Adobe has recreated the ad agency office of the 90s (complete with floppy disks and Rolodex)

The office space comes equipped with floppy disks and Xerox machines

Adobe has hired the team behind HBO’s Westworld and Game of Thrones experiences at SXSW to take marketers back in time to the offices where the very first digital banner ads were created.

The Back to the 90s experience opened at the Adobe Summit yesterday (26 March) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Giant Spoon, which is best known for its live campaigns designed to promote entertainment brands, has created what its experiential account director, Monica Vergel de Dios, dubbed a “dollhouse setup” comprising three rooms.

The first is an advertising agency straight out of the 90s, at a time when the office is gearing up to design and place the first ever banner ad. Visitors to the activation are ushered in by a frantic manager who informs them of their intern status and orders them to load up the design of a Pizza Hut ad – the actual first digital banner to go live – from an unreliable floppy disk.

Fellow interns are tasked with gaining approval from the client over the landline phone, finding the number to call in a Rolodex and Xeroxing the creative over. The office itself is decked out with an assortment of 90s paraphernalia: Furbies, Apple Macs and terrible inspirational posters adorn the walls.

Once their internship is complete guests are ushered into a video store ala Blockbuster before heading into a living room to watch their VHS and order pizza online using a desktop home computer.

Each room represents a product of Adobe’s Experience Cloud by way of proving the frustrations and inefficiencies of each outmoded process: uploading the first banner ad proves the ease of Advertising Cloud and selecting a movie without help from a data-driven algorithm showcases the usefulness of Marketing Cloud, for instance.

“The end goal is for [delegates] to see how great technology has made their lives today,” said Mark Boothe, head of Adobe Experience Cloud social media. “All of these things used to be so difficult – launching the first digital ad was a disaster, it was a mess. The tech didn't even work. Now it’s nothing like that – approvals are easy. You can launch [a campaign] in minutes, not hours or days.”

It was Adobe’s PR team who first came up with the idea of bringing the 90s to Summit to mark 25 years since the first banner ad. Boothe’s team put the project out to pitch and handed the brief to Giant Spoon, the experiential agency now famed for painstakingly reproducing the town of HBO’s Westworld at SXSW in 2018.

The team designed and produced the set to feature a number of hidden Easter eggs subtly emblazoned with Adobe’s brand. The stamps in the mail bin feature the company’s ‘A’ symbol, for instance, and the packet of Pogs handed out to visitors as they leave features a barcode number of 4δ08Ɛ.

The hardware featured in the activation had to be gutted and rewired in order to allow for a seamless, reliable experience.

“[Computers from the 90s] are unreliable and you can't really find any that actually work how we wanted to,” explained Daniela Ruiz, senior producer at Giant Spoon. “It would have been easier for us to just load files on a floppy disk, but 90% of the time it wouldn't have worked. So, we had to rework all the tech to get it to do what we wanted.”

Katie Merrilees, the pop-up’s lead experiential designer, described it as a “stylized” version of the 90s – one that would pay homage to the bright colors and block graphics of the decade while resonating with the marketers who remember the days of fax machines and dial-up internet speeds.

In researching the latter, Adobe’s (older) employees proved to be ready-made sounding boards.

“These guys allowed us a significant amount of revision – we would send something over and the ad people would rip it apart and say, ‘Well, that's not how it was done in the 90s’,” said Boothe. “For instance, in the experience the living room is called the den, because one guy was like, ‘We never would have had a computer in the living room!’”

Adobe has no firm plans to tour the 90s time warp once Summit wraps up tomorrow (28 March), however Boothe said there has been interest in rebuilding it at a number of the company’s other conferences throughout 2019.

As for Giant Spoon – Vergel de Dios described the experience working with such a corporate client as “refreshing”.

“With a studio you have all these strong creative directors trying to dictate a lot of the narrative – and they already have these scenes from the film that they're trying to recreate,” she said. “Whereas for Adobe it was like – here's a brand, how do you recreate that in the physical space?”

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