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A few weeks ago, the event industry drew headlines for all the wrong reasons. What started as a drive-in fundraiser concert with a number of thorough safety measures ended with viral videos of crowding and front-row guests without masks, appearing to break the state of New York’s social distancing regulations. The Department of Health has since launched an ongoing investigation into the July 25 “Safe & Sound” benefit in the Hamptons, and Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted that he was “appalled.”
Before the event, BizBash caught up with the organizers to discuss the safety measures put in place for the 500 car—or 2,000 guest—gathering, which included a concert from The Chainsmokers. Steps included pre-event health questionnaires, and mask and hand sanitizer giveaways for every guest. There were hand-sanitizing stations in every row, bathrooms that were disinfected every 10 minutes, and an on-site physician performing temperature checks. The amount of security was tripled to more than 80 guards, and concertgoers purchased reserved parking zones that were designed for four to six people per car and spaced six feet apart.
So what exactly went wrong here—and how can it be prevented in the future, when these types of drive-in events continue to grow in popularity? To find out, we chatted with six top event pros from throughout North America. Here are their takes.
Cara Kleinhaut, founder and CEO, AGENC Experiential & Digital Marketing, New York and Los Angeles “What is devastating to us as professionals is we are collectively responsible for reviving our decimated industry. We will be held up to a microscope with everything we do, like it or not. So we have a collective obligation to make sure we are putting every single best practice forward when planning [events] in this age of pre-vaccine COVID. They must be safe. Many of us have gone to great lengths to become COVID-safety certified, stay in close contact with local officials and health experts to make sure our spaces are safe, and publishing best practice manuals. We do not take this lightly. If we are going to do it, we better do it right.
From what we saw in the Hamptons, despite their best-laid plans on paper, they did not enforce social distancing, mask-wearing, and other very basic safety measures. Enforcement is key, as human nature will always be to push the rules and revert to old behavior and entitlement of what we feel we should be able to do. Where that event failed was in communication from the stage that the behavior needed to stop or else they were going to have to shut down.
That said, I have seen this done correctly—for example, at the Rose Bowl for RuPaul’s Drag ‘n Drive. The cars were properly spaced, masks were worn, and if people tried to gather the security teams immediately redirected people back to their vehicles. The cost for increased enforcement will be higher, but it’s an investment in our collective health and our responsibility as professionals to show how this can be done properly.”
Justin Lefkovitch, founder and CEO, Mirrored Media, Santa Monica, Calif. “We were so disappointed to see the mismanagement exhibited by all associated with the event, especially when so many of us in the events industry are doing all that we can to prepare a roadmap for in-person events in the age of COVID-19.
Echoing the response from our colleagues, we need to do it right, or don’t do it at all. Each and every event and producer represents the industry as a whole. The actions of this particular group will, unfortunately, ripple into local communities and our industry. One act of irresponsibility has the potential to set the whole industry back at a time when we can least afford it. We all need to understand that what we do has a lasting effect not just in our state, but across the globe. It is our job to work within the best interests of our clients, our staff, our community, our industry, and most importantly our guests—while also keeping everyone safe.
We must exhaust all resources to ensure the safety of our guests, with a focus on security. While checking temperatures is great, as we know, not all carriers have fevers. Masks and temperature checks are not enough when they are not supplemented by responsible social distancing and other protocol compliance.
Governments, brand sponsors, and the general public are less likely to trust legitimate events, regardless of careful preparation and attention to detail. Every time something like this or the Fyre Festival happens, the entire industry has to work harder and jump through even more hoops. Securing permits becomes more difficult, and regulations become even more strict. We have worked tirelessly with local and state government to come up with safe and responsible guidelines to bring live events back to our community. For the sake of public health, our industry, and the future of live events, we hope that producers can work together to do it right, or not do it at all. Even when you think you’ve considered every aspect of an event, you need to have contingency plans for contingency plans.”
To promote season two of its turn-of-the-century crime drama, TheAlienist, TNT partnered with several organizations whose legacies reach all the way back to the show’s setting of 1897 Manhattan in the Gilded Age.
