What a banana looks like should be a fairly easy question to answer.
What does the taste of a banana look like? Does it look different to the taste of a strawberry, and if so, how?
These and many similar questions have been at the forefront of the minds of teams at OgilvyOne and Greyworld in recent months, charged with bringing a requirement – to visualise taste – to life for consumers, based around a small ice cream brand with only one store in the UK.
That brand is Freggo. A sister brand of Argentinian steakhouse Gaucho, the brand is known across its native country as Freddo. When a UK store was opened two years ago, just off Regent Street in London and next door to Gaucho, its premium products were unknown to consumers, who had little experience of very-high-quality ice cream. The store quickly gained a loyal customer base through its quality offering, and its long opening times (until 3am), which gave it visibility to West End clubbers.
Having just one outlet in a market dominated by FMCG and chain retail immediately suggests something of a struggle. The brand must punch above its weight and offer something different and participatory, without necessarily resorting to cliché. Responding to the brief at Ogilvy were the creative partnership of Rae Stones and Fiona Sanday. Over 15 months, the duo, working with Andrew Shoben of Greyworld, conceived a campaign which led to the development of an interactive installation at the Menier Chocolate Factory gallery. Here, visitors could try a sample of an ice cream, and "visualise" their taste by describing it through using slider controls in a purpose-built Java application. The resulting, personalised, visual is projected in the gallery, as well as emailed to the recipient. The end result offers a personal relationship with data visualisation.
The Ogilvy team had initially considered a number of locations based on this emerging concept of "Visualising taste". An art gallery offered a larger space than the store for a proper, full display of the visuals. It also facilitated a more comfortable environment for more people to play with the technology (and its timing, in the half term holidays, allowed families to visit). It also allowed the agency to set the brand within a more creative and individual context, and to reinforce the artistic credentials of the work. All of these factors were in play if the campaign was to retain and build a more culturally-aware audience. Sophisticated tastes need sophisticated palates.
The concept had an additional challenge for the creative team. A subtle but important point is that the ice cream is never visible. Visiting the Freggo store means choosing a product from a wall-mounted menu, rather than looking down and seeing a flavour in a giant tub. This provided an opportunity for the campaign – in that the product is never seen in the first place - and allowed for a more open brief which in turn referred to a specific subtlety in the retail experience.
Taking the campaign to Menier also gave the campaign one important element: the consumer had go out of their way to be part of the experience. While this allowed for a much more immersive experience, visitors had to be rewarded with more than just a visualisation by email; they were given exclusive vouchers for free ice cream at the store. This simple trick provided a way to connect the artistic and retail experiences, without either being isolated or overbearing. As Stones says: "Instead of going out to your target audience and trying to find them, get them to come to you. Demonstrate how fabulous it is. Reward them for coming, on several levels. Make it fabulous. Give them ice cream to go back and show the reference."
One of the more nuanced developments in addressing how taste was to be visualised, was to get over pre-conceptions (as the initial question demonstrates). It's easy to match "sharpness" as a taste element, with a spiky graphic, but that's not necessarily what taste is about. When it comes to addressing what a colour or other natural element tastes like, then things can become very complex, very quickly.
Detail from two visualisations
Turning the concept into a working application was the responsibility of public art group Greyworld. The group is best known for the generative and participatory elements in its work, including Paint to support Wieden + Kennedy's launch of the Nokia N8; and The Source, an installation at the London Stock Exchange with spheres moving within a giant grid over the course of the day. Most of the group's work is situated within public space, so a gallery setting was something of a departure for all three parties.
Developing the application required a certain degree of trust between all of the parties. Greyworld clearly needed artistic space to be able to develop something that, in their view, was to look stunning while inviting play and modification. It would have been counter-productive for Ogilvy and Freggo to effectively mess with the creative licence, having offered it to Greyworld in the first place.
