Interactive Annual 17:
Blu Dot: The Real Good Experiment
A creative use of sensors to deliver a compelling product story.
Combining technology, marketing and documentary movie-making, this experiment was conceptually awesome and interesting to watch.
Blu Dot is a national (albeit small) player in the modern, yet affordable, furniture category that believes good design can go anywhere. The flagship store in SoHo was about to turn one-year-old and Blu Dot wanted to celebrate by doing something unique and very New York. The result was a play on curbmining—peoples obsession with placing and taking furniture home from the street. The concept: Place 25 of Blu Dots signature Real Good Chairs around the city, free for the taking. The catch: Many of the chairs were enabled with GPS to see where theyd end up. The project not only captured the attention and fascination of resourceful New Yorkers, but also the press and online community. Although only 25 people ended up with a free chair, millions were introduced to a brand called Blu Dot.
The experiment took approximately three months to produce: the GPS system and attachment pocket were custom-built; hints started dropping about a month prior by giving the chair Twitter and Flickr accounts (which were later used to publish chair locations); and the experiment took place live/online over a two-day span in the streets of New York,which everyone could follow on Blu Dots site.
The experiment garnered over 136 million media impressions for Blu Dot in just two months and over 200 million impressions to date—all without a single media dollar spent. The attention helped Blu Dots store sales surge more than 30 percent the two months immediately following the promotion.
Comments by mono
A few critics of the project knocked it for not being a true experiment. After all, who wouldnt pick up something cool off the street if it appeared to be free? On a surface level, they were absolutely correct. But our goal was not only to explore whether people would react to a free object on the street, but how. In artistic communities like Tribeca and NoHo, where a freegan social contract is already in play, the chairs went quickly, but in Chinatown, for example, it took hours for the chair to be taken (its location near a public monument could have led people to believe it was public). A similar situation happened in Midtown, as chair-circling bystanders appeared as if they were stealing. In the end, every person had a completely unique reason for taking a chair and a unique use for it. Our conclusion: If people are presented with a free chair, they will take it. But the how and the why questions can never be scientifically determined. Thats what made it so interesting.
Since we didnt have a clear idea of what would happen to the chairs, we had to maintain a fairly flexible production plan. We were stationed on street corners throughout New York and armed with walkie-talkies, release forms and code names; the production resembled more of a military exercise than a documentary film shoot. We knew GPS would help us answer our key question, What happens to a chair left out on the street?, but finding the right system within budget was a challenge. Working with Tellart, we came up with a simple, cost-effective GPS system that could get us close enough to end locations, with enough battery life to last eight to ten hours (to extend battery life, the battery pack and power switch activated only when the chairs were in motion). The solution was actually a bit comical, a basic Motorola cell phone with prepaid minutes and a free subscription to instamapper.com.
mono (Minneapolis, MN), art director/writer/graphic designer/creative director/producer/project design and development/ad agency
Zac Suart-Pointer, assistant editor
Andrew Zuchero, editor/director
Juan Pieczanski, music composer
Supermarche, production company
NoWare, music company
Blu Dot, client