The show, which is based on the best-selling books by Caleb Carr, stars Daniel Brühl (Rush), Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans as an unlikely trio who become a team of criminal investigators assembled by Theodore Roosevelt, who at the time served as police commissioner of New York City. Brühl plays brilliant criminal psychologist Dr. Lazlo Kreizler, who attended Harvard with Roosevelt and newspaper illustrator John Moore (Evans), who helps Kreizler with the investigation. Roosevelt also offers them the assistance of his secretary, Sara Howard (Fanning), who has known both Roosevelt and Moore since she was a child. In season one, the three work to track down a serial killer who is murdering street children.
In season two, Angel of Darkness, Howard has opened her own detective agency and she seeks the aid of Kreizler and Moore, now a New York Times reporter, after the infant daughter of the Spanish consular is kidnapped.
When it came time to promote season two, team TNT knew they wanted to focus on a few of the show’s key topics: it’s location in Manhattan as well as its emphasis on the era’s fashion and fine dining.
“Everybody’s getting food delivered now, so we thought about partnering with a New York institute and delivering food to consumers in New York City,” said Telmo Tabuas, senior vice president of brand marketing, TNT, TBS and truTV.
One of the trio’s frequent haunts in the series is Delmonico’s Steakhouse in the Financial District, which opened in 1837. The restaurant still exists today, even though it’s been closed for indoor dining since quarantine due to coronavirus started in March.
“Delmonico’s felt like it was the perfect partner because it’s a key character in the show,” said Tabuas.
After some thought, TNT decided that rather than deliver food to random but lucky recipients in New York, it would prefer to turn the activation into a pro-social campaign. On the night of season-two’s premiere, July 19, TNT and Delmonico’s delivered 500 meals to doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers at three New York City hospitals: Manhattan VA, Mt. Sinai West and Bellevue.
Working with experiential marketing firm Mirrored Media, the team delivered branded bags, stuffed with pencils, napkins and meals to those hospitals. Inside of the bags were classic Delmonico’s steak dinners including a wedge salad, steak, fried potatoes and rice-pudding cake. A vegetarian option of pasta primavera also was provided.
“The Delmonico’s activation started more as a curbside pickup but as we spoke more and more to the client and went over the goals, we realized that it was all about celebrating the city and the people that inspired the show,” said Justin Lefkovitch, founder and CEO of Mirrored Media. “If we were doing that, pulling these frontline workers out of their life-saving efforts to come wait online on a curb didn’t make sense. So we thought about how we could reach frontline workers where they were working.”
Although the activation was pro-social, healthcare workers from the sites posted about it on social media, garnering some very positive earned media for both the network and the series.
Sticking with the theme of partnering with a New York institution, TNT also reached out to department store of Bergdorf Goodman to do a multi-faceted activation around the show’s turn-of-the-century fashion, which includes highly tailored clothes and such details as puffy sleeves, high collars and lace.
Fans can browse clothing inspired by the series on Bergdorf Goodman’s website.
Working with Mirrored Media, TNT and Bergdorf Goodman also were able to pull off a streetside window display dedicated to The Alienist, although whether this could be done was in question for a while with much of Bergdorf’s staff furloughed and not many people walking by the store during quarantine. But with New York City opening up a little and staff returning, the team accomplished it.
Bergdorf Goodman also took the team on a virtual shopping trip through the store to help it assemble a box of goodies for select influencers, which included a gift from Bergdorf Goodman and other goodies.
“We worked through a lot of hardships to make this happen. The marketing director at Delmonico’s was working for free to get this done because she wasn’t even fully employed at this time ” said Lefkovitch. “These were authentic partnerships where it was a win-win for everyone.”
Finally, the team announced the debut of season two with a virtual premiere that included actors from the show participating in an online murder mystery.
“Attendees to the virtual premiere were first escorted online to a digital hub where press, talent and producers gathered to watch the first episode, which led into an original murder mystery rooted in 1890s New York,” said Tabuas. “Folks could go from room to room online interviewing suspects to learn more about the case.”
Something that TNT could do with a virtual premiere that would have been harder and more expensive to do with an in-person premiere is run it again. So on the night of the show’s actual premiere, Sunday, July 19, TNT reran the murder mystery game for consumers.