Andrew Shoben at Greyworld was excited by the challenge, and considered how it could be brought to life as a participatory artwork in a gallery setting.
"For us, this was interesting because we were getting to use our generative skills, and point them towards something that is utterly abstract and means so much to us, yet we have no visual idea of it.
"We were going to make artistic decisions about how we feel taste looks like, and to develop a language - to represent it. What we wanted was to find a universal vocabulary, to which people could understand and know that [the product] was sweeter, creamier, or sharper. We wanted to make something that looked like taste, rather than the flavour itself. The temptation to make the strawberry ice cream look like strawberry was great, but we were much more interested in the creaminess of it, or the afterglow."
Freggo's product set offered a well-structured vocabulary. While many ice cream products are simply split into flavours, Freggo offers four product categories (fruit, cream, dolce, chocolate) to which specific products are then derived. This pre-set product hierarchy made the development of a visualisation much clearer, in terms of differentiating one "taste" from another.
The work is symptomatic of what Shoben sees as a shift in behaviour from agencies, who are becoming increasingly interested in the idea of participatory artwork as a way to build brand engagement.
"Agencies and brands are really thinking that there's more to be done here, than a safe, flat, 2D, television commercial. It's really an untapped area. If you want to have a proper dialogue with a savvy consumer, then you need to stop being in front of a computer so much, and start to be in physical space that those people occupy. It's an interesting place to work, and one where we'll always be.
"I think that agencies beginning to realise that if they can hook up with people who know how to play in those spaces, there's loads of fun to be had: both for consumers, because they feel that they are not being sold to quite so directly; and the brands themselves who can communicate much more tangibly than a passive TV or banner ad."
However, as implied earlier, such a partnership can only work when there is a strong element of trust between all parties, as was the case with the Freggo work. Developing a partnership is difficult if the agency takes more of a commanding approach, rather than a free-thinking one, which Ogilvy allowed of Shoben and his team.
"Dealing with ad agencies can mean dealing with frustrated artists. They walk you to the door and say 'I did an art degree'. On one level that's really lovely and you know that they're really open, but on another, if an agency hires a group of artists and says 'We're going to tell you what to do, but you have the skill to do it' - you are a designer. When you hire an artist to make an artwork, it's different. You expect that artwork to be made by the artist, otherwise it's valueless."
What Ogilvy and Greyworld realised very quickly during app development, is that a highly individual experience such as taste needs to be contained. Some ice creams are richer, or juicier than others, and the visualisation has to be able to display all reactions without provoking extremities. Therefore, the application has a number of "calibrations" in order to deliver visually spectacular results, irrespective of the input. After all, the application is set within a wider context of a brand experience.
Once a date was set for launch, the team at Ogilvy activated a further part of their campaign strategy. Although the context of the work is set by Freggo, the inclusion of Greyworld and the setting of the Menier gave it the feel of an exhibition in itself. They gave information to listings magazines such as Time Out. Utilising free media was important to raise awareness and to generate interest and footfall outside of an initial association with Freggo. It had to be able to stand on its own two feet, even if the desired effect from a commercial perspective was to raise brand and product awareness.
"If you want to have a proper dialogue with a savvy consumer, then you need to stop being in front of a computer so much."
All three parties consider the early results to be successful. Visitor numbers to the gallery have exceeded expectations; voucher redemptions are starting to be processed at the Freggo store; and Shoben feels that it's a great demonstration of a participatory project – for the audience, and for a working business relationship.
"Ogilvy should be applauded for pushing this through to clients who are generally really expecting some kind of ad, and then expecting something like this. That's a real pat on the back for them. For us, it's doing things that we haven't done before. It's how I stay interested in life. It was fabulous that they asked us, and I was happy to get stuck in."
The taste visualisation app is to be made available on tablet devices within the Freggo store on Swallow Street from April 22. Andrew will be presenting "Why aren't cities curated?" as part of the Radio 4 series "Change of Art" in August.