Written by: Antony Hampel

The popular cognac brand, Hennessy, launched a fully interactive, sensory tasting event last month. The aim was to change how drinkers in the UK view this type of brandy. Traditionally, cognac has always been drunk as an after dinner treat, in restaurants and domestic parlours.

hennessy immersive cognac tasting event

Image source: www.rollingout.com

It is considered, by many people, to be quite a posh tipple. It is a drink that comes out on special occasions and is shared with friends and dinner party guests. However, Hennessy wants to change all of that. Its March 23rd tasting event celebrated the diverse and rich flavours of cognac, by giving visitors a sensory tour through its various facets.

LVMH, the company that owns Hennessy, set up an infinity style hall of mirrors, with an exciting experience dedicated to each of the seven ‘notes’ found in new drink Hennessy X.O Odyssey. The event was held at its headquarters, in London, and was accompanied by an artistic short by acclaimed movie director Nicholas Winding Refn.

The drinks maker is keen to get shoppers experimenting with cognac in new and unconventional ways. According to a brand leader for Hennessy, the tipple is still thought of as just an after dinner drink. However, its intricate notes and delicate flavours make it a promising choice for things like cocktails and mixers too.

The sensory tasting event kept visitors busy for over an hour and encouraged them to sample the ‘sweet notes,’ ‘spicy edges,’ and ‘wood crunches’ found in the drink. It was dreamt up in cooperation with event management experts, Polar Black Events. Overall, ‘The Odyssey Experience,’ was a huge success, because it not only introduced cognac fans to a brand new side of the drink, it also activated Hennessy X.O Odyssey.

The aged cognac is being marketed as a brandy for people who have, in the past, shied away from the drink due to its appeal as a digestif. With the enduring popularity of cocktails and spirits among younger drinkers, it is certainly no surprise that Hennessy wants to create a hipper, fresher brand image.

Whether or not it can bring the drink and the new Hennessy X.O Odyssey firmly into the 21st century remains to be seen. The immersive sensory event was a great place to start though, because it put a smile on the faces of visitors and opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Hennessy cognac.

Written by: Antony Hampel

The ‘If Carlsberg did…’ slogan is now so well known that lager fans actually have a lot of fun trying to guess the next big concept. Over the years, there has been haircuts, football matches, takeaways, supermarkets, and more. If the Danish brewer can get consumers to chuckle at the joke, it’s a job well done.

It also helps that the company is not averse to flashy events. In previous years, it created some really remarkable visual stunts. Who can forget the beer dispensing billboard? Or the beer dispensing Christmas tree for that matter?

True to form, Carlsberg went big again this Easter, with an amazing chocolate bar. It was a chocolate bar, in a chocolate pub, that was actually made out of chocolate bars. If it sounds a little confusing, just picture your favourite watering hole completely coated in milk chocolate.

Add the slogan ‘If Carlsberg did chocolate bars’ and the joke comes full circle. The stunt was opened on 23rd of March, at the Old Truman Brewery in London. The best thing about the spectacle was that the brand did so well teasing fans with the reveal.

Initially, the chocolate bar was wrapped entirely in foil. However, as soon as midday arrived, the foil was stripped back to uncover a whole pub scene, decked out in chocolate. The scene was a whopping three metres deep, five metres high, and with a weight of half a tonne.

The event management team responsible for the stunt certainly took attention to detail seriously. There was a pub bar, a dartboard, drinking stools, and even a television playing old World Cup footage – all made out of chocolate.

The concept was created by the Carlsberg super team of event planning and event management experts. The collective includes Fold7, OMD, Clifford French, The Marketing Store, Talon, and Blackjack promotions.

And, if the visual spectacle was not enough to draw Carlsberg fans in, the bar was serving free half pints to lucky visitors throughout the day. All drinks were served in a branded chocolate tankard. For revellers enjoying time away from work, it was the ideal mix of surrealism, silliness, and experience.

The actual construction of the chocolate bar was tackled by Blackjack Promotions and Talon Outdoor. OMD UK took responsibility for the promotional materials and getting Carlsberg fans out of their houses and into the midst of the adventure.