“If you open the virtual space, that [allows] more consumers to partake,” said Tabuas. “COVID has been a hurdle but it’s also created an opportunity. We’ve gotten so much better about what can be done digitally and people are more open to that now.”
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness premiered on TNT on Sunday, July 19.
Most people don’t take fashion cues from period psychodramas, nor do they see much connection between 1890s steak recipes and stressed-out healthcare workers.
But for TNT’s premiere of the second season of “The Alienist,” called “Angel of Darkness,” it all came together — and fast.
Timed to coincide with the second season, the promotion includes a 204-piece capsule collection at Bergdorf Goodman. And Delmonico’s Steakhouse, practically a character in the show’s 1880s set, played a role with a 2020 twist. TNT brought back the restaurant’s furloughed staff, including its executive chef, to spend the day cooking and packaging 500 three-course meals for healthcare providers.
“We wanted to celebrate the city that inspired the series,” says Justin Lefkovitch, CEO of Mirrored Media, the experiential agency that handled the promotion. “And since we’re in the time of COVID and a premier event at Delmonico’s wasn’t an option, we kept asking, ‘How can we give back to the city we love?’”
For the uninitiated, “The Alienist” is a psychological thriller set in the Gilded Age of Manhattan. Fans love its meticulous attention to period details in everything from costumes to furnishings to food.
None of the Bergdorf’s collection is customized, since there wasn’t time. But the items curated for the digital popup would look right at home on set. They include a $47,000 diamond collar necklace, a $15,000 feather-trimmed dress, a $2,600 Jimmy Choo ostrich-feather clutch and a $70 Christian Louboutin Lip Oil. (The storied retailer is owned by the Neiman Marcus Group, which filed for bankruptcy back in May.)
The Delmonico’s portion of the promotion, timed to the show’s release, was more challenging. To stay true to the spirit of the show, the restaurant served 500 healthcare workers at New York’s Mount Sinai West, Manhattan VA Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital some of the classics it’s been dishing up for more than a hundred years. The three-course menu included classic BLT wedge salad, original Delmonico’s steak and rice pudding cake.
“We had to handle the logistics safely, including those at the restaurant, the packaging of the meals and those delivering them,” Lefkovitch tells Marketing Daily. “It was such a collaborative effort.”
TNT says it loves the Bergdorf/Delmonico’s combo. “When crafting ‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’ marketing campaign, we were deliberate in choosing partners. We only wanted brands and creators that felt authentic to the show and matched the level of magic that is ‘The Alienist,’” said Telmo Tabuas, senior vice president of brand marketing at WarnerMedia Entertainment, via email. “And we’ve been thrilled with the reaction we’ve seen from fans.”
TNT is partnering with a number of iconic businesses in New York City to promote the second season of “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness,” the company shared via press release with Marketing Dive.
TNT helped open Delmonico’s, an eatery prominently featured in the series, and paid for executive chef Billy Oliva to cook hundreds of meals to deliver to local healthcare workers through organization Feed the Frontlines NYC. Additionally, the brand partnered with legendary department store Bergdorf Goodman to curate a line of apparel inspired by the series, available online. The department store also created a themed window display with experiential agency Mirrored Media.
Old Forester and TNT created create custom etched bottles of the distillery’s 1897 Bottled in Bond bourbon. Death & Co. worked with TNT to develop custom cocktails inspired by the show’s three main characters, drinks that are now on the menu at the select bars for a limited time. Additionally, TNT and D.S. & Durga released an exclusive unisex fragrance, First Light Five Boroughs, inspired by the city at the time of the show.
The television network is looking to use the show’s setting of New York’s 19th century Gilded Age to help promote the new season of “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness.” These kinds of extensive product partnerships offer content producers an opportunity to push new shows through co-branded efforts that may appeal to the show’s loyal fans.
TNT has made a handful of partnerships with iconic New York City businesses that are designed to get people talking about the show and drive sales at these businesses. The TV network has an opportunity to get its show in front of new audiences through in-person and online marketing with these local New York tie-ins. The Bergdorf Goodman partnership, for example, could encourage shoppers of the special apparel collection or drinkers at the Death & Co. bar to discover the show or explore the new season.
