By Claire Dean, Strategy Director OMD UK, and Chris Evans, Business Director OMD UK
Humans was the brand new drama from Channel 4 that imagined a world where synthetic humans (“synths”) are the new must-have household gadget. It asked what it means to be human – if synths can drive a car and raise a child, what is our role in the world?
Our challenge was to demonstrate the show’s appeal beyond the sci-fi geek and get people to tune in. We needed to do this and stay true to Channel 4’s ‘challenger’ remit of disrupting the status quo.
We realised that the issues that surfaced in the show were already attracting heated public discussion, with commentary from the likes of Professor Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk on the risks of artificial intelligence fuelling the debate further.
The idea of synths playing a role in real human life evoked a very emotional response.
Our challenge was to take this cerebral theoretical debate into the mainstream, make it real, and absolutely relevant so that ordinary people weighed in with their viewpoints and tuned in every week to watch.
Making Persona Synthetics a reality
The solution was to launch Persona Synthetics, the fictional company from the show, as a real business, promoting synths as genuine products available for purchase.
To ‘launch’ the Persona Synthetics brand in under eight weeks was a near impossible task. This wasn’t just about planning and booking media: we assembled a SWAT team with key people from across OMD UK and Fuse, partnering with Channel 4 Marketing, 4creative, and our media partners Microsoft and eBay – as well as PR teams from all parties.
Bringing it to life
It started with a Persona Synthetics TV advert, free from any Channel 4 branding. Social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook supported the belief that Persona Synthetics were real, and then came the physical heart of our campaign: a flagship store on London’s Regent Street.
The storefront dominated the high street, sitting next door to the world famous Hamley’s toy shop and across the road from London’s iconic Apple Store. The frontage housed two 90” digital screens which incorporated the latest Microsoft Kinect technology, allowing people to personalise synths through gesture control. We had actors posing as Persona Synthetics employees delivering synths to the store, reinforcing the illusion that these products were available to buy – right there, right then. Print, digital and social ads directed people to the shop, allowing us to behave in every way like a real retail launch.
We secured eBay as our online retail partner where we pretended to auction off two synth models. This was the first time a fictional brand has been sold on the site.
“Convincing the nation that synthetic humans were real products available for purchase and helping to get over six million people to tune into the premiere of Humans was an incredible achievement. We were proud to work with our partners to make this campaign happen and it truly set the benchmark for advertising last year.”
Laura Ward, Channel 4 Group Marketing Manager
The rich mix of campaign elements came together beautifully to produce game-changing results: Persona Synthetics trended as the #1 search on Google and Twitter on opening weekend and within three weeks, Persona Synthetics’ website had over 1 million hits.
Most importantly, a staggering 6.1 million people tuned into episode 1, over three times our target number. Humans became Channel 4’s highest rating originated drama of all time.