So there I was, standing next to a family from Russia, in front of a French couple and behind a group of teenagers from Spain. My children are fluent in Spanish and tell me the teenagers from Spain were on mobile phones recounting the events they were watching to parents and grandparents back home. So what on earth was I doing and where was I?
Over the past three days a hoped for 250,000 people from all over the UK and Europe were to gather in Liverpool to commemorate and witness a unique piece of street theatre dedicated to the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic was owned by the White Star shipping line which had its headquarters in Liverpool on the waterfront by the dock. Many of the crew were from Liverpool and it was a letter from a little girl to her father , a crew member, which initiated this event. Sadly, the letter never reached her father as by the time it arrived in Southampton for his receipt , the Titanic had already sunk. The letter is now in the Liverpool Maritime Museum as part of a Titanic exhibit.
So what am I talking about here?
If I receive poor entertainment or information , firstly I delete it and secondly I make a mental note to watch that source in future with an eye to closing my door to it….in effect I put that source on warning, even though I never tell the sender. There in lies a problem for the content creator when the recipients do not communicate with you, you have to guess how they enjoyed the offerings. Looking back at analytics and past performance can , in this era, be too late on some occasions.
This event in Liverpool took three days to tell the story of the letter being returned to the little girl by her uncle as they walked the city streets looking for each other . The amazing thing is that the whole region is talking about this event , young and old alike have lined the streets as if they were in a ‘ticker tape’ parade all waiting to see the stars of the show. They all have a story to tell and are all captivated by the emotional nature of this particular story, as the three days have gone on they have become more immersed in the experience.
Now lets be clear here , we are talking about 30 and 50 foot marionette puppets being brought through the city streets by a team of highly skilled operators from Nantes in France yet people are referring to the giant puppets as if they were human. They have succeeded in making the connection to the point where the fact that they are huge dolls has been put to one side. Yes, the technical brilliance is there for all to see but there is a more powerful human element to this event than the Leonardo daVinci style machine like quality they reveal. It is that human element that we all as content creators strive to get each and every time we produce our offerings.
This event was free to the public and has, in fact, cost $1.5 million to produce, in these times of economic distress ‘many’ would say it is too much and too frivolous. Perhaps but ‘many’ would be wrong in that assumption, the city is awash with people from all corners of Europe, the locals are energised and proud of their city and the profile of the city is raised again as it has been previously on many occasions,most recently when Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
The city administrators say that they expect at least a 12:1 return on their investment and from what I have seen that will be modest. What a great way to pump around $20,000,000 into a local economy over three days, who wouldn’t want that to happen where they live?
There is not a single hotel room in the city available , not a seat in a restaurant free, not a taxi unfilled, not a pub with a free seat , you get the idea. The organizers have taken something everybody is familiar with in order to develop interest and engagement with unfamiliar aspects of modern life.
This is content marketing on a grand scale at its epic best.
The magic is that the ‘baby has not been thrown out with the bath water’ here, an ancient method of building community has been thrust into the technological age to devastating effect. Simple theatre and mass participation has a real human face with this event, the technology has helped advertise and engage and will benefit from the ‘tale of revenue’ that these events produce but the over-riding sensation is that of a city galvanised by a story that they identify with on many levels. As content creators we need to be sure we have a great story to tell and that we tell it well….always.
Watch this piece from the BBC about the first day , you just have to smile !
Impressive and bold?… Surely but not a million miles away from the effect on consumers we all drive for. The winners here are the consumers, their efforts in participation have been richly rewarded by spectacular performances and the ‘feel good’ effect will last for many more weeks. In a year , in fact a summer, of one-off events this part of the world will take some considerable time to come down to earth after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the 2012 Olympics in August. It is in the telling of all these stories that a legacy will be created , so dare I suggest looking this way for a few months to see how the old and the new can be mixed to create mass enthusiasm and a willingness to explore new things?
And how did they do? I think this is pretty conclusive; 600,000 attended rather than the expected 250,000 bringing in an estimated $50,000,000 to the local economy…… be inspired and think bigger!
see you on the long and winding road………Patrick