On the flip side, fans of the show may go to these businesses to seek out unique products as a fun way to more deeply engage with the series. This may be particularly impactful right now as many businesses in New York and elsewhere are struggling from pandemic shutdowns.
TNT follows other video content brands that have used marketing partnerships to promote shows. Netflix teamed with Ben & Jerry’s and launched ice cream into the stratosphere to promote comedy series “Space Force.” The ice cream brand filmed the launch and created a video to promote the special Boots on the Moon flavor and the show. Unilever brand Axe partnered with the Netflix show “Sex Education” in February to initiate conversations around dating-related subjects that teen boys struggle with.
Brand had to rethink entertainment marketing approach in light of the pandemic
The lockdown has put a huge strain on marketers who turn to experiential campaigns to get the word out. Entertainment brands, for example, rely on major confabs like SXSW or Comic-Con to draw viewers into the worlds of their various shows and films, but now they have to think more creatively to lure them in.
TNT, for example, had to reimagine its promotion of Season 2 of “The Alienist,” which made its broadcast debut last night. The series, based on the best-selling historical mystery novels of Caleb Carr, kicked off last year with a lineup of initiatives that leaned heavily on on-the-ground activations, says Telmo Tabuas, VP-brand marketing at TBS, TNT and TruTV. Those included a premiere event on the Paramount lot in L.A. that recreated New York City’s Gilded Age as well as a costume exhibit that traveled from L.A. to New York.
This year, however, the lockdown presented a huge snag. “Once COVID-19 hit, we were tasked with how to make noise and build awareness in new ways,” Tabuas says.
So instead of bringing audiences into NYC’s Gilded Age, TNT brought a bit of the Gilded Age to them. One of the key pieces in the second season campaign is an elaborate, exquisitely produced mailer featuring products you might expect to find in the show’s world. Created in collaboration with brand partners that Tabuas says “have lasted the test of time or capture the timeless spirit of New York City,” it included items like 1897 Old Forester Whiskey, meant to represent the independent spirit of Dakota Fanning’s character Sara Howard (bourbon is her drink of choice on the show). Along with that, TNT turned to the bartenders of NYC cocktail lounge Death & Co. to create drinks inspired by the show, also highlighted in a series of online videos starring the bar’s lead mixologist Shannon Tebay.
TNT partnered with department store Bergdorf Goodman, which has been a NYC retail institution since 1899, to create a curated selection of goods inspired by the show’s costumes. The retailer also has representation in the kit in the form of a silk pocket square.
TNT also collaborated with New York dining institution Delmonico’s. The mailer includes its classic 1837 Steak Sauce, and TNT also partnered with the restaurant and Feed the Frontlines NYC on a charitable effort that brought specially prepared meals to healthcare workers and communities impacted by COVID-19. The meal deliveries included a three-course menu featuring select classic items from the Delmonico’s menu.
All the products come wrapped in reproduced newsprint of publication the New York Journal featuring headlines from back in the day, and the package is positioned as a client promotion from Fanning’s character, now the head of her own detective agency.
To create the promotion piece, TNT worked with agencies including Campfire, Mirrored Media and NVE.
Hans Zimmer is the man behind the music. Having written film scores for hits like The Lion King and Interstellar, the German composer is now working on a series of mini-soundtracks to feature in the 2021 all-electric BMW i4. The electric car is anticipated to be the first genuine rival to Tesla’s Model 3. Zimmer’s soundtracks will not only be exclusive to this model, they will set the tone (quite literally) for the sound of all future electric BMWs.
What do electric vehicles (EVs) sound like? At low speeds, EVs and hybrids can be near-silent. This has led experts to believe that, compared to their gas-guzzling counterparts, they are 37% and 57% more likely to cause low-speed accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, says a 2011 study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety and Administration.
As a result, currently new models, and by July 2021 all new electric cars, must now be fitted with Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems (AVAS) in the EU. These systems emit a continuous noise when moving 20 kilometres per hour or slower or when reversing, helping to alert pedestrians.
