How Colenso BBDO transformed the Auckland Harbour Bridge to promote sustainability

The Auckland Harbour Bridge in Auckland, New Zealand was transformed into a gigantic billboard to remind people of the power of the sun and the potential of renewable energy on 27 January.

The launch of the installation, named Vector Lights, was commissioned by Vector and Auckland Council, and signals the City of Sails’ long-term movement towards a sustainable future and some world-first tech. It was also an ongoing reminder of the power of sustainable energy, showing how one small, culturally and environmentally-led project can lead to a positive change for Kiwis.

Speaking to The Drum about how the idea of using Vector Lights came about, Maria Devereux, creative croup head at Colenso BBDO, explains that Vector Lights is a 10-year energy efficiency partnership between power company Vector and Auckland Council.

It needed to be a significant launch project, not a one hit wonder in order to initiate a consistent, public conversation around sustainability. Devereux also stresses that it was important to everyone involved that it was creatively stimulating, hugely impactful and ultimately became a vehicle to drive positivity of the commitment to a more sustainable future for Auckland.

“The sound and visual light show aimed to breathe new life into a functional structure, permanently lighting up the night sky with 90,000 individually programmable solar powered LED lights. Instantly, the Harbour Bridge became a powerful and entertaining communication platform to celebrate Auckland’s smart energy future,” says Devereux. “In terms of process, it was critical that there was no virtual distance between client and agency, so the project was a true collaboration between everyone involved. Creative directors, animators, project managers, marketers and musicians worked together as one fluid team to do whatever was necessary to make the project a success. Without this approach, we simply would not have managed it!”

Using the Harbour Bridge as a giant digital screen was new to everyone involved in the project, according to Devereux, as there were no ‘best practices’ for the agency to follow, which at the same time, made it an unconventional project.

“One of the biggest creative challenges was deciding on a way to test and view the light show without actually playing it on the Harbour Bridge in advance of launch night,” she explains.

“So, rather than using VR in a commercial, public sense, production company Assembly built a VR testing kit. This was used for testing, creating a super detailed visualization of the conditions and the bridge itself to mimic the effect of the lights and the water beneath the bridge. The craft behind the craft, so to speak,” she adds.

#VectorLights Behind the Scenes: Meet the team from Vector Limited on Vimeo.

Devereux admits the agency found the challenge initially daunting as they were ‘humbled’ by the opportunity to permanently light the iconic Auckland structure and felt that the people of Auckland had an intense sense of pride for their city and shared a sense of ownership over the Harbour Bridge.

As a result, the main goals of the agency were not to disappoint them as this ultimately was not about putting a brand’s customers first, but about developing an understanding of what Kiwis truly value and bringing that to life.

“Once we had pulled together the right team of specialists, we constantly challenged them and ourselves to create something that would make Kiwis proud,” she explains. “Our ambition was always to turn the bridge into a global icon, like the Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House. We are part-way to doing that and have ambition to push it further still.”

Another reason BBDO took up the challenge was because, as only 84% of New Zealand is powered by sustainable energy, compared to countries like Costa Rica which is powered 100% by renewable energy, the agency felt that most Kiwis would agree that the Oceania country can do even better.

“As a nation we pride ourselves on being clean and green, we value our footprint. It is what we are known for globally and certainly one of the reasons tourists come to live and work in New Zealand. It’s also how we like the world to perceive us,” explains Devereux. “There is a clear trend amongst New Zealand businesses to want to work together to create a smarter energy future – a collaborative belief – and that’s really exciting to be a part of.”

Devereux adds the agency has been pushing this agenda actively through various creative campaigns, like the recent DB Breweries work ‘Brewtroleum’ (creating a bio fuel from yeast extract) and ‘Sand’ (recycling beer bottles into sand for use in construction).

For BBDO, the biggest learning from this campaign was just how much the industry is changing as it showed that traditional agency model is not always relevant when planning for campaigns and this installation is a perfect example.

The agency model of the future is most likely encouraging its staff to be fluid to meet the needs of the project as it develops, because roles are becoming undefined and people are required to wear many different hats.

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