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Interactive Annual 17:

Forever 21 Billboard Times Square

Launch Movie

“A crowd-pleaser in the heart of Times Square.”
—Véronique Brossier

“This experiential project was just great at getting visitors curious and engaged with the brand.” —Oscar Llarena

Overview: When Forever 21 claimed the iconic Virgin Record store in Times Square as its new flagship location, its goal was to stop the 500,000 daily passersby dead in their tracks. The result is a digital display that’s the center of attention on pop culture’s biggest stage. The billboard is broken into multiple LED surfaces at the heart of which is a high-definition main display that features a rotating schedule of content and models that interact over a live video feed of pedestrians. A companion Web site served as a means to connect the Forever 21 community. The online hub allowed users to see the billboard live, real-time tweets and fashion/culture tips that match the brand’s youthful, fast-moving image.

  • • The model interactions were developed with C++ using the openFrameworks toolkit, relying mostly on the Opencv framework; a Prosilica sdk enabled the C++ application to pull images from a camera.
  • • A custom .net application regularly pulled all tweets that included the keywords “Forever 21” and “love” and stored them locally in a database; the sign uses content caching for the Twitter interactions in the event they’re ever unavailable.
  • • The billboard launch alone led to an explosion in blog activity with more than 60,000 PR impressions, over 10,000 indexed pages/stories, roughly 3,000 tweets and more than 91,000 Facebook interactions.

Comments by Billy Jurewicz

Is the audience you were targeting a particularly difficult one to reach? “There is no audience in history like the teen/youth consumer audience we know today: always online, savvy, constant-consumers and creators of real-time, social and geo content. They want to be entertained, not marketed to, and demand a brand experience as opposed to a branded experience. They’re the toughest but most rewarding consumer category to reach, convince and involve.”

How did time constraints affect your final solution? “Since this was a flagship store opening, our development schedule was firm—nothing could move the launch date. Our application was brand new and our clients had approved concepts months before, so it was more than tempting to change direction as things progressed. But we needed a full month with no conceptual changes to make the deadline, so whenever we sneaked in minor tweaks, we were increasing the risk of error. Unlike the Web, where you can adjust after launch, we needed to treat this digital execution like a print run: One shot was all we had.”

Was the topic/subject of the project a new one for you? “Outdoor technology has progressed far beyond flashing the time and temperature and looping sexy models on the beach. We approached the board as a gigantic computer and that led us to the interaction with Twitter and augmented reality with models. Next, we’re working to tie in our Times Square board with the Hong Kong board, and other future boards; the idea is to have our models pick people up in one location and drop them in another.”

Did you meet with any out-of-the-ordinary obstacles during development? “The largest challenge we faced was that the billboard construction was happening in tandem with our development and final installation was only days before the go-live. It meant that we’d be unable to test our applications and interactions on the real thing. To counter this, we built full-scale representations of the storefront that allowed our designers and developers to walk through the area and visualize the space exactly.”


Ollie Bauer/Greg Hubacek, interactive designers
Billy Jurewicz, creative director
Jorge Cano/Ryan Foster/Julio Obelleiro/Shawn Roske, technical leads
James Squires, technology director
Adam Smith/Phil Winkel, developers
Genna Freeberg, interactive producer
Futuristic Films, production company
Sway Studios, visual effects company
space150 (Minneapolis, MN), project design and development
D3, development partner Forever 21, client

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