SO, WHAT SHOULD FILL THE SILENCE?
Well, safety is the primary purpose, “but there is still room to inject the brand personality and differentiate it from others in the competitive space,” says sound designer Connor Moore, who has worked on the audio branding for Tesla and Google/Waymo cars. While early approaches to AVAS sounds opted for either emulating Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) or a plain and simple electric motor noise, we are now starting to see more creative approaches. “We have an opportunity to take an atonal ICE tone and craft something  to create a very specific emotion – which is powerful,” says Connor.
When it comes to an engine-emulating AVAS system, there are pros and cons. Kota Kobayashi, design lead at EV manufacturer Arrival, tells Euronews Living, “people already recognise the sound, so there is no need to educate the meaning of the sound. But if we were to communicate various levels of risk to pedestrians, it may be difficult to do so by the sound of the combustion engine alone.”
SHOULD EV MANUFACTURERS START THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX?
BMW is certainly breaking away from legislation-imposed sounds, with Zimmer and collaborator Renzo Vitale composing what the manufacturer refer to as “sound worlds”. These will apply to the exterior, the AVAS, as well as the opening of car doors, and a special start/stop musical theme will apply to the concept version of the i4. Maybe we can even expect an Interstellar-esque docking theme to sound out as you connect the electric BMW to a charging station? Connor says “simplicity” is key when composing these sounds.
“We don’t want to be heavy-handed or overly rich or complex for a turn signal or seatbelt chime. To me, good sound design is almost transparent. It should be something you notice and love, but should live more in the subconscious.”
One might assume that it would be cutting-edge EV brand Tesla choosing to go leftfield and employing the skills of a film composer, rather than BMW, the German car manufacturer steeped in history. While the Tesla Model 3s were fitted with an AVAS system in the US from September 2019, it is one of the only EV manufacturers that is yet to experiment sonically.
DO AVAS SYSTEMS TAINT THE POSSIBILITIES OF A QUIETER CITY OF THE FUTURE?
Every year 1.6 million ‘healthy life’ years are lost in European cities due to environmental noise, primarily traffic, states the World Health Organisation. Increased risk of heart disease, stress-related mental health issues, tinnitus and cognitive impairment among children are some of the main health risks. An adaptive AVAS system could be used to emit noise at a quieter level when in a suburban area at night time, where the sound level is often 40dB or lower.
What’s more, researchers at the Danish Road Directorate found EVs to be 4-5dB less noisy at low speeds than the equivalent petrol-powered car, proving a switch to electric would still have a significant impact in reducing noise pollution.
“We have an opportunity here to potentially design a quieter world,” says Connor.
At this rate, cities of the future could end up sounding like the sci-fi clamours from Blade Runner 2049, but will other manufacturers choose to follow in BMW and Audi’s creative footsteps?
When General Maximus — that’s Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” — leads his Roman legions into battle, Hans Zimmer’s bombastic, percussive score propels them to victory.
As hundreds of bedraggled British troops waging World War II await a tenuous evacuation from the beaches of “Dunkirk,” Mr. Zimmer’s tick-tock effects mirror their anxiety and urgency.
As the 1976 Formula One championship roils toward a climax in “Rush,” Mr. Zimmer’s synthesizer is there on the rain-soaked track in Japan, fueling the fight.
And when a driver starts up his or her electric-powered BMW i4 sedan later this year or next, Hans Zimmer will be riding shotgun, so to speak, creating a sonic signature for the car, because electric motors make little sound.
“I can sum it up, from Day 1 to now: It’s never finished, it’s always an experiment,” Mr. Zimmer said recently in a phone interview from London. “We’ve been trying to create sounds which are aesthetically pleasing and calming — sort of anti-road rage.”
So don’t expect to hear the growl of an overtuned V-8, the bark of an amplified exhaust, the screech of tires digging for grip. Mr. Zimmer wants to take you to a different place. “It’s something that transports you in the most elegant way possible,” he said. “We are trying to make your life less chaotic, more beautiful.”
