Method Studios

Rules of engagement: Sam reflects on 15 years of digital storytelling

17th Sep 2018

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I never imagined that when we started out on this journey 15 years ago, we would be playing with virtual reality headsets, or that phones could be used to augment our real world and bring stories to life.

All we ever set out to do was to create a genuine connection, make digital the hero and make sure people realised the value and power technology could have in bringing stories to life.

Method was born after just a couple of months of deliberation and discussion. We saw a massive gap in the market: web was booming, but the content left much to be desired.

Sites were cookie cutters or an extension of the infamous and highly regarded TVC. They were nothing more than just badly designed pages with screeds of content – a place to finally store all that information, and store they did!

There were exceptions, though. We started seeing beautiful sites coming out of the US and UK – sites that took visitors on a fantastical journey through rich and immersive content. My co-founder and Method’s creative director Eugene Eastlake was also creating unique experiences for some of New Zealand’s top brands.

We wondered, why couldn’t all websites be like this? We decided this warranted a closer look, and by teaming up and working together we could create our own creative digital agency. It was risky giving up our regular salaries to found a start-up, but like everything else we’d done together so far, we didn’t give it a second thought and dived right in.

Twinings Tea Customiser

From day one, we set out to change digital and its perception in New Zealand. We weren’t the only ones: agencies like Resn were also out there leading the charge. But we were in the minority. Web was seen as the poor cousin, the tick box at the end of the campaign schedule where the agencies would think, ‘yikes, we need to get something online cause web’s a thing now’.

Yet we had clients who were happy to take the risk. Bell Tea gave us an open brief, a lot of trust, and copious amounts of tea. And we delivered a site that won numerous awards and passed the test of time – it stayed online for over 10 years! It also started the conversation with other clients: could they do something as engaging that brought their story to life?

We quickly became some of New Zealand’s most well-known ad agencies’ right hand digital man and woman. The ‘dream team’, they called us. They knew that we could inject something extraordinary into their campaign. That if they needed a unique idea and someone who could deliver, we were the ones who could pull it off.

And, nothing has changed. But also, everything has.

Web has moved on – from flash to html, then to mobile, and now has come in a full circle back to cookie cutter. But it’s a cookie cutter like never before – you can create almost any type of website now without ever needing a developer.

I would lament, but we moved on as well. We’ve always been at the bleeding edge, so we didn’t stick around to push a dying art. We had other great things to discover and create.

We always saw technology as a great tool and one that could be harnessed to bring some amazing experiences to life. To reach out and engage with human beings, offer something extraordinary, give that wow factor, and create a connection.

We created experiences using Xbox Kinect, interactive banners that didn’t understand boundaries, took social to the next level, and gamified where fun ‘didn’t make sense’ to clients – to some incredible results.

We’ve been playing with augmented reality for over 10 years now. It was slightly different back then, but still had some great applications. We cursed but also thanked Pokemon Go when it finally made AR cool and accessible.

We helped kickstart Oculus and threw up in buckets taking the first ever VR roller coaster ride. But, no client was interested in the early days, it was too risky – just like AR. Then, finally, a brave client emerged and we created New Zealand’s first Samsung Gear VR experience – for Unitec. One that linked in with brainwave technology and made for a lot of ‘fun’ in development – we don’t do things by halves that’s for sure. And to this day, it’s still a great experience.

Four years later in present day, and it’s a different story. AR and VR are the buzzwords right now. And coming close behind is Mixed Reality (MR). Awesome, but also worrisome. Like any technology, if not done well, its popularity can actually be a setback (we’re looking at you QR codes).

Done well, these new technologies can be used to create immersive journeys and experiences one could only imagine. Take a look around a coffee plantation, travel to the moon, talk to a Maori elder, create a digital butterfly to send into a forest, or bring your child’s story book alive. At the heart of all of these projects, regardless of the tech, is the story – the experience that you want someone to have and the emotion you want someone to feel.

Technology is not the solution. It never has been. However, it is an incredible enabler. It can enhance, it can add value, it can excite, and it can bring a story to life. Used well, it can create meaningful connections and add value to our lives.

So, nothing’s changed. 15 years on and we’re still playing with the latest and greatest tech while delivering creative websites and leading clients’ digital strategy. We’re experimenting with and creating technology we never imagined we’d have our hands on. But we’re also still bringing to life stories and experiences that engage and inspire. We just have so many more ways to deliver them now.