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Your Shot: UNESCO Sends Out An Extra-terrestrial Tourist Campaign

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BBDO Germany’s Steffen Gentis on sending an ad into space with zero media budget

Your Shot: UNESCO Sends Out An Extra-terrestrial Tourist Campaign

Here’s a first for you. BBDO Proximity Düsseldorf has sent a tourism ad into space. Right now it’s around two trillion kilometres from Earth heading for the much further away Cygnus constellation. What’s the point, you’re probably thinking? At the heart of this campaign for UNESCO and the small Swiss town of Entlebuch is an enjoyable and accessible way for people to understand the ins-and-outs of the sometimes daunting subjects of conservation and sustainability. LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with BBDO Germany Chief Production Officer Steffen Gentis to find out more. 


LBB> What was the brief like that you were initially presented with? 

SG> Entlebuch is the first region in the world that actually voted to change to sustainable practices to become an official UNESCO Biosphere. That’s not only for the good of their kids, but hopefully good for their business of agriculture and tourism.  We were asked to explain the sustainability argument without any significant media. 

LBB> And what were the conversations like that led to an 'extra-terrestrial' campaign? 

SG> Actually very strange initially; when we first came up with the idea the client sat there with very sombre straight faces, listening carefully to what we had to say. They then sent us away without revealing their reaction.  Later they phoned us to say, “pretty cool”. We only found out afterwards that at first they weren’t sure if we were winding them up, so they just sat back and listened and then burst out laughing once we’d left the room. 


LBB> What kind of research did you have to undertake for the project? 

SG> We did have long conversations with ESA [European Space Agency], who referred us to Arecibo in Puerto Rico where the ‘Arecibo Message’ had been sent out in 1974. We spoke with them over a really long time because we actually planned to take the Swiss there, but since we were talking sustainability we looked for an alternative that was closer to home. We found a really good radio telescope in Europe instead, one that could track and follow a constellation over a long period of time –important for such a long message! In the meantime the message has travelled almost a quarter of a light-year – that’s about 2 trillion kilometres. 

In selecting the constellation, we extensively consulted on where there was the most likely chance of getting an extra terrestrial response; we ended up sending the message to the constellation Cygnus, the mythical swan. There are a couple of stars in this bright constellation that could host intelligent life forms and are only a couple of thousand light years away. 


LBB> Alien activity aside, conservation and sustainability are at the heart of the campaign - why did you decide to take a more humorous approach to those subjects? 

SG> Exactly – you got it. Firstly we needed a model to make sustainability easily understandable – sustainable means that something unchanging forever. So we were thinking about what the strongest proof for that could possibly be. Finally we came up with the idea of inviting visitors that might need a long time to get there, and finding Entlebuch unchanged. We felt that this irrefutable logic would attract a lot of free media. It did. (Remember the brief: “no media budget”.) 


LBB> Sorry if this seems like I'm playing dumb, but did you actually transmit the message? If so, how did you go about doing it? 

SG> Yes, of course we did. The message actually went out from the radio telescope in Stockert in Germany. The scenes you see are real – we had tons of press there following it. There was a live microphone feed pointed at the Cygnus constellation, and the team from Entlebuch read messages, sang, played music, sent greetings, told stories, and MassiveMusic made a great recording for them with original sounds from the Entlebuch valley – it’s an hour long and we looped it and played it in-between the message sessions. 

It really is an intergalactic radio ad for Entlebuch. The first intergalactic radio ad ever, I believe. 


LBB> You say that preparations for the extra-terrestrial guests are under way and have been for months - can you elaborate on that? How have the local villagers reacted to outer space messages? And what were the biggest challenges during production and how did you overcome them? 

SG> The biggest hurdle was to get an otherwise serious population to do things like sing into the sky – be it the butcher, the baker, the chimney sweep, the restaurateur, the fire department or the town yodel choir. These are pretty straightforward pragmatic people, but we discovered their hidden delightful sense of humour. So I guess the biggest challenge was overcoming our own embarrassment in asking them to do funny stuff. 

But in the end everyone got it, and was keen to help. They have a new way of greeting each other in Entlebuch now: they stretch both arms up into the sky and laugh whenever they see us. 


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Categories: Environment, Corporate, Social and PSAs

LBB Editorial, Wed, 04 Jun 2014 16:11:27 GMT