The path to enlightenment is a transcendental journey toward spiritual awakening. The path to “electrolytenment” is a quick trip to L.A. As part of Nestlé Waters’ regional launch for their sustainably-sourced brand Resource 100% Natural Spring Water, agency McCann Erickson New York has introduced “The Fountain of Electrolytenment,” a three-day interactive installation answering questions from live audiences with cascading sheets of water.
Set up in L.A.’s trendy shopping complex The Grove, the fountain’s basic technology–timed drops of water forming symbols, letters, and numbers–was actually pioneered more than 30 years ago by industrial design artist and professor Steve Pevnick and has been used in promotional events by the likes of Mercedes, the NFL, and Jeep. What makes Nestlé Waters’ campaign unique, however, is the modification of the Graphical Waterfall’s interface that breaks away from its standard pre-programmed designs to allow customized text to fall in real-time. “We knew the fountain could talk but could it listen?” says Don Marshall Wilhelmi, associate creative director and copywriter for McCann Erickson.
Those seeking a higher sense of hydration through electrolytenment are welcome to ask their meaningful queries to the fountain and get incisive insight in return, word by word with a limit of nine horizontal characters at a time–a hindrance by design but a blessing in disguise. “If you think about proverbs they’re always short and concise to begin with, so it ended up working out really well with the brand voice,” says Wilhelmi. “And we like the cadence of one word at a time–it leaves the person waiting for the answer, so they’re hanging on every word.”
And those words of electrolytenment are coming from a rather mystic source in itself. Managing the influx of questions are three anonymous “professional tweeters” who are skilled in the art of improv to handle anything ridiculous or downright inappropriate with quick wit–think “Shit Siri Says” but in pithy proverbs and falling water. “If you get asked 100 questions, 90 of them might be ‘What’s your name?’ or ‘What’s the weather like?’ But it’s that other 10%–those unexpected questions and their unexpected answers that are going to yield the best results,” Wilhelmi says.
In addition to consulting with Pevnick himself, Wilhelmi and his team also worked with the L.A. set constructors Jet Sets to create the fountain’s stone structure, the London arm of sustainable design agency CURB for the mossy text penned across the installment and the London-based VFX shop FrameStore to help pull together the visuals–a considerably expansive collaborative effort for only a three-day event that Wilhelmi notes was entirely worth it to get the campaign’s message across in a way that’s both germane to the brand and entertaining for consumers.
“Even though it’s a 30-year-old technology, the fact a waterfall is spraying words is still novel and exciting to see,” he says. “And as soon as you draw closer and realize it’s having a conversation with someone, there’s a whole new level of excitement.”