Brand experience: Diageo
Diageo teamed up with a London-based studio to create a piece of film that would take over the tallest building in Mexico City, engaging its populace while seeking to heal a city damaged by a recent, massive earthquake. Brittany Golob reports
What happens when a world-class ballet dancer, an Anglo-Mexican visual artist, a global whisky brand, a national-psyche shattering earthquake and one nation’s tallest building meet for 10 minutes?
Caminante. Both the name of the campaign Diageo ran for Johnnie Walker in Mexico ahead of its Christmas sales period and the name of the piece designed by Tupac Martir and London-based Satore Studio, Caminante was a visual poem that lit up the Mexico City skyline for a brief, five day period last year.
The 10-minute piece begins with a reference to the challenges faced by those in Mexico City every day and inspiration from their tenacity in rebuilding their city after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck in September 2017, killing 370 people. “Keep improving, keep succeeding, keep walking Mexico,” the epigraph says. The challenge also inspired Martir in terms of the artistic development of the piece. He says, “Nothing is destroyed and nothing breaks. The struggle has to be internal; it never has to be something that’s pushing you down. Everything is a transcending moment for our character to keep him moving forward.”
Inspiration is one thing, but the development of Caminante drew from more than just that idea. It started with a partnership between Diageo, Satore Studio and Virtue, the creative agency launched by Vice Media. Johnnie Walker was pushing to become Mexico’s favourite whisky brand, a move supported by its ‘Keep Walking Mexico’ campaign, which began in 2017 and helped drive a 17% increase in sales.
The details were, at first, murky. Martir spoke with Diageo, determining that the brand was launching a new campaign and wanted to do a projection on the tallest building in Mexico, the Torre Reforma. Without a typical brief, Martir had the freedom to dream. And he dreamt big.
Taking inspiration from Satore’s investment in motion capture R&D, he decided to use that technology in the piece. “The entire campaign that Johnnie Walker was doing was about highlighting the triumphs of Mexicans. All these people who have gone through a lot of stuff are showcasing their triumph,” Martir says. That helped develop the idea. “If we’re showcasing triumphs and we have this massive piece of building in front of us, I said, ‘This is not mine; it’s meant to be for everybody. How can I make a piece that’s going to be inclusive?’” Martir asks.
He dreamt, in short, of a giant digital video that included a motion-capture developed narrative and the integration of live social media updates. He dreamt of using one of Mexico’s arts legends in ballet dancer Isaac Hernández. He dreamt of building a custom score for the piece. He dreamt of uniting hundreds of artists from around the world on one piece of content. And, it all centred around the concept of ‘Caminante’ – walking.
The concept that emerged focused on the challenge of a labyrinth, reflecting the internal struggle people face when trying to overcome obstacles. It used on a character – called Hik+ (pronounced Hiku), derived from a native Huichol word meaning ‘caminante’ or ‘walker’ – through which to explore these themes. The character would experience the challenges of emerging from a labyrinth and overcoming its own challenges in the process. Hernández would provide the motion capture movements for use by Hik+. “Johnnie Walker was very much into it because it was a way of showing someone walking without being just a person walking,” Martir says.
Martir also wanted to avoid the traditional video mapping technique often used by visual artists when faced with a building facade. Instead, Caminante was to merge video mapping with motion capture and live social to create something unique for Mexico City. The fact that the capital was recovering from a major earthquake also meant that traditional video mapping techniques in which buildings move, break or fall would be in poor taste. Johnnie Walker, happy with the concept, signed off on the sponsorship that allowed Satore Studio to get to work on the piece.
