Wednesday night, at the 58th annual Clio Awards, the Grand Clio for Music Marketing was handed out to a band that is endlessly creative and innovative…but doesn’t technically exist. Not that that stopped the Gorillaz from blowing away the jury with the reality-bending promotional whirlwind around their first new album in seven years, Humanz. Here’s how founders Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, alongside creative agency B-Reel, made it happen.
The virtual band, best known for songs like “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.,” have been pioneers in augmented and virtual reality, but the app they created for Humanz, and the way in which the campaign rolled out, proved their nearly ten year break hasn’t dulled their creative edge. Their official app is also one of the most immersive music experiences ever created for smartphones…and even helps automaker Jaguar Land Rover find talented engineers.
Davor Krvavac, B-Reel’s executive creative director, says the app is designed to take advantage of tech innovations that showed up in the seven years gap between the band’s 2017 release Humanz and their last LP, 2010’s Plastic Beach.
“Huge leaps in mobile technology during their hiatus presented us with a radical opportunity to break new ground and tell the Gorillaz story in a completely new way,” Krvavac says. “A mixed reality approach was something we settled on from the start. We wanted to create a seamless blend of real world, augmented reality, virtual reality and 360 environments... and bring fans and the Gorillaz closer than ever before.”
In the app, users explore the Gorillaz’ home, the (haunted) Spirit House. Users interact with virtual band members 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel in a narrative environment which is updated over time. Unlike many other promotional apps in the entertainment space, the Gorillaz app is designed for use over weeks and months--the better to keep fans attached to the band and learn about upcoming releases and live concerts.
Krvavac and B-Reel colleagues Johannes Åhlund and Dheerna Parmar note that the app was the result of close collaboration between their agency, the members of Gorillaz, management agency Eleven Management, and Warner Music. Artist Hewlett and his creative team worked closely on developing the app’s narrative ideas with B-Reel, and Warner and Eleven tied the app into a larger promotional strategy that also included an augmented reality listening party. The augmented reality event, the “Humanz House Party,” took place in 500 locations worldwide.
The app relies on an augmented reality interface which can also be experienced in Google Cardboard. Users begin the app in a camera live view which encourages users to explore and interact with three dimensional virtual objects floating in space. The objects all relate to song lyrics and the Gorillaz’ mythology. As users touch objects, they are transported into different rooms in the virtual haunted house.
Due to a need to make interactions and UI as simple as possible, B-Reel settled on a “physical UI” approach where users explore the app through objects inside the app. This allowed for extra goodies such as spatial navigation to in-person augmented reality listening parties being built into the software.
Since launching in April of 2017, the Gorillaz app has gone through several major changes. Several weeks after launching, a time-limited Humanz House Party tie-in was added which let fans experience the band’s new album in AR by following the app to a secret geolocated spot in their city. In June of 2017, the Gorillaz partnered with Jaguar Land Rover to add a garage to the virtual haunted house. The garage both contains vehicles from Gorillaz songs, a Jaguar I-Pace Concept electric car and an alternate reality game.
The alternate reality game is also an ambitious attempt by Jaguar to find talented engineers through the Gorillaz’ app. The band has had a partnership with the automaker since 2016, and Jaguar independently launched an initiative to recruit more than 1000 software and electronic engineers. B-Reel worked with the Gorillaz and Jaguar Land Rover to create a set of alternate reality challenges inside the app to test candidates’ engineering abilities.
According to B-Reel, Jaguar Land Rover made their first hire from the app in September of 2017.