According to Carlsberg, the chocolate bar was a chance to get creative and celebrate a time of the year when lots of people are out drinking in traditional pubs. It reminds all customers to drink responsibly and regulate their alcohol consumption if drinking lager during holidays.

Written by: Antony Hampel

Just last month, US technology company, Fit Bit, pulled out all the stops to raise money for Sport Relief. At the annual fundraising event, which involves many different activities across the country, the brand worked hard to create something spectacular.

This year, it was a kooky obstacle course, complete with an array of challenging tasks. There was a total of eight separate installations, all designed to give young people a chance to raise money for charity and get their hearts pumping at the same time.

The obstacles were inspired by everyday chores. They included a ‘washing machine’ style zip wire, a climbing frame escalator, and a gauntlet challenge. This last obstacle was designed to represent the chaos of commuting on trains and buses.

There was also a giant washing up bowl, filled with a whopping 14,000 plastic balls. And, there was a tricky piano challenge which put balance, agility, and level headedness to the test. The majority of the Fit Bit charity course was created for older children and teenagers, but plenty of intrepid parents also got in on the action.

The event was dreamed up by Fit Bit and its affiliated concept agency, Outside Collective. They brought in the skills of London based event company, The Halo Group, and the crazy course came to life. It was held at the Olympic Park and formed part of a larger Sport Relief fundraising effort on March 20th.

The Halo Group was responsible for the visual design and structure of the course. It used a modular steel build framework as a foundation. The agency handled all cladding and materials needed to create the challenges. Each component was carefully branded, on site, during the preparatory phase of the event.

fit bit event

Image source: www.eventmagazine.co.uk

The event planning experts at The Halo Group managed to erect the entire course within a tight twelve hour timeframe. The fact that it was so successful says a lot about how important it is to have the support of a reliable event management team. For large scale events, especially, that objective perspective is really valuable.
Fit Bit knows this, which is why it turned to the best in the business for advice on throwing a memorable event. With The Halo Group focusing on the logistics of the day and its physical requirements, the wearable fitness manufacturer had the opportunity to spend more time on marketing and promotion. The result was a fun, fast paced, and tremendously exciting event.

Written by: Antony Hampel

kinetic rain - ant hampel blog

The word ‘airport’ does not usually conjure up associations with modern art. In fact, few people think of airports as aesthetically pleasing environments – most visualise grey walls, sterile lighting and (extremely) uncomfortable furniture.

However, Changi Airport in Singapore wants to change all of that. In 2012, work was completed here on the largest kinetic art sculpture in the world. It is called Kinetic Rain and it still stands in Terminal One today, where it dazzles visitors with its motorised performances.

The Kinetic Rain sculpture was created by German design house ART+COM and it is made up of 1,216 aluminium rain drops. These rain drops have been cast in bronze and attached to motorised pulleys suspended from the terminal ceiling. As every single rain drop has its own motor, they can all be directly controlled – in this case, by a computer.

This remarkable metallic ballet swoops and glides, pirouettes and soars, according to a range of programmed sequences. The rain drops, being individually moved, can be used to create an endless array of aerial patterns and configurations. With Kinetic Rain, ART+COM have created a sculpture which is truly alive.

kinetic sculpture - ant hampel blog

It constantly shifts and changes, so that the artwork formed at one second is something different in the next. The metal rain drops might be programmed to replicate the crashing of an ocean wave or the gentle undulating of jellyfish tentacles. They can take on the shape of a kite, a bird, or a hot air balloon.

It is a fascinating spectacle and surprisingly minimalistic for what is, essentially, a very hectic and commercial context. There have been more than a few examples of garish airport artwork over the years (see the now infamous ‘evil robot horse’ at Denver International), so it is refreshing to see it done right.

According to the team which created the sculpture, Kinetic Rain is designed to encapsulate the tropical climate of Singapore. The original brief also made it clear that the artwork had to commemorate the much loved Mylar Cords water feature which stood in the terminal before it was refurbished in 2008.