But beyond aesthetics and marketing, enhancing an electric car with sounds is a legal issue as well. In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted rules in 2018 that say electric cars must make some artificial sounds. Congress made it a requirement that light-duty hybrids and electrics emit noise as a safety measure for pedestrians, bicyclists and people with a visual impairment.
The European Parliament has mandated that electrics sold in Europe will have to “sound similar” to cars with combustion engines at speeds below 20 kilometers an hour. The rule is to take full effect in 2021.
So far, BMW is alone in hiring a composer with Mr. Zimmer’s repertoire, and this work is a labor of love for the 62-year-old, German-born musician. He said the Bavarians “came to me” to accept the work, “although a half-hour later I had an email from another company to create something for an electric car.”
“But I grew up with BMW. My family always drove BMWs,” he added. “There was an emotional connection there.”
Certainly, the German carmaker isn’t alone is seeking ways to fill in the sonic voids that are inherent in electric cars. Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have assigned development teams to work toward similar ends for their electrics, as have Jaguar, Nissan, General Motors and others.
“The electric vehicle sound is its identity,” Frank Welsch, responsible for technical development at Volkswagen, told Reuters last year. “It cannot be too intrusive or annoying. It has to be futuristic, and it cannot sound like anything we had in the past.”
BMW’s soundtrack is very much a work in progress for Mr. Zimmer and his partner in the project, Renzo Vitale, the automaker’s sound designer. Mr. Zimmer, who maintains an exotic sound laboratory in Santa Monica, Calif., is fitting it in between his film work: He was putting the finishing touches on his score for the new James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” (which has been delayed until November) when we spoke in mid-March.
He explained that, in his view, the “BMW IconicSounds Electric” commission was more about deleting than adding. “Too much information would automatically be distracting,” he said. “If you look at the great pieces of art, it’s usually the simplicity that makes them great.”
Mr. Zimmer was asked if the rather chaotic soundtrack he created for “Rush” might somehow translate to excite the experience of an electric car, much the way a loud, vibrating exhaust might affect a driver’s senses.
“‘Rush’ is not about your normal day of enjoying your car,” he said. “We’re not building racecars here. We’re taking you on a different journey.”
Some of the created sounds released so far by BMW have been described in rather esoteric terms. One white paper from the company calls out a “liminal threshold” with sound that is “manifold” and “chameleonic” with “presence that is subtle but unavoidable.” Among the tones to reach the listeners’ ears are those with mid- to high frequencies, low frequencies and a “dynamic pulse train” that provides a “throbbing sensation.”
Mr. Zimmer, who doesn’t try to describe these “compositions” in sentences (he is the first to allow that it’s nearly impossible to describe music with words), has a somewhat more ethereal view.
“A car can be the most beautiful form of solitude, yet there’s the companionship you get from the engine,” he said. “Part of what we’re trying to do is to create sounds which are aesthetically rather pleasing and calming.”
At the same time, said Mr. Vitale, the sounds that may be used to identify the car’s start/stop systems, for example, are “intended to instill a sense of excitement.”
As for the composer, “I’m still trying to get closer to the truth,” Mr. Zimmer said. “How am I going to connect the humans to the machine? How am I going to give you the freedom in this world I create to be an individual and tell your own story?”
He sighed, then said, “Our rubbish bins are full of dead sounds, things which seemed hopeful and exciting and then turned out to be going in the wrong direction.”
A response to the COVID-19 pandemic from Mirrored Media CEO, Justin Lefkovitch.
This is truly an unprecedented time for our industry and the world as a whole. The coronavirus has affected so many people throughout the world, and we are very mindful of how this pandemic has turned peoples’ lives upside-down, whether physically, financially, professionally, or even mentally. We are eternally grateful to the health care providers and first responders who are working tirelessly through this unfolding crisis.
We are closely monitoring the needs of our community and helping in every way we can. We strongly believe in supporting our clients, colleagues, family, and friends.
Mirrored Media is still very much open for business. Our strong digital, social, influencer, and consulting capabilities mean that we can continue to serve our clients even without in-person gatherings. This is a very unique time with sensitive needs, but consumers are eager for open dialogue, meaningful conversations, entertainment, and positive stimulus. In addition to digital opportunities, there will eventually come a time when we are able to all gather again and regain a sense of familiarity. We would love to take this opportunity and jumpstart those conversations and planning.