“The struggle has to be internal; it never has to be something that’s pushing you down. Everything is a transcending moment for our character to keep him moving forward”
Caminante ran right before Diageo’s Christmas campaign for Johnnie Walker, which was bolstered by the press, buzz and social interaction surrounding Caminante. Martir says the freedom his studio had to craft an excellent piece of content was a result of Diageo’s trust and freedom with the Johnnie Walker brand. “To have brands that are looking at it in that way, they’re not just bringing ‘Here’s my money and I want it this way.’ For them to say, ‘Develop the piece that you want to develop, just make sure that stays within our brand values and run with it,’ is very satisfying and I don’t think it happens enough,” he says.
Martir adds, “I would love to see more brands be open to it. Say, ‘Here are three things I need you not to break because these are my values,’ and then allowing people like us to deliver, because that’s when real creativity comes in. That’s when breakthrough work comes in. There’s no other way that we could have done it if we hadn’t had that liberty.”
The next step was to film the motion capture segments. Hernández met Satore Studio in a sports hall in south London where he spent one hour dancing, running, walking and having his every motion filmed by Martir’s team. The motion capture would allow Hik+ to come alive on the massive screen that was the 246-metre Torre Reforma. The character would go through a life cycle of inner growth and struggle. The transformation would see Hik+ overcoming his fear and transcending it in order to become a better person; escaping the on-screen labyrinth. The centrepiece of that journey is a lithe, circular, bright solo by Hernández in which Hik+ realises the labyrinth is within him and he has to defeat it on his own.
The piece ends with Hik+ moving into a new labyrinth, symbolising the next challenge he will have to face. Once the narrative ended, the live social stream began. “We wanted to make sure that this was a piece that was not just me,” Martir says. “That if you go onto Instagram and you tag a picture of your triumphs with a hashtag, I will be able to pull in real time.”
Doing so required a deep-dive into the secretive world of Facebook’s algorithms. Instagram photos and tweets were then approved live, by a team from Johnnie Walker, the Mexican government and Satore Studio, to form a mosaic of triumphs submitted by people all over Mexico City. The whole thing would then restart every 10 minutes. Martir says, “One of my favourite moments is that on opening night they had a helicopter so people could fly around and see the piece around Mexico City. This blogger went in and took a picture and put it on Instagram, thinking that it was all a lie, this is all automated. She was on the helicopter and her image popped into 40x40 metres. There’s a video of her going, ‘It is real! They’re doing this in real time!”
The artwork itself involved hundreds of people working all over the world up until three minutes before the piece debuted on the Torre Reforma. But, what Martir and his team hadn’t bargained for was the sheer size of their canvas. Martir says he was shocked when he looked at the tower because it can be seen from almost every highway in the Mexican capital. “It became the moment where you realise, this is going to be seen by everybody,” he says. “The buildings are in the middle of a traffic centre. Mexico City at 7-8pm becomes a massive car park, so there’s going to be all these people that are going to see that for the next two hours of their lives whether they want to or not.”
The size was their own personal labyrinth, requiring problem solving and a good understanding of the limitations of the project. But, Martir says, with a deep breath of relief, it worked. Diageo was happy with the direction of the piece and for the nine million or so people who saw it over the course of its five-day run, the feedback was positive. “It’s about triumphs and you want everyone to feel proud of what they’re trying to do,” Martir says.
And, due to the sheer size of the Torre Reforma, commuters, cyclists, diners and others were able to watch and take part in Caminante. “It was such a different experience for everybody,” says Martir. What they hadn’t really bargained for either was the scale of the audience and the way in which it interacted with Caminante. They encouraged people to share their personal triumphs, but there was consistent engagement throughout the five day run on both Twitter and Instagram. The audience in effect, became part of the experience. Their interaction was enhanced when the Caminante score was played on a local radio station to coincide with one of the film’s cycles, allowing people to engage aurally too.
Combining ballet, motion capture, branded content and a really big building helped Johnnie Walker launch its Christmas campaign and firmly position its brand within the minds of Mexican consumers. But it also helped a nation’s confidence begin to return after a literally earth-shaking event. As Hik+ frees himself from an internal labyrinth, so too could the millions of capitalinos in Mexico City.