Secrets revealed — How to rake in 320m from a simple grand visual idea

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The wait must have been nail biting. In a bar in central London they gathered before that button was pushed. The word had finally been unveiled. Ten million, they’re told, would be a massive success.

“They wait. That’s what they do. Tick. Tock”, says one of the most iconic ads of all time, yet as that button sprung and ones and zeros zinged down the network, the visible figures would have rolodexed like a Las Vegas cash register.

10m in the first hour. 25m by the end of the day. By six weeks in, 320m views. The jackpot! Cue, Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture Finale and Champas breaking out, metaphorically.

Not bad for a two friends Dan Dawson and Neil Morris,whom 12 years earlier joined forces to create thirty second spots, thought what could become of digital media outside of home, and whose earlier campaigns were a brand foot cream. “I mean if they’re going to foot the bill?”, I weigh in!

Dawson says, Digital out of home has taken off over the 12 years since they formed.

The first real big digital out of home screens as we know them now was the transvision ones.. Those are in mainline stations . They were put in 15 years ago, but media owners weren’t really backing digital out of home then. It was only when they started to transform their existing print sites … you’ve seen the perimeter boards at football stadium that used to be big print sites and are now digital screens, then people really stated to take the medium seriously.

Today digital out of home Dawson says is a £1bn industry.


Steve Johnson, behind the best seller Where good ideas come from tells the story of journalist Jacob Riis who desperately wanted to show how city dwellers lived in lodging-Houses in the 1880s. It was the burgeoning age of electricity. Riis’ clever idea, and in hindsight a simple one, was to create a small explosion, the flash light, that enabled him to take night photographs to accompany his stories. Other journalists marvelled. “How did he do that?”

Grand Visual have built up a reputation devising ingenious, often simple methods at crafting their stories drawing the proverbial gesture “How did you do that?” Unsurprisingly, I’ve succumbed to the same question.

The aforementioned campaign which drew 320m was a brand awareness spot, crafted for one of their major clients. In it customers at a shopping mall find their images cast as shadows of Disney characters. There’s a Mexican wave, a Marcel Marceau follow me, and dance off where Mickey Mouse’s MJ moves clean the floor thinking back on Guardian of the Galaxy’s Star Lord.

So how did they do that?

Grand Visual

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Top, Dan Dawson, co-founder of Grand Visual hosts MA students from the University of Westminster

Grand Visual’s, core team of 25 people have a repertoire of work that has netted several awards, including the oscars for advertising — the Cannes’ Lion. Dawson sees the company as specialists — creative technologists and creative producers — working in unison, making digital out of home (DOOH) and related services in programmatic and tactical video their own.

Their billings in the last few years has grown, which Dawson says will plateau. Digital Out of Home, he says, is still only 5% tactical and only 5% dynamic video content within the digital production market. This signals a huge growth in the sector and for story tellers.

Dawson says, I think the role Out of Home has to play in a wider marketing mix is going to be massively important.

So what’s coming for tactical is around what creative messages have played and where they have played because if I want to re-target those consumers in an educated way on a programmatic buy on display and mobile, advertisers need to know what’s played and where its played.

An example of how this works is provided by Dawson in a breakdown of a campaign.

So if I have a story to tell. Lets take Waterloo station as a really good example. I have just played this google message for YouTube, for a particular YouTube channel they want to get more people watching online…

We play this ad at waterloo station this morning. So from a mobile perspective there are agencies out there who understand how many people are at Waterloo station this morning and they have their device iDs. When they open up their browser and go somewhere we can tell, they can tell. Media agencies can tell where they’ve been and they can retarget them with those ads. Now they will want to target them with those ads if we can tell them where they’ve been.

Grand Visual’s creative slate for storytelling techniques takes in the scalable, tactical, engaging, and shareable — a recent addition to re-crafting stories. Simply put programmatic video, which can be delineated into tactical are stories activated or conditioned by machine language and AI. The number of Oyster users at a station may trigger different videos to play across different platforms.

In one of their campaigns working with long time client Google, vehicles streaming down a motorway affect the timing of a message on a billboard according to their speed and flow. Meanwhile, a Google play list triggers different song choices depending on the day and weather conditions.

In another for Walkers crisp, the public contort themselves into letter shapes to secure a prize. In the cause and effect of tactical, data to trigger an effect with video can come from cameras linked to gesture APIs or data that is scrapped from open sources, such as the Met Office.

The company’s work takes in 60 markets in different countries, sometimes across 250 different formats, with a roster which includes ten Warner bros films a year in all languages. Small wonder, Dawson sees them in a unique position stating they have have no competitors who can replicate their full portfolio across a wide spectrum of formats.

The disLabers

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We’re here from the University of Westminster’s disLAB, acronym for digital and interactive story lab, exploring the interstice of storytelling across platforms. It’s billed as a different type of MA which ideates, prototypes and builds an array of assets, with a view to creating innovative projects. Conventions are not taken as a given, instead, time, place, audience, creative style and tech are ’cause and effect’ variables.

In this, beyond the digital age, being discursively creative and technological disruptive are KPIs. Being meta about work is another, which Dawson spells out about in his company. They craft stories about crafted stories.

From our end, engaging with industry exemplars like Grand Visual builds up knowledge from symptomatic readings of professionals’ work, and what’s happening in the industry — as we’re finding out. Our day of visit coincides with a security protocol for a client’s work. Next week Grand Visual launch an AR event where the public can sit next to their favourite stars on Sky.

A fortnight ago BBC News Lab kindly allowed us to sit in on their editorial meeting. This week, LABers engaged in agile productions, creating pecha kucha style research on Grand Visual, with each student focusing on an area — which they posed questions to Dawson.

  • Jasmin poses a question, amongst many, wanting to find out how Grand Visual handles data of users. In short they acquire data from multiple sources, but never keep them says Dawson.
  • Dino asks about their many tech platforms, and whether they use Maya. Dawson replies that they’ll often build their own piece of tech, use adobe’s suit and from a slide show they use Arduino, Raspbery Pi, Json, HTML/CSS/ Javascript coding etc.
  • Bowen was curious about how the company balances its public profile against branding others, when often the company behind the work remains invisible. Dawson replies that they have their own PR agency and have recently reviewed their own brand awareness.
  • Sara asks whether they out source work. In short when the need arises, but they’ve a full team in-house, Dawson says.
  • Elishka wonders how collaborative the company is. Everyone has a voice, says Dawson. They work with a range of people within a campaign, such as media buyers, brand managers, media agencies etc, whilst in-house everyone can contribute to ideation. In fact it’s interesting to hear that about one to six people are engaged in brain storming.
  • Nasma questions how they can spend money on a client when the product does little to directly impact sales growth. That depends on the brief, says Dawson. Sometimes it’s just about brand awareness.
  • Sofija had previously looked into the AR/ VR growth in the UK wants to know if there are some stories that cannot be told. Dawson replies there’s always a way to tell story.

And with our time up at 12.10 we decamped to a cafe for a debriefing… Our deepest thanks to @grandvisual and Dan Dawson @mymatedan for their hospitality. I’m aware I wasn’t able to condense everything that was said into this piece, so look forward to teasing out those elements in the future.

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is named as one of the top writers in journalism on Medium

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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