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Online Safety Cindy Gallop Hacking

‘Don’t I know you?’ – How delegates were tricked into believing they had met old friends at The Drum Live


By The Drum Team, Editorial

July 30, 2014 | 6 min read

Abundance embraced the ‘live’ element of The Drum Live like no one else, involving the attending audience in a live privacy experiment. Here we look at how the innovation company is blurring the line between research and creativity, and how it duped five unsuspecting delegates using freely available online information.

“The speaker is not who he says he is. He doesn’t work at Abundance. He’s never worked in marketing. And he’s never met the five ‘old friends’ he’s just invited up on stage with him,” interrupts a woman, springing urgently to her feet, unannounced, from the audience. WTF?

Suddenly everyone has prised themselves away from their mobiles and the frantic sound of conference tweeting grinds to a halt. Their gaze is now firmly fixed on the stage and they’re wondering if someone’s chosen The Drum Live to make an ill-timed protest.

The woman on her feet is Debi Bester, co-founder of innovation company Abundance. She takes the mic and explains that the speaker she’s just interrupted is an actor. “This is a live experiment which explores privacy in a digital world,” explains Bester.

The actor has forensically researched every one of his ‘old friends’ (actually just five unsuspecting conference delegates) using freely available information on the internet to find out everything about them: where they work, their date of birth and even their mother’s maiden name. In fact, he’s researched everything a fraudster might like to know. Roll VT.

The five delegates who’ve had the pleasure of meeting the actor know what’s coming. Jaws drop. Heads fall into hands. As the video plays we see hidden camera footage of the actor in conversation with the delegates, all shot and edited by film production company Oliver’s Island in less than five hours. The audience begins to realise what’s been going on.

During the course of The Drum Live, the actor has been using the revealing personal information he’s garnered from the internet to convince five perfect strangers that they’re old friends. “Hey, we met at Glastonbury last year,” he says brazenly as he walks up to one. “Gosh, I haven’t seen you since we went to York Uni,” he says to another.

Deftly weaving the facts into his patter, he solicits even more personal information from each one over coffee. “Yeah, I went out with that guy called Mark,” offers up one lady. “It’s the big three-o coming up soon,” confesses another.

Watching the footage of the morning’s events back, the ‘old friends’ are incredulous and the audience riveted. As the video of the actor’s exploits comes to a close, Chris Ward, joint founder of Abundance, joins Bester on stage and explains that the experiment the audience has just witnessed is part of an ongoing research programme and creative campaign. “It demonstrates the power of collapsing the traditional lines behind ‘research’ and ‘creativity’, so that the research becomes the campaign,” he says.

So why the ‘Privacy Experiments’? Ward tells us that, six months before, Experian briefed Abundance to help “refine, test and launch a new product that helps ordinary people protect their identity online”.

Abundance didn’t approach the brief in what Ward calls the “traditional, old-fashioned and expensive way” (read clinical research, ivory-tower creative and a big ‘ta-dah’ launch). Instead, it embraced a new way of working – a way of working that Abundance is pioneering and getting great results from.

At the heart of this new way is a new maxim: “the campaign starts on day one of the research”. And behind that are some new principles, namely: one, put people at the heart of the project (“people inside the client company, from NPD, research and marketing teams to senior management, even detractors… and people outside the company, from prospects to customers, even press and influencers”); two, develop the product in a series of live research experiments (“experiments conducted with real people, in the real world, in real-time”); and three, create the campaign in parallel with the research (“capture the experiments and turn the raw materials, real people and rich stories into powerful multi-platform campaigns”).

Asked the benefit of this approach to clients, Ward claims: “It’s faster. It’s leaner. It’s based on test-and-learn so there’s less risk. It’s more cost-effective. It takes all the internal stakeholders with the project. It converts sceptics and detractors in the company. And it harnesses the media and influencers.”

Most critically though, he says, it delivers “more value for their customers – and more valuable customers for the business”.

“They may start out as research participants, but they go on to become stars of the campaign. Of course they’re eager to buy the product so become customers. And because they believe they inspired the product, they become brand advocates, selling the product so our client needs to spend less on advertising. And the most engaged go on to become partners in innovation, keen to work into the future to improve, test and share ever better versions of the product.”

With this ambitious experiment, Abundance not only proved that we all need to be more vigilant about what we share online, but that embracing the power of real people and the real world in real-time can lead to great results.

Oh, and how did Abundance get its slot at The Drum Live? By sending a letter to our very own editor Gordon Young from an ‘old friend’.

You can watch the experiment video below.

This article was first published in The Drum Live issue on 23 July – find out more and get your hands on a copy here.

Online Safety Cindy Gallop Hacking

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