Schenck’s Take: The Light At The Top Of The World

November 16th, 20102:21 pm @ Rafik


Schenck’s Take: The Light At The Top Of The World

We are proud to announce the latest contributor of wit and wisdom to the Tomorrow Awards Magazine : the illustrious Ernie Schenck. Renowned as a top-level freelance creative director and consultant, and famous in the blogosphere and in the pages of Communications Arts that have words instead of pictures, Ernie will be gracing Tomorrow Awards Magazine on a regular basis, in a new column entitled Schenck’s Take. Check back regularly for more from Mr. Schenck.


It’s easy to get lulled into thinking that the future of advertising is digital. Make no mistake, digital is a runaway train and unless you crawled into a bomb shelter in 1972 and are just now sticking your head up into the light of day, you know this. You accept this. And if you do not, well, may I invite you to return to your little hidey-hole with your C-rations, kerosene lanterns and old Green Lantern comic books. The future of advertising? In every way, digital is the now.


Something else is emerging that I believe could possibly hold equal promise in the wild evolutionary road we’re all on right now. Yes, social networks are a big deal. But the social experiment might not be far behind. Unlike social media that connects people virtually, the social experiment is the real deal, putting real human beings in real time situations and documenting the largely unscripted results over time.

A few examples.

Last year, Fallon UK and Sony launched Soundville, an ambitious acoustic art installation in which the tiny Icelandic village of Seydisfjordur was literally turned into what was very possibly the world’s largest sound system. With hundreds of tweeters and woofers including a 20-foot tower, well, I tend to accept this. For three days, the village folk were treated to non-stop music of all kinds as director, Juan Cabral, documented their reactions. A pure sound experience, as Sony liked to think of it. Whether or not the good people of Seydisfjordur shared that opinion is anyone’s guess. Honestly, I’ve never seen a single villager’s reaction. Not saying they didn’t fall crazy nuts in love with the project. Just saying I don’t know. Whatever. In concept at least, I loved it.

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Also submitted for your consideration, Prescribe The Nation, another social experiment cum word-of-mouth campaign, this one from Vaseline Intensive Care Therapy and Ogilvy. The laboratory this time out was Kodiak, Alaska. A single person there, Petal Ruch, was asked to try the lotion. If she liked it, she could prescribe it to other people in town and if they liked it, they could in turn pay it forward to their friends and family. From Kodiak, the campaign went national. In a single year, over 3 million prescriptions were given from customer to customer.

This year, the inhabitants of yet another remote village get to play guinea pigs. I’m talking far-side-of-the-moon remote, five-miles-down-in-the-Marianas Trench remote. It’s called Longyearbyen. It sits on a remote island in the Norwegian archipelago of Svarlbard and allegedly is the northernmost town on the planet. As such, when winter rolls around, Longyearbyen is plunged into total darkness for four months every year. Dark when you wake up. Dark when you go to bed. If you’ve ever seen 30 Days Of Night, you will appreciate why the very thought of this freaks me out just writing about it.


Tribal DDB in Amsterdam and Philips thought it would be cool to help residents deal with those mindblowing four months by giving everyone a Philips Wake Up Light. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a lamp that wakes you up gradually with simulated sunlight. Apparently, there’s a lot of research that says waking up to light has a profound impact on you psychologically and emotionally. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, “Art & Copy” filmmaker, Doug Pray, will be there to film Wake Up The Town from start to finish.

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When I first heard about the Longyearbyen project, I thought it was the coolest social experiment campaign I’d seen yet. It’s rooted in science. It’s set in a remote, tightly contained location. Psychologically compelling. A winner in every way. And I still feel that way. But not as much as I would have if I hadn’t found a near duplicate concept from BBDO Toronto for Tropicana called Brighter Mornings For Brighter Days.

For you Canadians, this is nothing new. The campaign broke back in January. But if like me, you haven’t seen it, here’s the idea. Like Vaseline, Tropicana went to Alaska. A little town called Inuvik. Like Longyearbyen, Inuvik is shrouded in darkness for months on end. But instead of coming to the rescue of the Inukikians with a bedstand lamp, Tropicana hooked up a massive helium balloon to a lighting rig that cranked out 100,000 lumens. The effect of which is roughly comparable to the light of the sun. They lit it up in the town square then passed out bottles of orange juice while everyone oooh’ed and ahhhh’ed at the faux sunrise.

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Creatively, they’re pretty damn similar. There are differences of course. Brighter Mornings is more emotional. I mean, how could it not be. It’s just short of magical when that balloon erupts with light and these poor people that haven’t seen the sun in weeks just stand there in what comes awfully close to awe. But Brighter Mornings isn’t a true social experiment like Wake Up The Town. There’s a difference between a staged event with no other purpose than to shoot a commercial and a long-term project with at least some semblance of studying the effects of light on the human psyche.

An emerging media guy I know was telling me last week that within five years, social media as we know it will take a back seat to personal media. That might be true. But I have a feeling the role of the social experiment in building brands is just getting started.

brettcreditpicErnie Schenck

Freelance Creative Director