Coke Studio has been widely celebrated for bringing together on a single platform musicians from different parts of Pakistan in a musical fusion of various genres. In August 2016, Coke Studio (in its ninth season) went a step further and launched Coke Studio for the Deaf, a ‘one of its kind’ initiative that practiced a different kind of ‘inclusiveness.’
The objective of the initiative was to extend Coca-Cola’s reach. It entailed a physical setup aimed at enabling hearing impaired people to experience and enjoy music.
To quote Abbas Arsalan, Marketing Manager, The Coca-Cola Corporation: “Coke Studio is about bringing Pakistanis together through a unique fusion of music and Coke Studio for the Deaf was launched to enable hearing impaired people to also experience what the biggest music platform of Pakistan is offering.”
Coke Studio for the Deaf’s journey started almost a year ago, and unlike most other brand initiatives, it was conceived not by the brand, but by their creative agency, Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) Pakistan.
Zehra Zaidi, ECD, O&M, says, “the Coke team at Ogilvy is always thinking of ways to extend Coke Studio’s reach and appeal and we thought how wonderful it would be if there was a way to reach our hearing impaired community as well” (Nine million people in Pakistan are either partially or completely hearing impaired).
Before pitching the project (essentially a sketchy idea at the beginning), the Ogilvy team contacted their innovation wing K1ND (a specialised wing of O&M, based out of China, that focuses on using technology to enhance brand-consumer experience) to discuss whether there was a way to help hearing impaired people experience music. To their delight, research conducted by the National University of Singapore proved that hearing impaired people can ‘feel’ music through synchronised vibrations, lights, and visuals. The K1ND team then proposed about 14 different solutions based on this research (ranging from wearables such as arm bands to elaborate room experiences) all of which enabled a hearing impaired person to experience about 72 to 76% of the music being played.
Clarifying the idea, Zaidi adds that “of course hearing impaired people cannot physically ‘hear’ music, but they can experience the same feelings a hearing enabled person can – they can feel the melodies and tunes and the joy and mood alterations music can bring.”
When the agency pitched this project to Coca-Cola, the brand was extremely supportive and gave Ogilvy full creative liberty to explore, conduct further research and own the idea.
However, getting the technology and setup right down to the finest detail was a challenge, and it took about three months to test out thoroughly.
“Of course hearing impaired people cannot physically ‘hear’ music, but they can experience the same feelings a hearing enabled person can – they can feel the melodies and tunes and the joy and mood alterations music can bring.”
According to Wen Peng Xiao, Technical Partner, K1ND, “to put it simply, the setup is a graphical and sensorial representation of music, and works on how visual and tactile elements can be used to help a person feel the music.”
For logistical reasons and to prevent any teething problems the setup was constructed and shot in Bangkok. The setup itself is composed of two sofas, special flooring, lights and a large TV screen. The sofa contains more than 200 tiny sensors fitted in the upholstery. Each vibration sensor is programmed to vibrate according to the sound made, so that the type of vibration generated is in sync with the instruments, vocals, and chorus (in other words, the ‘dhuk dhukk’ sound of a dhol will generate a different vibration compared to the sonorous sitar note). Over 400 LED lights were installed in the room, each one with a microcontroller which, depending on the sound signal received, flickers, pulsates, dims, switches on or off, thereby contributing to the overall music experience generated. Lastly, a large LCD screen was installed, showing the video of the song played. According to Wen, “these elements contributed to convert the experience to something which hearing impaired people could relate to.”
Once the setup was installed, 10 participants (men and women who were either studying at the Deaf Reach School in Karachi or were part of the faculty) were flown to Bangkok; all they were told was that they were being flown to Bangkok for a special project.
The decision to keep the experience a surprise for the participants added to the natural, highly emotive and uplifting vibe the director Sarmad Khoosat (of Humsafar and Manto fame) wanted to bring out in the video shoot in Bangkok.
Zaidi says that from capturing the joyful expressions of the participants when they first felt the music to filming their “most heart-warming emotions,” Khoosat completely understood and delivered what the initiative was all about.
In July, the video was released on social media and aired on all major TV channels in Pakistan and garnered 37,725 shares, 3.6 million video views and 5,000+ positive comments from people all over the world.
“There has not been a single person speaking negatively about the project,” says Arsalan.
“The Return on Investment was not meant to be monetary; it was to build a positive brand image by enabling everyone to experience Coke Studio without discrimination – and this was certainly achieved.”
Talking about future plans, Arsalan says that as the project has a very niche target audience, the brand plans to install the setup across various schools for the hearing impaired in Pakistan and one has already been set up in the Karachi chapter of the Deaf Reach School.
He adds: “Being the first of its kind in Pakistan, there are still many facets to this project and Coca-Cola Pakistan is exploring them all.”