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IPA Adaptathon blog: Formats change but core values remain the same

The drive for diversification will take agencies into new formats, whether long-form TV or film content, experiential environments and gaming. So how do you develop brand-based ideas for a multi-format experience?

A film-maker, an experience architect and a game-show developer lift the lid on their worlds.

In our multi-dimensional, always-on, digitally-driven world, brands need their agencies to develop ideas a long way removed from the 30-second spot, the banner or the poster. Gaming, content, long-form film and video and storytelling all form part of the armoury.

"If we want to diversify, we have to think about what we do with a different mindset, and a different creative aesthetic," Paul Simonet, Imagination’s creative strategy director told delegates at the IPA’s second AdaptLab, hosted at the Imagination Gallery yesterday (5th February 2014) ), as part of IPA President Ian Priest’s Diversification Adaptathon.

The session saw senior executives from film-making, game-show development and experience architecture explain how they developed their ideas, and turned them into reality. Under questioning by Paul Tyler, founder of Handling Ideas consultancy (, and using Lego to map out and share ideas, they deconstructed their development processes.

In a hands-on workshop, delegates then took on the challenge of creating multi-format ideas for soft drinks brand Tango.  

"If you’re developing an idea," explained co-host Liz Rosenthal, co-founder of creative development consultancy Power to the Pixel "you need to strip away the format or platform first. Concentrate on the relevant themes and values first, then come up with the format."

From one-page synopsis to feature film

Warp Films’ senior producer Mary Burke explained how she turned a one-page synopsis from an unknown writer about an unlikely subject – a British sound engineer working in the 70s for an Italian horror film studio – into a 90-minute feature film, Berberian Sound Studio.

Burke explained how, working on plot, character development, setting and themes, she and the author took the idea to the next level, a 25-page treatment that allowed the producers not only to identify the potential audience but also raise finance.

Key elements of long-form story development:

  • Develop ideas with people who share your vision and values
  • Choose a director with the same values. Six directors could shoot the same script six different ways
  • Character development is critical. Audiences identify with characters and character actions reveal emotion
  • Ensure character motivation is genuine and credible. Plot their journey, challenges and choices
  • Draw out the themes by questioning and working closely with the writer
  • Film setting (location, period) is important, and another source of identification for audiences

"Advertising can borrow film industry practices to develop long-form ideas," Burke said. 

Developing Ireland’s number one tourist attraction

In the late 90s, Guinness gave Imagination a £100,000 brief to redevelop its then Hop Store visitor centre in Dublin

But it had a bigger problem. The brand was decidedly uncool, and its ageing male drinkers dying off. The Imagination brief wouldn’t change that.

What Imagination proposed instead was a £48m experience property, the Guinness Storehouse. It opened in 2001 and is now Ireland’s number one tourist destination.

Looking at Guinness’ core brand values – power, goodness/health and communion – Imagination realised they could form the basis of an altogether bigger proposition. "Those values are a creative gift," says Julian Baker, Imagination’s executive creative director. "You can do a lot with them. They relate to Guinness, but people could also relate them to themselves regardless of age or demographic."

Key elements of developing Environment and Experience concepts:

  • Incorporate the brand’s key values. Guinness bought into the concept because it could see those values, understood their cultural context, and a clear commercial proposition
  • Find content forms that are immersive, interactive and reflect those values in a tangible way
  • Use content and platforms that encourage visitors to talk about and share their experiences, thus becoming brand advocates
  • Incorporate elements of storytelling: challenge, conflict, choice and reward (the Gravity Bar at the top of the building)
  • A visitor/brand experience is a living creature. It needs constant development and refreshment

"The experience challenges both people’s perceptions of Guinness and of themselves," says Baker. "They think about its values in relation to Guinness and to themselves."

Celador’s £1m bet on a gameshow concept

It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a moment, says Colman Hutchinson, former executive producer of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? when the world’s biggest gameshow almost didn’t happen.

"We had a great concept – the biggest quiz show prize ever – and a wonderful quiz mechanic," says Hutchison, now creative director of TV format developer Boxatricks, "but then we had a huge problem."

The problem was simple: the prize money for the show was to be funded by contestants entering via premium-rate phonelines. But what would happen, asked broadcaster ITV, if not enough people entered?

The solution: Celador took the risk, and promised to make up the prize money itself. As things turned out, there was no shortage of people entering. But at the time, that was hard to imagine.

Key lessons of developing a gameshow:

  • Have a big idea.
  • The game mechanic must be simple and unique
  • In a gameshow, the contestants are the stars. Producers normally like to handpick their contestants, but the phone entry system for Who Wants… democratised the process.  Initially a concern, this became a strength
  • Create drama and tension. Trials of Who Wants… were flat because contestants were often happy to bow out with lesser sums of money. The solution was to create dilemma and choice with by offering safe havens and showing the next question
  • Heighten the tension. Who Wants… showed contestants making life-changing decisions in full close-up and used lighting and music to amplify the tension
  • Fine tune the mechanics so contestants face maximum choice. In Who Wants…, Phone a Friend and Ask the Audience fulfil this role

Hutchinson also revealed that, until ITV head of programming suggested it at the last minute, Who Wants… was originally titled Cash Mountain. Dull, huh?

Delegate Tango breakout sessions summary

Delegates were given the task of developing different concepts for Tango using the processes and principles outlined above.

The lessons are summarised here:

  • Set objectives
  • In gaming, define success and failure and treatment of winners and losers
  • For brand experiences, is the idea permanent or transitory?
  • Audiences relate to universal concepts of conflict, challenge and choice
  • Incorporate the brand values of your client
  • Cross the cultural divide between advertising, film and TV to see how people outside our own silos solve problems
  • Engage with different creative processes and business models 


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