People can be pretty hard to impress these days. Young people perhaps even more so. Teenagers… well, impossible. So, nowadays, if a brand wants to feel the love it need to give something first. And then ideally the ‘right’ thing. It could be an experience. It could be stimuli. In the case of teenagers, this could be quite simply the relief of boredom. For McTrax, the ‘right’ thing has been turning something as practical as a placemat into something as creative as your own music studio.
When McDonald’s and Dutch advertising agency TBWA\Neboko first approached digital agency This Page Amsterdam, the brief was: ‘We want to do something with music and the plastic McDonald’s tray, to activate our customers – while they are in our restaurant.’ Quite a challenge. How do you innovate a plastic tray? How do you turn the purely functional into the purely fun?
Founding Partner of This Page Amsterdam Edward Tetteroo: “We quickly realised the plastic tray itself simply wasn’t going to work – it’s a standard mass produced item. It would be very difficult to change its form and function. Plus we wanted to make something that people would love and want to keep using, maybe even take home with them. We loved the idea of the tray, as obviously in a restaurant the focal point is the food – and hey guess what – the food is served on trays. But from a production point of view the tray would never work. So we instead honed in on the paper placemats. We quickly shifted our attention from plastic to paper - and started to research deeply how we could digitally innovate this item – and as such create a meaningful – and above all fun – experience for McDonald’s’ audience.”
So after deciding on the vehicle for engagement – the placemat – the bigger question was what should be the message? But after going quite deep into the habits and passions of the target audience, the idea of message itself was rendered defunct. Teenagers are arguably less into message, more into stimuli. Get them to use their hands, ears, senses – and you may just reach them.
Bringing music to paper
Once the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ was answered, came the ‘how’. Or in this case the ‘how the f#%k?’
How do you bring music to paper? Taking a lean and mean approach, This Page Amsterdam embarked on pretty substantial research to find a way to bring an interactive music experience to a piece of paper.
Edward Tetteroo continues: “We approached the McTrax project with an iterative process where prototype after prototype was created. Each one included the crucial and most important functionalities. So by making mistakes and learning really quick, we kept pushing on.”
The technical nitty-gritty
To get down into the technical nitty-gritty, the agency boiled it down to input vs. output. The paper placemat had to be the input device, and the mobile phone the output device – doubly handy as everyone always has a mobile phone their pocket.
This Page already knew from previous experiments that there is a special ink that conducts electricity in existence. Ink that could turn a printed object into a machine. Or at least that was the theory…
To actually make the idea a reality, This Page contacted technology company Novalia in the UK. Dr Novalia had developed a technique to make paper interactive by printing conductive ink on paper, connecting the ink to a tiny circuit board including a tiny chip and battery. The circuit board can connect with a device via Bluetooth – the perfect solution for this idea.
This Page partner Jordi Buskermolen: “Once we had begun testing with the paper, we started thinking out the user interface of the placemat and the accompanying mobile app. The interface could have 26 touch points, as this is the maximum input signals of the circuit board.” With this in mind, they laid out all the different functionalities and created the design.
The design of the app is very simple, yet very functional. It shows information like tempo, current music style, chosen effect or sample and such, in a very playful way. The user doesn’t have to know more than this: the user can focus on making music.
Buskermolen: “Some of us have children, and they were our perfect test users. When they couldn’t stop playing with the early version of the McTrax we knew we were on the right track.”
Finally a few functionalities were changed to make the layout a bit more user friendly, then the first batch of placemats were printed by Novalia. The introduction was such a crazy success in the Netherlands that McDonald’s is looking into rolling it out on a larger scale in other markets.
Using innovation to turn function into fun and combining the digital with the physical has certainly paid off so far by impressing the unimpressionable teen generation.
McTrax won a Lion at the recent Cannes Lions Festival Of Creativity and is also one of the few finalists nominated for a Lovie award.
Jordi Buskermolen, Managing Partner, This Page Amsterdam
Tel: +31(0)20 320 1111