We are helping our clients turn to digital wherever possible while remaining mindful of the environment in which we are now operating. While COVID-19 and the quarantine measures put in place may be an extreme inconvenience and source of boredom for some, others have to deal with lost wages and jobs in addition to serious life-threatening health concerns. We must acknowledge the current climate and do our best to consider the context while transitioning activations to the virtual sphere.
We are in the process of creating a few different virtual experiences for people to interact with some of their favorite musicians and for brands to engage in an entertaining and meaningful way during this time. We are doing our best to integrate a charity component into any work happening now to ensure we are all contributing to the global efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, we are working alongside our clients to be the best partners as possible as we all work through this together. We have been collaborating with brands and their various other agencies to pool resources and share creative concepts in order to benefit consumers as much as possible.
In this unprecedented time, we are working quickly to find ways in which we can repurpose work that has already been done on any given project. Ideas here have included positioning assets into a completely new activation, integrating into a rollout scheduled later in the year, or repurposing elements into a new standalone activation. As our team continues to innovate and ideate on some of these concepts, we are simultaneously doing our best to work with clients on fast-tracking other elements of future campaigns that can be done now to spread out the workload and better prepare ourselves when we hit the ground running again sometime this year.
During uncertain times it is easy to get scared and panic, so the biggest resource publications like Bizbash, EventMarketer, Inc, AdAge, and others can offer to combat those sentiments is information. One really important thing is to continue connecting members of the events industry with each other, as well as groups in the communities where we work, who could really use the support at this time. We saw an excellent example where Adobe had a ticketed convention canceled, but instead chose to pivot and open their virtual doors for anyone to stream the content they presented. We have seen this with our clients as well, where rather than fighting over contracts and payment terms at a time where everyone is feeling financial stress, we are choosing to work collaboratively as a team, supporting each other in order to get through this in a healthy way. This is a huge testament to the industry as a whole – vendors, clients, and colleagues – and the support from media publications will only help to further share resources and build community during shared hardship. I have witnessed the experiential industry at large come together to help support each other – vendors, employees, and clients. I think this is a really incredible testament to our community.
To fill the aural vacuum left by the disappearance of the engine, BMW brought in a ringer.
By Brett Berk.
Thelma & Louise. Rain Man. The Lion King. True Romance. Interstellar. Dunkirk. Each film works to take its viewers on an emotional journey, and each leans on a shared tool: a Hans Zimmer score that serves as a guide, signaling joy, grief, conflict, passion, and more in turn. Now, though, the Oscar-winning composer has turned his talents away from the silver screen and toward the windscreen, where he’s found a new vehicle that could use a touch of emotional direction: the electric car.
Along with more than 500 horsepower and a range of 370 miles, BMW’s all-electric Concept i4 comes with music by Zimmer. These mini scores, which BMW calls “sound worlds,” will ripple out their smoothly vibrant vibrato—think Lionel Hampton on the theremin—when the doors open, as the car starts up, and as the car drives along the road.
On the i4, a concept four-door coupe BMW unveiled earlier this month, the composition morphs slightly based the car’s current driving modes, whether “core,” “sport,” or “efficient.” Zimmer and his collaborator, BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale, call the i4’s soundtrack “Limen,” the word for the threshold below which a stimuli can’t be perceived. It’s all about connecting sound to an emotional experience, which in this case happens to be driving on battery power instead of watching Rafiki hoist Simba into the air.
“We are at a moment in time, with electric cars, when we get to change the whole sonic landscape of everything in a vehicle,” Zimmer says. “We can allow the interiors of cars to set moods and give people an experience, to let people devise their own experience, not be forced into the rumbling of a petrol engine anymore.”
Zimmer’s BMW sound worlds are in concept form now, but the company intends to roll them out over the next few years on more than two dozen electric vehicles. That will start with the production version of the i4, later in 2021.
