That's what we set out to do when Intranet solutions company, ThoughtFarmer, brought us on board to devise an effective marketing campaign. The result was Tubetastic--a fake company that used the ThoughtFarmer intranet--complete with fake logo, domain name and lots of content. Each blogger and journalist we pitched were welcomed to Tubetastic as new “employees” with their own special login. They could see the ThoughtFarmer intranet in action and enjoy the inside baseball jokes we littered the Tubetastic internet with.

Build Around Your Beliefs We based the Tubetastic campaign on five beliefs:

  1. Everyone is really busy. You need to be creative to interrupt the fire hose of inputs.
  2. When you work hard to craft an original approach, people respond to it. If you invest a lot of effort, it demonstrates respect for your audience. It says “we value your attention, so we went to a lot of trouble to get some of it”.
  3. Marketing works best when your marketing strategy is as close as possible to the thing you’re marketing. It seemed obvious to use a Thought Farmer intranet as the centerpiece of this campaign.
  4. What do we care most about? Ourselves. Marketing works best when we can see ourselves in the context of the campaign. When influencers visit Tubetastic, they see themselves and their peers.
  5. Find the funny. The slogan for Tubetastic is “We make tubes. A whole series of them.” Savvy readers will recognize this as a nod to United States Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous metaphor for the internet. This opening gambit, in theory, entices our audience to log in and find out what the heck is going on. It seems to have worked. Rob Lewis was “instantly curious”.

Risky is Safe By project's end, we built the intranet, prepared media packages, contacted bloggers, journalists, analysts and launched our fake product with a very real marketing campaign. As Seth Godin says, “safe is risky, and risky is safe”. In our experience, the best campaigns are the ones where we feel queasy about their launch. Tubetastic was no exception. Thankfully, this one was a winner. Campaign outcomes included getting play in top-tier tech blogs, like ReadWriteWeb, more site visitors and a reputation for fun, effective marketing.

“The blogger relation’s campaign that Capulet did for ThoughtFarmer doubled our web site traffic. We were covered in our industry’s top blogs, like TechCrunch. Five months later, we still get inquiries from people who saw that campaign.” Chris McGrath, ThoughtFarmer

Connecting the Web & Wilderness

The Big Wild is an online conservation organization, founded by Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, that supports and promotes environmental campaigns from across Canada. With the help of Capulet in 2010, The Big Wild successfully built support for Canadian wilderness conservation campaigns, helping to set an agenda for wilderness protection across the country. The Big Wild’s ultimate goal is to help protect at least 50% of Canada's public wilderness. Think Big The Big Wild was initially an online community supporting wilderness recreation and environmental protection.

Capulet was brought on board to help transform TheBigWild.org from an online community to an environmental advocacy organization. Changes to the site and strategy resulted in over xx actions taken across six different conservation campaigns throughout 2010. Visitors could now take quick and easy political actions by signing petitions and sending letters to governments to help protect a Canadian wilderness at risk.

The Big Picture To help draw attention to feature campaigns on TheBigWild.org and encourage visitors to sign petitions, Capulet launched the following online marketing projects:

QR Code PR Campaign In an attempt to garner media attention and increase brand recognition for The Big Wild, we launched the first-ever conservation campaign in Canada using QR codes. We put up posters featuring large QR codes in seven cities across the country. A QR code reader on a smartphone directed anyone who scanned the QR code to one of two conservation campaigns featured on TheBigWild.org where the visitor could sign a petition. While we recognized that it was still very early days for QR codes adoption by Canadian mobile users, our primary goal was to earn mainstream media coverage for The Big Wild. The QR code campaign was featured in more than a dozen news stories, including a piece on CBC's "The National".

Wilderness Soundboard, Cause Games are Fun! In honour of World Rivers Day, TheBigWild.org created a soundboard featuring 16 unique sounds heard on a Canadian riverbank. Visitors could submit their best guess at naming each sound and be entered to win a $250 MEC gift card. The soundboard was a fun link to send around to friends and also appealed to teachers as an educational tool.

Big Wild Bucks Contest Toward the end of 2010, The Big Wild selected five different conservation projects from across the country and asked it's online community members to vote for their favourite in a contest called “Big Wild Bucks.” The top three projects won a total of $10,000 to help further their conservation efforts. More than 15, 000 people voted over a six-week period. Not only did it introduce five different conservation organizations to The Big Wild community, each finalist reached out it's own support network in search of votes, successfully activating their constituents.

This crowd-sourced voting strategy enabled us to access new audiences that would be sympathetic to The Big Wild's mandate, and engage with smaller non-profit organizations who otherwise wouldn't connect with The Big Wild.

What the Web Likes: Infographics The Big Wild produced two infographics last year--data visualizations of interesting wilderness trivia . The first was called "How Wild is North America" and compared the ecological footprint of Canada, the US and Mexico. The second infographic, called “World Rivers Day,” featured the top 20 largest rivers in the world. Both infographics received attention from blogs and, in particular, schoolteachers who requested larger copies for their classrooms.

Big Wins The Big Wild celebrated two big wins during its first year as an online amplifier for Canadian wilderness campaigns.

Win #1: British Columbia’s provincial government formally banned any further drilling and mining in the Flathead River Valley, a wilderness corridor located in the south eastern corner of the province.

Win #2: Nine environmental organizations and 21 forest companies in Canada signed an agreement that protects Canadian boreal forest and woodland caribou as well as committing to more sustainable forest products.

These were big wins for all the organizations involved and The Big Wild,and Capulet, were thrilled to be part of them. We look forward to another productive year of helping to save Canadian wilderness in 2011!