Can creativity change the world? Advertising agency DDB NY would like to think so, as demonstrated in their new campaign for the Smithsonian National Zoo, the Endangered Song. In an effort to spread awareness of the less than 400 Sumatran Tigers left in the world, the two teamed up with rock band Portugal. The Man to manufacture and record a song. Not just any ol’song, but one created to go extinct, unless digitally reproduced. It’s a wholly clever solution, reminding us of creativity’s importance and influence. I was afforded the opportunity to pick the brains of the two creatives behind it all to find out more.
Portugal. The Man’s track—”Sumatran Tiger”—does not officially exist in the digital world. Although if you were to google it, you’d discover otherwise. Each result is in fact a copy, transferred from one of the original 400 vinyl records that was seeded to industry influencers. The Endangered Song is a clever metaphor, reflective of the tigers’ current circumstances. It’s a wildly creative means to raising funds and awareness for the species. I also feel this idea is neat in that it’s of the times (Wu Tang’s “one copy song” anybody?) and mixes emerging and traditional media to lend aid to a big problem.
The record’s lathe-cut polycarbonate production ensures that they will eventually degrade and go extinct if not copied digitally. The design and messaging works twofolds, communicating the aforementioned but also a slew of other information. A difficult task but executed exceptionally well. I could go on and on, but figured there’s probably more to learn from the creatives who managed it themselves. I spoke to the creative duo at DDB, Art Director Michael Kushner and copywriter Daniel Paredes, to discover more about the design as well as the process behind the project.
Why did you guys choose music to save Sumatran Tigers?
We think that the best ideas come about when you pull from all kinds of inspiration that speaks to you as a creative, and then try to mix it in a way that is fresh and authentic.
This project is closely linked to the music industry. How much does music inspire you as creatives on a daily basis?
Music is a huge inspiration, and it seems to be inherent in pretty much everything in our industry. We look to music videos a lot. We’re huge fans of Jonathan Glazer for example.
Did Portugal. The Man and the “Sumatran Tiger” song they created influence the look and feel? What came first: logo or the song?
The song and band definitely came before the design. We wanted to stay true to their vibe, while also incorporating the Smithsonian National Zoo in a science and preservation way. At the end of the day though, the record had to be more than something that people would just throw out when they received it—so it needed a lot of design to achieve an appealing aesthetic.
Can you lend some thoughts to the Endangered Song’s overarching design?
We wanted to make the album artwork look and feel hand crafted because of the indie/grassroots nature of the project. There are many blemishes and imperfections, but those imperfections still have to look good. That’s where designers like John Contino come in for great inspiration. The key objectives were first and foremost to communicate the project to whomever would be receiving the record in the mail, and then to make the artwork representative of extinction.
Looking to nature for inspiration is no new concept, considering your product was essentially a Tiger, did it have an influence on the design?
Well, when designing the “teeth” logo, it had to be 100% accurate or else the Smithsonian National Zoo would not approve. So we took a picture of Sumatran Tiger teeth, and used it for the outline of the teeth. Otherwise, and it might be a stretch, but the entire idea is an example of biomimicry, in a social experiment sort of way: “Social biomimicry.” We took the idea of a species essentially having a half-life, and applied that to music. Thinking about never being able to hear a certain song again paints a certain picture, and hopefully gets one thinking about how much worse it could be to never again see or interact with an actual species again.
A logo. We all understand one’s importance. What were you trying to communicate with the Endangered Song’s symbol?
The “teeth” logo on the front was made to look like fossils representing extinction. The record sleeve’s “glitched” backside tiger was created by taking a stock image and manipulating it to represent reproduction and copies of a copy. The line-art tiger was meant to represent an encyclopedia image of a Sumatran Tiger, one that you might find of an extinct animal. Everything borrowed little bits from everywhere relevant.
The last question I asked Dan and Mike was a loaded one, that if they believe creativity has the power to change the world. Mike responded with an affirmative “Absolutely.” But then continued (half jest, half serious), “think about Bagel Bites. Pizza. On a Bagel. I mean, holy cow. And that was like 15 years ago.”
Jokes aside, I think they’d agree with me that creativity can in fact make a difference in the world, and that it certainly has. Advertising tends to come off as the naughty [read: corporate] bunch of the creative industries, but when you look at campaigns like the Endangered Song, can you still assert so? I hope not. At the end of the day, thanks to a creative solution and a tactful execution, people who otherwise wouldn’t be talking about Sumatran tigers now are. There’s nothing but good in that.