Shots magazine sat down with Campfire and profiled the agency’s culture of storytelling.
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Remember 1999? As millennium bug fears ran riot and the world prepared for the mother of all hangovers to usher in the new century, there was an indy movie phenomenon terrifying audiences and, at that point, becoming America’s most profitable movie ever The Blair Witch Project. A large part of the film’s success was fuelled by the online activity that built on the myth and developed the fanbase before the final version was even cut – rewriting the rules on movie marketing.
More than a decade later, lessons learnt on Blair Witch are still being used by two of its makers – Mike Monello and Gregg Hale – at NYC-based marketing agency Campfire. “One of the reasons The Blair Witch Project worked was due to the fact we weren’t a large corporation pumping out a horror movie because there was a market for horror,” recalls Monello, Campfire partner and chief creative officer. “We were fans and part of the culture and community, and we understood what was driving it. We knew there was an undercurrent of people tired of the ironic, jokey horror films. They wanted something that took itself seriously and The Blair Witch Project was a reaction to that. So
“I think for Campfire, one of the key philosophies is making something that we believe will work in the absence of media – that there’s a reason people want to experience this.”
Tales around the campfire.
With participatory storytelling at the heart of Campfire’s culture, today the small, multidisciplinary team weaves its cross-media campaigns through multiple channels, blurring the lines between marketing, entertainment and advertising and shaking up old formulas. Monello and his collaborators’ route into the industry came after signing with Chelsea Pictures, and as the trickle of web projects coming through the door built into a steady stream, the collective saw the potential was there for those with the right ideas.
“We were being brought in earlier in the process,” continues Monello, “and were learning advertising while bringing in what we had learnt from social storytelling on the web through The Blair Witch Project. We saw that the ambitions inthe clients and creatives were greater than the structure would afford, and that, for me, meant there was an opportunity. So Campfire started out of frustration at seeing great ideas sometimes not even make it to clients and thinking that there was a better way.”
Fast forward to 2012 and Campfire’s portfolio includes projects for a diverse mix of brands such as Verizon, Audi, Snapple and Harley-Davidson. Other successes have come from the world of entertainment, with the agency masterminding launches for acclaimed HBO series True Blood and Game of Thrones among others. But whether it’s a brand or a TV show, what unifies Campfire’s methods is its audience-centred approach. “It involves an understanding of cultures and audiences that aren’t seen through the ideas of a media research team,” explains Campfire partner and president Jeremiah Rosen, “but seen through the eyes of people who care about entertainment and knowing what people like, and giving them content that has meaning in a way that they are used to receiving it. It’s not about web videos or Facebook pages, it’s about cohesive experiences that ladder up to something even greater.”
Putting it into cultural context
Rosen elaborates by expanding on the Harley- Davidson work: “They were trying to retain relevance with a market whose fathers’ rode Harleys – so we created content, wrapped it in cultural context, and put it in a place where this young audience were interested in receiving it.” Culminating in online experience The Ridebook, Campfire collaborated with the cultural contemporaries of its audience, such as Fader magazine and lifestyle site UrbanDaddy, and asked them to curate content for the site. A similar tack was used for the True Blood launch. They spent months crafting a prequel campaign that built a narrative around the show’s themes and targeted pre-existing fans, turning them into evangelists for the show, before launching a larger media campaign.
Campfire might have achieved a string ofsuccesses but there’s no resting on laurels, instead there are plans to expand the agency’s offering. As well as opening a social practice, where brands can harness Campfire’s expertise in social projects, Rosen is working on turning Campfire from a boutique shop to a full service digital agency. Soon to add to the list of the agency’s in-house capabilities will be web development, mobile app development, and standalone strategic capabilities – but despite its ambitions, Campfire won’t be getting too big for its boots. “We’re a small shop,” concludes Rosen, “and we put a lot of love and energy into everything we do, and I think that’s reflected in our clients’ appreciation