Okayso project Goes to Town wins Best Marketing Campaign at the Museum and Heritage Awards!
In 2013, my company Okayso helped create a marketing campaign for the Oxford University Museum of Natural History called Goes to Town. In 2015, that campaign has won the Museum and Heritage “Best Marketing Campaign” award. This is the story of how it all came about, and how we approached the campaign.
A little background
When your roof leaks, it needs to be fixed, especially if you have a hall of priceless exhibits beneath. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) had just this problem, and needed to shut for a whole year while vital repairs and other renovation work was carried out. All the exhibits on the floor of the museum had to be moved and covered in bubble-wrap to avoid damage.
All of which presented a problem. If you shut a museum, it has no visitors, and you’re very much out of the public eye. So the comms team at the museum came up with an ingenious plan; take some of those exhibits and send them out into the community for the year as something of an outreach plan, engaging the community with the museum even while closed.
The museum had the name “Goes To Town” (GTT), along with a plan to develop a “trail” around Oxford town centre to find all the exhibits. Okayso was asked to look at identity work, the website, printed materials and some short films to bring the campaign to life.
Finding the right tone for the campaign was an early challenge. The temptation to do something very “museum-y” was pretty strong. Semi-serious, with classic typography, and lots of shots of exhibits being prepared.
Then we saw the plan. A penguin in the fishmonger. Edible insects in the coffee shop. A snowy owl in the church. Alice’s animals in the library. Just the choices here made for a very different approach. It was playful, joyous and experimental, and we decided to approach the work in the same way.
Working with designer Charlie Piggins from Mode of Thought, we embarked on a series of ideas for visually representing the concept. We played with passports, with suitcases and claws. In the end though, a scribble on a piece of paper yielded the final concept.
The crate creates a narrative. It spoke of moving, but without the anthropomorphic issues of the suitcase and passport. It also had a wonderfully Indiana Jones quality about it, but even within this idea, there’s a multitude of tones to be had. Do you go slightly horror movie or really playful? Above all though: what should be in the crate?
After tinkering with revealing the beast within, we settled on just a simple solution. An illustrated crate, with a single eye, hinting at breakout. It was playful, with just a hint of menace, but without being overtly scary. This would be our central anchor element.
But for the crate to work, we need a label, almost as an instruction to the mythical packers. In the end we settled on the idea of a stamp, making the crate a real shipping container. This stamp also doubled as the logo mark for the entire project. Finally, we let the crate’s shadow be that of the exhibit itself.
From there we worked with OUMNH’s brand guidelines to link the GTT identity with that of the museum. Deadlines were too tight for us to do every poster and flyer, so we created a wide set of design templates that the museum could update themselves in InDesign and print on demand as and when required. Because of the multiple locations of the exhibits, we had templates for signage and posters from A5-A0 in size.
The trailer films
We shot two trailer films for the project. The first was a fairly straight “locations” trailer, teasing the places in Oxford that might see an exhibit. The second though really played to the crate narrative, imagining the packing up of a slightly rowdy exhibit in the rarely-seen bowels of the museum.
This was the crate concept made flesh. Or wood. Sourced from the local reclaimed wood yard in Brighton, the crate made the journey to Oxford for the day’s filming. This was also the point at which the stencil was created for real, involving some very deft, old school scalpel work from Charlie, who also doubled as the beast in the crate making it rattle and shake.
This is my personal favourite element of the whole project. I love how it all came together, working with designer and client, all of us pitching in to create a really nice mood piece. Scott from OUMNH even wrote and recorded the haunting, semi-Morricone soundtrack for the film.
Goestotown.com was a key component to the project. It was how people could find the exhibits and enter a competition for when the museum re-opening. It was designed from a mobile-first perspective, since it was likely that people would be accessing the site on their smartphones while out and about.
We also integrated audio in the shape of podcasts from the exhibit experts from the museum using Soundcloud players.
When it was time for the museum to re-open we shot two more short films to promote that event.
“Into the light” was a hand made animation featuring some of the exhibits returning to museum, with sets and puppets created by Mo MacNeill. Reprising the music from the crate short, this was a moody but playful intro to the re-opening of the museum.
The second film, “Breakout”, was a spoof news report from Oxford, creating a rolling news narrative for the animals return. With a script written by Scott, and cameos from several of the museum staff, this was a really fun way to introduce the re-opening date.
The empty cases feature statements from the exhibits, all of which were given their own identity and written by Scott. The insects, for instance, had formed a something of a 70’s left-wing union for their note. Really lovely attention to detail. We even fashioned a logo for them.
Lastly, during the editing we created the audio “sting” for the OUMNH news channel. Not as easy as it seems, as I discovered. It’s hard to get the build and intensity right in such a short time period. It’s also worth noting that once you’ve made one of these, you can never take real news audio stings seriously again. They’re genuinely emotionally manipulative pieces of work, designed to heighten excitement and leave you slightly breathless, imparting weight to whatever the news anchor might say.
So, what did we learn from this project? Several things for me:
A really great client can make a project sing, even though we weren’t working with a massive budget. The comms team at OUMNH are young, hungry and really supported by their management team, and it shows. They’re prepared to try out ideas. muck in and follow them through.
Collaborative working is great. Partnering up with Charlie from Mode of Thought made all the difference to the identity work (the crate was Charlie’s initial concept), and working with Scott and the team on storyboarding, scripts and music made the films really strong.
Iteration is really important. There were probably 20 concepts before the crate, and then a further 50 versions of that. Never stop at the first idea.
Being in control of the whole visual side of the project made for a really joined-up approach, following the tone and identity through print, digital and film.
The award itself is a nice ending to this innovative and playful project’s story. It’s not the be all and end all, but I must admit it’s a nice feeling to know that all that thought and work from everyone has been recognised.