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Case Study: HBO Voyeur

Launched in the summer of 2007, HBO Voyeur was a multimedia brand campaign created by advertising agency BBDO. Using the concept of voyeurism, the team created a series of fictional, interconnected characters and stories set within a NY apartment block and these were expanded to create a multiplatform brand experience.

‘It had been a long time since HBO launched a brand campaign, so it was important that the team assembled was able to articulate a refined brand strategy that truly captured the essence of the brand, into high quality, innovative and break-through creative,’ recalls Cindy Matero, director of brand strategy at HBO. ‘HBO Voyeur at its core was a brand initiative and our long-term relationship with BBDO meant they have a deep and firm understanding of the HBO brand and our innovative communication strategies, as well as the nuances of the relationship with our consumer.’

The creative team at BBDO was selected because of its mastery in communicating brand messages in a non-traditional way that leverage all forms of media. According to Matero, the success of HBO Voyeur can be attributed to the close collaboration between BBDO and the brand team at HBO; a partnership that transcended traditional agency/client relationships and resulted in a campaign that was innovative, on strategy and of the highest quality.

After working together for more than a decade, the established relationship between client and creative was especially strong. On this particular project, it was also extremely collaborative, with the client remaining closely involved from beginning to end.

HBO and BBDO shared work and project details on a consistent, at times daily, basis. The client also consistently demonstrated tremendous respect and support for the creative team and its work.

‘In fact, because of the magnitude of the project and all the different moving parts, at times it was as if we were one with the client, all working closely together, hand-in-hand to get things done,’ according to BBDO’s creative team. ‘Our challenge was twofold; to ignite the passion of HBO super-fans without leveraging the brand’s most powerful asset, its programming, and also to demonstrate the evolution of the brand across multiple platforms. Although the project grew in scope, this initial focus never changed.’

The main focus of the campaign was a silent film showing the residences and residents of a fictional urban apartment block in New York City. The campaign’s stellar launch saw crowds gather on the corner of Broome Street and Ludlow Street when the four-minute film was beamed onto the side of a nearby whitewashed apartment building.

Divided into 12 moving parts, the film mimicked a cross-section of the building’s infrastructure, allowing it to show the interiors of all eight apartments simultaneously, as well as the stairwell. Onlookers instantly became voyeurs.

For Matero, seeing the film projected life-size onto the side of a building in Manhattan was the most memorable moment of the campaign. ‘Everyone who worked on the project attended this very successful event and represented all of the hard work and collaboration on the project,’ she recalls.

Creatively developing eight interconnected stories that could play out, fully synchronised, in four minutes was a considerable challenge for the creative team. In addition to developing over 30 different characters, they also mapped, timed and choreographed all the characters’ movements.

The actors had to learn the technical elements of their roles before finding a way to inject characterisation. Part of the challenge for the actors was to portray character and emotion from a distance, while steering clear of pantomime.

The cast and crew were brought together in a mass workshop to perfect the performance. The core film was shot on two sound stages and filmed one ‘floor’ at a time, including activity in the stairwell.

While one floor was being shot, the other side of the sound stage was being dressed. With no dialogue, shot entirely from the perspective of the voyeur, the film required the actors to perform as though they were on a theatre stage.

Each element was carefully choreographed and later meticulously stitched together in post-production. The final film represents an entirely new concept.

In addition to being projected onto the building, the film was also extended to hbovoyeur.com, HBO On Demand and HBO Mobile, as well as other media-sharing platforms such as Flickr and YouTube.

Along with additional interactive content, viewers were able to find more information about the individual characters and their lives, by looking both online and in the real world. This further heightened the experience for those keen to get more involved.

While many campaigns begin and end with the creation of a single character, HBO Voyeur reaches an entirely new level. It is a startling achievement for a single campaign, from the creation of multiple characters, each complete with their own story, to the way in which their lives are cleverly intertwined, to the outstanding direction of the filmed sequences, to the perfect choice of music, to the innovative use of multiple platforms.

Moreover, by incorporating multiple platforms with specific content created to optimise each one, yet never to the detriment of another, HBO Voyeur encapsulates where the advertising industry should be right now.

‘HBO Voyeur was a multi-platform initiative with original content developed for each,’ notes Matero. ‘The creation and implementation, as well as the complex marketing plan behind the project, was nine months in the making. This level of detail required constant communication and many conference calls and meetings every week.’

The complexity of the project and range of skills required meant there were also a number of additional collaborators on the project. These included RSA for film production, Asylum for visual effects, Search Party for music, Big Spaceship for online development and Butcher for editorial.

A team of account managers at BBDO was responsible for managing and overseeing the entire project, ensuring everything was carried out professionally, from developing the strategic thinking behind the project to securing the location to ensuring the media plan was working.

The team’s tasks included liaising between the client and the agency project team; researching, securing and managing outside companies as partners (including PR and event marketing specialists and an online agency); working with the New York City authorities to secure the necessary approvals for the projection location; and generally tackling entirely new concepts in a creative manner.

HBO Voyeur was a complicated project with many different facets. A number of its elements had never previously been attempted, so the project’s account managers needed to be open-minded and creative.

One of the biggest obstacles for the creative team was finding and securing the location. It was crucial to find a building that would work with the creative concept – a stripped-away wall – in a location that could both accommodate an audience and was visible to passers by.

The building used was almost as much of a character in the tale as its inhabitants. For this reason, and to ensure the film was shown in context, Manhattan’s Lower East Side was chosen. Finding an appropriate space there was not an easy task. In the end, a location scout was hired to find the right venue, but the complications did not end there.

‘Our perfect building was adjacent to a Department of Transportation parking lot, which required approval from the city at a time when projecting on the sides of buildings was very controversial,’ recall the BBDO account managers. ‘We worked with seven different NYC government offices to secure permission to use the space. It was the positive relationships we developed with decision makers and influencers, as well as our passion and persistence for the project, that ultimately allowed us to bring it to life in the location we had chosen.’

Four Floors, Eight Stories

It was the responsibility of the production and account teams at BBDO to oversee the budget with the client and, because there were so many firsts with this project, unexpected elements throughout the process increased the budget from the original estimate.

Also, as the project developed, elements were added or extended, which also resulted in budget increases. However, these were always discussed by the full team (agency, client and partner) and agreed upon in advance.

‘We faced an unusual challenge in that the project evolved and grew over time, with an endless number of tentacles and ideas – the only thing standing in our way at times was budget!’ says Matero. In fact, were she to repeat the project, this is the one element Matero would alter, allocating more money to expose many more people to the outdoor film in more cities.

For the creative team, the key lesson from this project was that anything is possible for an agency that is truly committed at all levels to create and produce a unique and amazing project, no matter what the obstacles, working alongside clients who are equally committed.

‘It is possible to communicate a strong and succinct brand message in a non-traditional form, and still have it connect deeply with consumers and elevate the perception of the brand,’ concludes Matero.

The HBO Voyeur website received a record number of hits: 1.2 million in the first four weeks, with an average time spent on site of nine minutes. The original content on all HBO platforms, including HBO On Demand, HBO Mobile and HBO on iTunes, also garnered above-average usage.

Additional post-campaign research revealed that HBO Voyeur communicated a strong and positive brand message. This was a resoundingly successful campaign by any standards.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Professional Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

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