Shreyas Kulkarni

Take the BTS trip of the Unfiltered History Tour

From multiple case study versions to having the London mayor's office ring you up, here's what made this campaign the champion of Cannes Lions 2022.

The Unfiltered History Tour is an experience which exists between the fictional universe of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and the real-world applications of hacker collective Anonymous.

Moore’s Guy Fawkes-wearing cloaked protagonist wanted to bring down Britain’s totalitarian government, Norsefire and usher in an era of freedom. Anonymous members wear the same mask and dole out sophisticated cyberattacks against governments and corporations whose deeds they believe have gone unchecked for far too long.

This tour, made by Dentsu Webchutney (now Dentsu Creative), for Vice Media, was a clandestine operation against the British Museum in London. The makers used filters to recapture the museum tour around 10 disputed artefacts on display, tell the visitors the truth about these items, and bolster dialogues on their repatriation.

All one needs to do is scan any of 10 artefacts on display with the filter and they will be taken to an immersive audio-visual guide narrated by a voice from the land which the British colonised and from which it stole the item. This tour is taking back the power from the colonial empire and its version of history being narrated the present and future generations.

“This is our last campaign at Dentsu Webchutney and our first campaign in spirit at Talented.”
PG Aditya, founding member, Talented, and former chief creative officer, Dentsu Webchutney

The post-tour experience

For a project that took 18 months in the making, the rewards have been immense. The campaign was the most awarded at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2022 with four Grand Prix and a Titanium Lion among other metals. It also led to the crowning of Dentsu Creative as the Agency of the Year.

The Unfiltered History Tour was the most awarded work across the Asia Pacific at The One Show 2022 and won big at the Spikes Asia awards this year too.

In retrospect, the biggest impact, for John Montoya, Vice Media’s senior director of content strategy, was the “online conversation it drove”, be it Shashi Tharoor tweeting about it to someone taking the Unfiltered History Tour becoming the most-watched video on TikTok under the hashtag #BritishMuseum.

He reveals as an impact of this project and the online conversations it drove, the office of the Mayor of London approached them on how the team can take this conversation forward and more interestingly, “another museum asked if we would have a conversation with them about their collection”.

Also, the British Museum responded to Vice Media notifying it about this campaign. “… they gave us a simple and diplomatic answer. From their perspective, there are lots of instances of activists raising this issue with them and it is easier for them to not speak about the issue than speak about it,” remarks Montoya.

The filtering down of the technology

Technology plays the protagonist in this campaign. Without it, the tour would only remain an idea. Gurbaksh Singh, chief innovation officer, Dentsu Creative, says the initial idea was to create a website and whenever you scanned an artefact, information about it would pop up on the website. However, a website was not social and for such a campaign, social amplification was vital.

The second idea was to use scanners on Facebook and while it ticked the social aspect box, it did not let you record your experience of the tour which the makers wanted in the first place: People to share their experiences of the tour on social and take it forward.

Singh was third-time lucky when he and the team zeroed in on filters because it let you share stuff from your point of view and you can access it with ease.

The groans of a case study

The Unfiltered History Tour remains one of the most awarded campaigns in recent history. It is safe to assume its case study submitted at these awards was top-notch but the making, like most agency folks would agree, must have been groan-inducing.

Turns out, there were 20 to 25 versions of the case study film.

As per Singh, there is a 20% variation in the case film for the Spikes awards and one submitted to the Cannes Lions. “I think we made six variations of the same Cannes Lions case study… it might feel too much but it needs to be precise and not lose a single second of the two-minute cut.”

The campaign had a real chance of not making it to any awards at all. Karishma Changroth, former Group Account Director, Dentsu Webchutney, now at Talented, reveals the team “almost did not apply to Cannes Lions” because the pandemic-induced lockdowns meant while they saw tremendous response online, the footfalls to the museum were not as many as they’d have liked.

When the Commission for Diversity in the Public Domain (mayor of London’s office) reached out to see how they can “unfilter different parts of the city… that’s when we thought we should do the case study.”

“The process was long,” admits Harsh Shah, managing partner, Dentsu Webchutney, and says the team wanted to make sure it conveyed the right message and hit the nail on the head.

A premonition of awards?

When a campaign of this scale takes over a good year and a half to make, the makers can feel if there is an award in the future or not but does it make one more enthusiastic about adding elements to said work?

Says Changroth, “From a project management standpoint, there were so many variables, we were not sure if we’d have a campaign forget awards.” She states the team’s clear focus: Put out a campaign that is factually correct.

Binaifer Dulani, founding member and creative, Talented spoke on the same lines when she admitted that they “knew it would be big” but when it comes to adding ingredients, “we simply didn’t have to do that”.

The backing of Vice and the access the team received helped them reach out to people who could share these stories, “this is real work, the moment you have that going for you, you don’t need to add any ingredients.” (Dulani was a former creative director at Dentsu Webchutney)

The patience tested

Most agency-client relationships struggle with the deadline aspect. The Unfiltered History Tour took 18 months to come to light and Montoya light-heartedly blames himself for a bit of this longish time because he wanted to get things right and match the standards Vice Media offerings had set for themselves.

When asked if he was ever tempted to release bits or pieces of the campaign, he says they were strict on how the campaign would roll out. “The idea was to catch people’s attention. If the British Museum knew the project was in development, it could do something to it and affect the intended audience.”

The right time to be Talented

Most of the team that worked on this project at Dentsu have moved to Talented, a creative agency from Bangalore. They and the new agency could not have asked for a better start.

“This is our last campaign at Dentsu Webchutney and our first campaign in spirit at Talented,” says PG Aditya, co-founding member, Talented, and former chief creative officer, Dentsu Webchutney.

He says everyone who was part of this project has benefited and feels that creative awards have an incredible magical power to renovate any infrastructure.

“Its (awards) role is to shake up the largest of organisations and show them what they are truly capable of. For talented, our first campaign in spirit sets that benchmark really high. We won’t now go and do a campaign that will get a shortlist…”

The Unfiltered History Tour is inspired by Vice Media’s online series Empires of Dirt whose last episode touched on this subject. The show’s first episode detailed How Banks Made Money From Slavery. When asked if this motley crew will now go after the banks, the collective silence loudly answered the question.

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