So, the choice of rain drops perfectly matches the location and personality of the city, which is often dubbed ‘the garden city.’ It rains a lot in Singapore but, fortunately, nobody could ever call Kinetic Rain a washout. If you ever find yourself in Changi Airport, you absolutely must take a few minutes out of your day to slow down, relax, and admire something beautiful.

by: Antony Hampel

Giant Sugar Sculptures

This month, a series of giant white statues have gone on display close to the Houses of Parliament, in London. And they are a little bit disconcerting to say the least – towering over passerbys and leering with caricature like faces. For shoppers and sightseers strolling down the Albert Embankment this week, they have been impossible to miss.

If you get a little closer, the sculptures become even more remarkable, because they are made entirely out of sugar. The little girl, teenage boy, and adult man were created by food artist Jacqui Kelley, as a visual representation of the amount of sugar which we consume in fizzy drinks alone.

They are not just for fun either, because the dramatic sculptures caught the eye of MPs heading into the Houses of Parliament for the Action on Sugar parliamentary reception. After the latest Commons Health Committee repeated its calls for a tax on sugary beverages, the government has been forced to reconsider the move.

The size of the sculptures is important, because they have been carefully crafted to represent the net amount of sugar (from fizzy drinks) which is consumed every single minute in Great Britain. The largest figure is a lofty 7ft tall and the designer is hoping that its visual impact will serve as a cautionary reminder to regulate sugar intake.

A growing amount of evidence has made it clear that Brits consume way more sugar than is recommended for a healthy lifestyle. It is thought that children take in 44.5kg every minute, teenagers 158kg, and adults around 385kg. The level of overconsumption is causing serious obesity problems in this country, with nearly two thirds of adults now being diagnosed as overweight by doctors.

The sugar sculptures were commissioned by SodaStream, which is keen to point out that swapping fizzy beverages for sparkling water is a quick and tasty way to make a change. In fact, the company claims that UK consumers can reduce their sugar intake by more than 2,000 teaspoons every year, if they are willing to make this simple switch.

The statues are just one of many examples of food and drinks giants turning to innovative new forms of marketing. Whilst the stunt does have a serious side – and it does convey a crucial message – it is also a great way for SodaStream to muscle in on the competition. The spectacle is extremely visible, stands out in hectic London, and reminds shoppers to take a closer look at their diets. In other words, they can be called a job well done.

by: Antony Hampel

Written by: Antony Hampel

There are few pairs of words which elicit the same level of rabid excitement as ‘Star Wars.’ The franchise has some of the most loyal and enthusiastic fans in the world and they are currently all gearing up for the cinematic release of new instalment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in just over a week.

Now, you would hard pressed to find anybody who has not heard about the movie, whether they call themselves a fan or not. The PR machine has been in overdrive ever since January 2013, when the first announcements about the film broke. There have been teaser trailers, must have toys and gadgets, interviews with stars, early screenings, casting revelations, video games ‘tie ins’, and more.

It is fair to say that anticipation levels have reached fever pitch. And now, just days before the movie hits cinema screens, Google has released a Star Wars themed virtual reality ‘experience’ for its Cardboard platform. The search giant has worked closely alongside Disney to create two exciting VR films, designed to be used with its series of make at home headsets.

According to a spokesperson, the VR experiences link directly to the plot of the upcoming movie and offer an immersive and compelling narrative, brought to life with the most cutting edge virtual reality technologies. The films are available via the Star Wars app for both Android and iOS right now, so if you want to get in on the action, grab yourself a DIY headset.

With Oculus Rift and Playstation VR continuing to push the envelope on what virtual reality systems can achieve, it is no surprise that other big names are following suit. There are early whispers about a Samsung VR headset on the grapevine and, whilst Oculus Rift has been a long time in development, the plan is to release it to the public next year.

If it delivers, it could spell the dawn of a new era for video games and other forms of media. Imagine if, instead of simply watching a movie, you could take part in it?Ultimately, this is what tech leaders like Google and Samsung are aiming for and whilst it is still a long way off, products like the Google Cardboard VR Experience are the beginning.

