Judging by the chatter on social media we weren’t the only ones taken in by the ad for Persona Synthetics, which was actually a very clever campaign to launch the new Channel 4 drama series, Humans. The tv ad, fake eBay listing of a ‘synth’ (buy it now price £20,000), website, hashtag and pop-up store on Regent St where shoppers could interact with synths on screen in the shop window, all created a perfect storm of intrigue and website hits.
It was brilliantly conceived and executed, achieving the kind of cross-channel cut-through PRs can only dream of. But does it just go to show the level of co-ordination (and probably budget) that it takes these days to get a campaign on the nation’s radar? When was the last time a PR campaign got everyone talking? We’re more ‘connected’ now than ever but through disparate, multiple channels so achieving any kind of traction is harder than ever. Traditional media no longer has the clout it once did; even a slice of national coverage isn’t enough to send your campaign stellar. To get real cut-through you have to deliver a co-ordinated campaign across multiple on and offline channels and that’s a tough call.
The Humans campaign brought in Microsoft (it was their Kinect technology that made the shop front synths mimic the movements of passing shoppers) and eBay, included above the line ads as well as a heavily promoted Twitter hashtag. They even had actors dressed as delivery men wheeling stock (synths in boxes) into the fake shop. That’s not your average PR toolkit.
Or, is it simply that we’re not delivering the kind of smack-you-between-the-eyes creativity that leads to a groundswell of engagement? What made the Humans campaign so effective is that it shocked us into thinking artificial intelligence had arrived; that robots would soon be in our homes looking after our kids! This tapped into the disquiet we all feel about the power of technology and whether we are sleepwalking into a future where computers make all the decisions, rendering us mere mortals semi-redundant (presumably even synths occasionally need plugging in or switching off and on again?). This universal unease about the ubiquity of technology was what gave the Humans campaign its power – not the budget, the tv ads or the partnerships. Other campaigns have all those elements but not the unifying power of frightening hundreds of thousands of people out of a decent night’s sleep.