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Spark, Google and ColensoBBDO collaborate on image recognition translation app to celebrate Māori Language Week

Kupu is powered by Google, which worked with translation data provided by the Māori Dictionary project.

As part of the Māori Language Week, also known as Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, celebrations in New Zealand, one of the country’s largest telco Spark has launched an interactive mobile app.

The app, called ‘Kupu’, allows users to input words and Māori translations for pictures they take on their phone. The app serves up the most likely translation, as well as other options for what it detects in the image.

Kupu is powered by Google, which worked with translation data provided by the Māori Dictionary project. The campaign for the app was conceptualised and created by Colenso BBDO.

Speaking to The Drum about the campaign, Mike Davison, creative director at ColensoBBDO explains that Spark created Kupu to support the Māori language by bringing learning Te Reo Maori into New Zealanders’ everyday lives in an intuitive way.

According to Davison, in Spark’s brief to Colenso, the telco wanted the agency to create some ‘doing’ work to go along with some of the brand stories the agency has been creating, to become a part of consumer culture. The creative process was kicked off with a collaboration with the Google Zoo team from Sydney.

“In terms of inspiration, Spark are continually looking for small ways they can enhance peoples’ lives, relevant to the platform they provide,” says Davison. “They are, after all, a New Zealand-born communications company, so this project only makes sense.”

Davison also pays tribute to Google, saying the tech giant was integral in the process because the Google Zoo team gave the agency some sneak peaks into new tech being developed to see how it might line up with Sparks’ purpose.

“Keeping ahead of the curve when it comes to new technology is imperative for us and our clients – the first mover advantage is true, so long as the execution is seamless - so we’re grateful to partners like Google who can enable that,” he explains.

Planning for the app took nearly two years, according to Davison, because creating a tool to support a native language requires a lot more consultation than ‘your average marketing job’, he says.

“From a bunch of ideas, Kupu was identified as one we all felt passionate about and something Google could integrate their Cloud Vision and Translate API’s into. Learning a language by taking pictures is great, but the text output had to be on point,” notes Davison.

“To ensure the most accurate translation, we asked the team at Te Aka Māori Dictionary to partner with us, too. The result was awesome because good intentions are great. In order to do something ‘for’ a culture, you have to do it ‘with’ them.”

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