The Star Wars: The Force Awakens VR release will tie in with the storyline of the upcoming movie and a range of additional Google games and apps. These apps invite players to carve out their own destiny, by choosing a life on the light or dark side of the force. So, come on – which side will you choose?

by: Antony Hampel

By: Antony Hampel

the crystal maze

The year 2015 will be remembered for a lot of different trends. It was the year of the hipster, with their perfectly groomed facial hair and ‘too cool for school’ outfits. It saw the emergence of a new kind of female power, with celebs like Emma Watson and Jennifer Lawrence making headlines for more than just their looks. It was also the year of the live ‘experience.’

There are currently thousands of live escape, lock in, and puzzle games active in the UK. So, it is, perhaps, no surprise to find that one of the most recognisable puzzle games of all time is making a return as a public experience. Yes, nineties television hit The Crystal Maze is on its way to London.

Following a crowdfunding campaign to launch the project in June of this year, organiser Little Lion Entertainment has now announced that The Crystal Maze experience will open to the public in March 2016. The live experience will be located in 30,000 square foot of temporary space between Kings Cross and Angel, in north London.

It will offer visitors the run of a five section set, designed to look like the puzzle areas used in the television show. The sections are as follows; Medieval, Aztec, Industrial, Futuristic, and of course, the Crystal Maze dome itself. Whilst there are no proposals to make the experience a permanent fixture, the organiser does hope to keep the set in place for at least three years.

crystal maze experience

Even though The Crystal Maze does not open its doors for another three months or so, its website has already crashed as a result of huge public interest. You can now buy tickets for the experience, but the website is still having problems coping with surges in traffic. If you are keen to get your hands on some, the best advice is to simply be patient.

If news of the launch date were not enough to stoke anticipation, it has now been revealed that original presenter, Richard O’Brien, will make a return to The Crystal Maze platform in some manner. There are some reports which say that O’Brien will feature as a hologram, but there has been no confirmation of this yet.

What is clear is the excitement of the fans for both the experience and O’Brien himself. The actor, writer, and stage performer is a hugely respected figure for the British arts. He is most well-known for penning hit musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but he also hosted The Crystal Maze television show for three years – his participation in this new experience shows just how popular these live games have become.

cyrstal maze photo

By: Antony Hampel

By: Antony Hampel

You have probably never heard of experimental book designer Irma Boom. Yet, she has been making waves on the art and design scene for many years. Now, she has teamed up with the most prolific fashion house on the planet for a project which is as extraordinary as it is beautiful.

Her latest work,referred to as simply ‘the Chanel Book,’ is a tome without ink. It is a small (exactly 5cm thick), perfectly formed, and remarkably delicate piece, which is designed to characterise the brand and evoke its particular blend of elegance and sophistication.

As there is no ink, the text and images which it contains bear a close resemblance to what we know as braille, though the words are still written out fully in English. It would be more accurate to call them ‘embossed,’ but what makes the book so special is that every single component follows this style. So, even the sketch drawings are rendered entirely without ink or colour.

Ironically, the look and feel of the Chanel book can be difficult to encapsulate on paper. The notion of a stark white book without ink can seem a little cold and Chanel No. 5 (the perfume which it is supposed to represent) has certainly never been short of personality. In reality, however, the project manages to exude a quiet confidence and joie de vivre.

This is, perhaps, in part due to the decision not to add smell to the pages of the book. According to Boom, scented words or designs would have been far ‘too literal’ and it is easy to agree with her. If the pages of the book had been soaked in Chanel No. 5, it would have been all but impossible for the artist to approach the project from a fresh perspective.

Yet, the power of smell still runs through every aspect of this book. Whilst researching for the project, Boom spent time watching the Chanel team pick roses in Provence. It was here that she found her inspiration, because the scent of so many flowers overwhelmed her senses; but crucially, the power and influence of the sensation was entirely invisible to the naked eye.

