It’s been two years since Desperados hosted a music festival, 30,000ft above Las Vegas, in a zero gravity plane – but the legacy of the beer brand’s epic and kaleidoscopic ‘Bass Drop’ stunt can be credited with changing its approach to marketing.
The results of the ambitious campaign – which was filmed in motion and broadcast in nine global markets –have spurred the Heineken-owned brand to become more open and event-focused in its strategy. As a result, it’s also pushing its creative agency We Are Pi to go “bigger and more outrageous” every year.
Desperados selected the Amsterdam-founded agency as its global creative partner in 2015, tasking it with unifying the beer globally and positioning it as the “ultimate party starter” for a young millennial audience.
“They literally pointed at the idea on the wall and said ‘we have to do that one’,” explained We Are Pi’s founder and executive creative director, Rick Chant who was heavily involved in ‘Bass Drop’ from start to finish.
“We won the pitch. It was euphoria all round and then the terrifying realisation that we’d have to actually make it happen. No faking, for real. We were going to make a party happen in zero gravity; one of the most intense experiences that sound waves could ever provide. Off the back of a strong, relevant strategy we knew it was doable, but now the challenge was pulling it off.”
And pull it off We Are Pi did, helping Desperados transition from a beer linked to relaxing on the beach to one associated with high-octane music and charging up for a night out in the process.
As well as winning the 2017 Grand Prix at The Drum Content Awards, the campaign has clocked up some 58m video views in nine markets.
It also blasted through its original video Facebook benchmarks by 374%, while the hero film performed 252% above the industry benchmark.
In preparing for the original pitch, Chant said We Are Pi came up its wider ‘Inner Tequila Studios’ proposition which is focused on creating unique experiences for fans around music and implores them to release their own “inner tequila”.
For ‘Bass Drop’, the team brought together neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin and DJ group the Barong Family to help it mastermind how to get a flight combining music, lights and weightlessness to take off 30,000ft above the Nevada desert.
Over the course of a year, We Are Pi spent time recruiting competition winners from global markets to partake in the stunt with a group of music influencers and journalists.
It was also decided the plane would nose-dived intermittently to induce the feeling of weightlessness.
Chant added: "We could have just shot it as an ad, but to be authentic for experience-seekers we had to do it for real. A brand act like this is too cool an activation not to share, and expand."
The result is a chaotic and colourful, but Chant admitted it wasn't without its challenges, and that turning "a crazy one-page idea" into a living and breathing project took a "massive, tenacious effort."
First up, the whole idea hung on the balance of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) OK-ing the in-flight party. Shooting in the skies above the city meant everything had to be FAA approved: from the flight paths to the set build inside the plane.
"Adding Zero Gravity to the mix meant that we had to account for every eventuality, passenger safety and air sickness included," asserted Chant.
"Party occasions are generally shot at night, but you can’t drop a plane 15 thousand feet in the dark. So we shot in the scorching desert heat, which added another element of surreality to the session."
To make matters trickier, it turns out there are only three planes on the planet facilities for zero gravity.
Chant said: "The French would have us, but they’re a dark market so no booze allowed. The Russians would let us do anything, but we’d need to secure visas for hordes of people and bus them four hours into the wilderness outside Moscow. The Americans would only let us do it in Vegas. Ideal."
There was a caveat though, in the form of a certain yellow-haired presidential hopeful: "We were told that the only spanner in the works would be if Donald Trump came in on his campaign trail and shut down the airfield. In fact, on our first trial run we hit turbulence and had to land abruptly - next to Trump’s jet. Luckily we were in the air before any closures." Chant went on.
Then there was also the challenge of producing premium global assets without impacting the experience for attendees. Executing polished videos and images (with very few opportunities to repeat and reshoot while in the air) is harder than it looks according to Chant.
To overcome all these challenges, We Are Pi had to become "air traffic control" for the project, helping its agency partners and collaborators to navigate the event.
"We had to contingency plan everything. One of the most important pieces was to secure a DJ who would be as invested as we all were. Mike Cervallo of the Barong Family was a brilliant choice. Investment of time being the main thing - he had to remix the song to suit the science, rehearse heavily so he could be the King of the Plane, and bring the party atmosphere to an unusual atmosphere," he added.
Despite all the setbacks, the campaign not only galvanised "real world results" but has ultimately led to a more experiential-led mindset for the brand, which is now Heineken’s number two global beer brand and continues to grow in new markets and old.
"When elevating a brand’s annual activity on a global level, participation is key. Not only from our Desperados teams in the markets, but from influencers and fans of the brand too," said Chant. "We don’t use actors. Our attendees become a media channel in themselves, the intention being to drive demand."
Chant added: "Each campaign spans many months and is the product of all channels activated through the main act idea. We’re working backwards from a PR headline - whether it be 'World’s First Zero Gravity Music Festival' or 'World’s First Electronic Light Orchestra' and finding our audience in store, at home, in their party mindset or when they’re figuring out what direction a night out should take."
The act that followed Bass Drop was another epic experience, with We Are Pi creating a 2000 strong festival in the foothills of the Andorran Mountains with seven hot air balloons wired up as a music sequencer. Fans paid to attend, so We Are Pi must be doing something right.
The Drum Content Awards are now open for entry for 2018.
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