At any media and advertising forum, it is common place to hear deliberations on how communication with today’s audience has to rise from normal to new heights of engagement. However, it is not so common to hear about playing games with sharks; bridges and trucks tweeting, or of a connected audience that is creating a world where computing is not in the laptops or computers, but in various aspects of life itself. But then Kevin Slavin turned to be no common man either.
Slavin, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Area Code, had a few people sceptical when he began with his Keynote Address on the wrap-up day at MipTV on April 15, 2010. Slavin had been an advertising guy and had worked with companies like TBWA. For the last five years, he has been a gaming guy. Many attended the session, thinking gaming should be interesting and what more they could learn on next generation audience engagement. But when Slavin started off the conversation with laughter from nowhere (LFN, also known as laughter track, seen in sitcoms for decades now) and the limbic brain, quite a few concentrated on the conversation in complete confusion.
Slavin played a Scooby Doo clip to point out the laughter, and then a clip from the popular sitcom ‘Friends’ that was one of the few shows that had done away with the LFN. He pointed out, “Nothing means more than what it means to other people, and at one point, people needed a cue like that to indicate that that means something.” Taking the scientific approach, Slavin spoke on the limbic brain. He said, “Limbic brain is the reason why we don’t eat our children, and reptiles do. Limbic brain leads to the term ‘limbic resonance’, which refers to the ways we are responding to each other in terms of facial expressions, laughter, tones. That was the reason why the LFN was once needed, but today, this limbic resonance is changing.”
He explained, “The mind of limbic resonance that was required for face-to-face communication is now distributed. And that is allowing us to have certain kinds of connection that we wouldn't otherwise have. To connect with people who are not physically there, is possible now.” Slavin reiterated the example of sitcoms, where majority had done away the LFN to point out that human behaviour was changing and it was giving rise to the phenomenon of ‘connected audience’.
For Slavin, games could connect into the world in ways that they hadn’t before. And his example included an initiative that Area Code had done with the TV series ‘Numbers’, and then another initiative that the company had done during soccer with Puma. By now, the audience was hooked. Slavin’s unusual approach to make his point, and the kind of work that the company had done on the gaming front, had managed to engage the hall.
The example that made everyone sit up and take notice was a game that the company had developed for the television show ‘Sharkweek’. As Slavin explained, the game by itself would have been the most boring game in the world if people waited on screen for their ships to intersect with a shark. So instead, Area Code connected with them on mobiles and informed them when a gamer’s ship intersected with a shark, and the gamer was given three hours to reach his system and play. The company had tagged real white sharks under their fins, and it was the movement of these sharks in the Pacific Ocean that the gamers were playing against. “That is how real gaming can be. These players were sitting on their systems and playing real white sharks. The next generation entertainment means engaging very differently. Computing doesn't exist in your laptops anymore, it is in the world.” More people played the game than watched the show. This was Slavin’s example to prove his point, and by now he had the audience’s attention a 100 per cent.
To drive home his point, Slavin gave the examples of a Taco truck in Los Angeles that tweeted its location to people, and a Tower Bridge that tweeted every time someone crossed it. He said, “You have to think in these terms. The important point is to take back the notion that limbic is reserved for mammal to mammal. The world we now live in, you can respond to a bridge and a truck. It is very easy to miss this, to think that this is very trivial.” Slavin also cited the example of shows like ‘The Hills’ and MTV’s ‘Backchannel’, where people commented on the show in a social networking platform. Some of the comments were played in a special episode. This was one of the earlier iterations of co-viewing, and it has now led to initiatives like Starling from Slavin.
Slavin summed up by saying, “We can feel each other, we no longer need that laughter track. Now the laughter comes from everywhere -- Taco trucks, sharks, shows. It is all about getting a signal out that can initiate something.”