The key here is that by replacing a rumbling engine with a silent battery and whirring motors, BMW and every other automaker are ditching the sonic experience that has been part of the automobile for more than a century. Car lovers may miss the angry sewing machine clack of a Porsche 911’s flat-six, the throaty grumble and whine of a supercharged Dodge Hemi V8, or the cranial wail of a Ferrari V-12. So might unsuspecting new EV buyers. Without the rumpus of an internal combustion engine, wind roar and tire slap sound all the louder. Zimmer and Vitale strive not just to mask those perturbances but to add delight and uplift to the driving experience.
“Think about your morning, where you have to go and start your car and go to your job,” Zimmer says. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the starting sound was something beautiful, something that put a smile on your face, something that makes your day better?”
The score does sound energizing and engaging, especially in the symphonically crescendoing “sport” mode. It definitely doesn’t sound “rumbling.” But it has some additional, and perhaps questionable, 1970s sci-fi movie overtones.
“There’s this idea that all battery electric cars should sound like a spaceship,” says Jonathan Pierce, senior research and development manager for Harman, a sound engineering firm that supplies the automotive industry with stereo systems, speakers, noise-cancellation equipment, and electric vehicle soundtracks–both internal and external. “Unfortunately, we don’t know what a spaceship sounds like, right? None of us have ever heard a spaceship before.”
Pierce is working with consumers as well as client automakers to create a relevant vocabulary for the sounds they will soon be adding to the interiors and—as regulation requires—exteriors of electric vehicles. Following recent research, his team came up with 40 different terms ranging from, as Pierce says, “something really progressive and futuristic—the pulsing, the whirring, the droning—all the way up to something more aggressive.”
The goal here is not just to update our terminology for car sounds, but to assist with their identification and branding. And there, Pierce’s work aligns with Zimmer’s. The composer’s parents always drove BMWs, and he could pick out the unique tone of their Bimmer from the balcony. “When I heard that sound,” he says, “everything was fine. Safety. Mom and Dad were home.”
Likewise, contemporary carmakers want to create soundtracks that will help people identify, and identify with, their vehicles. And because this sound is no longer tied to a physical source, like an engine, the potential choices are boundless. Which presents automakers with a new kind of quandary.
“Everybody wants to have something iconic,” Pierce says, pointing to how Harley Davidson attempted to patent the sound of its motorcycles’ exhaust note. So he wants his team to create the tones that will distinguish a Ford EV from a Hyundai EV. “These need to not only be very unique sounds, they need to be pleasing,” Pierce says. “Almost like a piece of jewelry that you wear and you hope other people envy.”
Maybe you’re wondering if all of this runs counter to one of the core promises of electric cars, the luxury of silence at speed. But Zimmer argues that for many, silence is unnerving, especially at speed. It can feel uncanny, unmoored from the physical processes that provide acceleration. When Zimmer scored Interstellar, he played on that feeling to convey the awe of rocket travel. The blastoff was the loudest moment of the film, and he blew out a few speaker systems before getting it right. But then the score goes silent. “That’s when everything was at astronomical speeds,” Zimmer says.
In any case, people aren’t seeking total silence. As automakers got better at isolating their customers from engine noise with better insulation, double-paned windows, and active noise cancellation, some customers complained. So manufacturers started piping engine noise into the cabin. BMW went further, playing artificial tunes through the stereo system. Some of this desire for sound at speed, or sound correlated to speed, may be out of habit, a generational quest for the familiar, the way that the keyboards on smart phones still make typing noises, or the cameras on smart phones still make shutter clicks. Zimmer thinks that this may vanish over time. “I think it’s sort of important to leave nostalgia behind,” he says.
Then he reconsiders. “As I said that, I suddenly remembered that every sci-fi movie we have ever seen is incredibly nostalgic.” He points to Blade Runner and Interstellar. Perhaps our dreams of the future are always enmeshed with our fantasies of the past. And our dream cars will always sound like the vehicles from our outmoded idea of the future, like something out of The Jetsons, because that’s what reassures us.
Zimmer sees his automotive work as fostering the way a car catalyzes this kind of big-picture thinking. “A car is such a great place to think, it’s such a great place to dream and have your own thoughts,” he says. “The car is the perfect private place to have constantly great ideas.”