Now, we start to understand why Boom decided to remove the role of ink from her latest design experiment. It was no easy process either, as embossed lettering has to be protected from the weight of binding and pressing, or it turns out flat. So, without the right kind of binding technique, the book would simply have been empty – the words would have vanished.

In many ways, this is an appropriate metaphor for what Boom has tried to encapsulate here. The power of smell can be incredible, but ultimately, it is fleeting. Not only that, but it is subjective too – when one person smells roses, another might smell fruit.And with this book, the pages are similarly subjective; there to be filled with whatever colours your mind chooses.

By: Antony Hampel

By: Antony Hampel

There was a time, not so long ago really, when the notion of a universal translation tool seemed ambitious, at best, and downright unfeasible, at worst. However, this year, Google released a tweaked and updated version of its popular Google Translate app – and it can now function as a live third party translator.

So, in essence, all of those futuristic movies you’ve seen where people happily chat away to one another, even if they are talking different languages; well, they are in the process of becoming a concrete reality. Whilst this kind of advanced technology is always going to need a lot of work before it functions flawlessly, Google Translate is currently leading the market when it comes to real time translation software.

The Google Voice Translation tool works in a very simple way. If you meet somebody who you would like to converse with, but you do not have a common language, you can open up the Google Translate app, place it within earshot of the conversation and it will interpret both sides. So, if you are speaking to a Chinese person, but you do not know any Chinese, the app will automatically translate their words into English (or your preferred language) and your words into Chinese.

This all happens in a matter seconds of seconds and all that you have to do is speak loudly and clearly enough for the microphone in the handset to hear you – voila, you are overcoming the limitations of language. It is true that earlier versions of the Google Translate app could use voice detection software to make real time translations, but the system functioned slowly and could only handle one sentence at a time.
This overhauled version is handy because all of the fuss and complexity has been eradicated. As a digital translator, the app is smooth, easy to use, and surprisingly responsive. You do not have to press the microphone button before every exchange anymore, because the software only needs to hear a small amount of conversation from either party to ‘know’ how to proceed.

Plus, Google has also introduced a new Word Lens tool. This allows users to take a picture of foreign text and have the app translate it in a matter of seconds. For keen travellers, expats, and migrants, it has the potential to be an invaluable resource – long gone are the days when exploring exotic cities meant having to get hopelessly lost first. With the Google Translate app, it is simply a matter of taking out your phone, snapping a picture of the nearest street sign and going on your merry way.

By: Ant Hampel

By: Antony Hampel

Sooner than one might think, browsing the internet might get a completely new meaning.

Government researchers in the U.S. are working on a project that would allow you to literally connect a computer to your brain and form what is called the cortical modem, which is essentially a direct neural interface.

That means that you could browse online without needing a screen, or even any sort of external visual hardware – you would “see” everything in your head.

Now while this may seem like something straight out of a fiction book (and a creative one, at that), it seems that the researchers at the DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) are bringing something that even fiction writers might have a hard time wrapping their heads around.

But, besides being a really cool concept, the idea has tremendous potential for practical applications as well.

Imagine what it could do for people who have lost their eyesight or other sensations – being able to plug directly into the cortex would potentially allow to bypass the individual disabilities and allow to restore the senses on a digital platform. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go before any of this could become reality, but even considering that such a leap is potentially within our scope is simply astonishing.

Another potential application is developing unparalleled and extremely realistic virtual reality experiences, which could mean a breakthrough not only in the entertainment industry, but perhaps even cause a shift in perception of reality.

And, when you think about it, it can actually open up some very real possibilities of telepathy, when minds could communicate through their brains via a simple connection.

Now, all this aside, it must be said that the project is still in the early development stage – such a complex process requires a merging of the brains’ neurons and is based on optogenetics, there are still many questions that need to be answered regarding potential health effects, as well as simply moving past the current stages of working with relatively primitive brains of animals and fish.

Still, you can’t help but feel excited for what the future might have in store, even though that’s probably what the people in the Matrix thought, too.

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Written by Ant Hampel.