Twitter-powered nine-foot guitar
Bright Signals has created successful online and offline content for clients such as Beam Suntory, MacSween and Tennent’s. Now the Glasgow-based agency is preparing to weave its magic overseas, as Scott Rinning and Jordan McKenna explain.
What do a Twitter-powered nine-foot guitar, a robotic barman and a video about the natural history of the haggis have in common? They’ve all emerged from the minds of the creative team at Bright Signals, a Glasgow-based content agency that comes up with innovative and exciting ways to help its clients engage with their audiences.
The agency was founded by David Craik in 2009 and initially focused on creating content for clients’ social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. Then the company began to produce installations and other experiences for its customers – and that’s where the magic really started to happen.
Bright Signals used 800 cans of cider to create a nine-foot Twitter-powered guitar for Magners and produced an over-sized robotic barman nicknamed “RoboCock-Tail” for Dram magazine’s 2016 Scottish Bar and Pub Awards, with its spoof voice recognition algorithm and fake artificial intelligence brain deliberately mixing the wrong cocktails for customers and dispensing them through a unit in it crotch.
But perhaps the company’s most impressive invention is a time machine. Created for Tennent’s lager, the T5 system allows users to “rewind time” to capture “live” video highlights from five-a-side football pitches – after the action has happened.
The system involves two cameras at either end of the pitch set to record 24 hours a day. When a player wants to record a highlight of the match, all they need to do is hit a big button on the side of the pitch and T5s will produce a 20-second highlights video.
“When we created T5, it was designed to let amateur footballers record their best goals – but players wanted to use it to record the funny moments instead, like when their teammates fell over trying to kick the ball,” laughs Jordan McKenna, a product manager at Bright Signals. “The videos have been viewed more than 60 million times.”
The T5s system could now open the door for Bright Signals to begin exporting its expertise around the world. “We realised that T5s could be used in other sports too,” explains McKenna. “We took the technology behind T5s and created EchoCam, a system that can be used in other sports anywhere around the world. It’s become a standalone product for us.”
Bright Signals got in touch with Scottish Enterprise to help work out how the company could begin to export EchoCam. Members of staff from the company attended workshops to learn how to start trading internationally.
“Scottish Enterprise helped us to come up with our strategy and also explained the importance of focus,” says product director Scott Rinning. “We have received lots of inquiries – especially from markets like the United States – but we decided we should focus on the immediate markets surrounding us, like Ireland, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, where they still play amateur football as often as we do in the UK.
“Focusing on our strategy in those markets instead of being dragged in lots of different directions by inquiries has really helped us. Exports are more straightforward for us because our whole world is digital and online, but one of the challenges is the different time zones.
“We were attracted to exporting because we recognised that Bright Signals and EchoCam could become global brands. We already work with a lot of international companies that have a presence in Scotland and so trading internationally was the natural next step.”
As well as working with Magners and Tennent’s – which are both owned by Dublin-based C&C Group – Bright Signals also lists whisky brands Ardmore, Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch among its clients, all part of Beam Suntory, the spirits firm created in 2014 when Japanese conglomerate Suntory took over American drinks outfit Beam. It also works with Whyte & Mackay’s Dalmore and Jura whisky brands, owned by Philippines-based Emperador.
It’s not just drinks labels that have benefited from Bright Signals’ services either. Its customer base has also included the BBC, Creative Scotland, the Green Investment Bank, National Galleries Scotland and travel search website Skyscanner.
As well as creating online content and coming up with ideas for weird and wonderful installations, the company’s innovation laboratory can also help its clients to build prototypes of digital products, so they can test them out on customers and quickly decide if they want to scale them up to full production or scrap the idea and move onto something else instead.
The “fail small, win big” attitude is at the heart of Bright Signals’ operations. The agency has adopted an “agile” strategy – instead of having separate “creatives” and “account directors”, the content team works in pairs, with each duo generating ideas, liaising directly with clients and producing content.
While some of its ideas clearly come from way off in left-field, the agency’s work is underpinned by hard numbers. The firm developed its own piece of software to measure the response to social media content in real time and then optimise which pieces of content should be used; in-keeping with the company’s tongue-in-cheek ethos, the program was named “Steffi Graph” after the German tennis player.
The strategy has helped the agency to grow from just two members of staff in 2014 to its present complement of 16 full-time employees and a further four part-time workers at its office in Glasgow’s trendy Finnieston district. Along the way, Bright Signals has won the gold digital prize in the communications category at the Marketing Society Star Awards for the past two years running and is now turning over about £1.2 million.
And the video about the haggis? “That was a spoof version of BBC2’s Springwatch programme, which we made for MacSween, the haggis maker, for Burns night,” chuckles Rinning. “We recorded an actor playing the role of a game keeper, who spoke about the haggis as if it was a real animal out on the hills.
“It was really popular and reached more than one million people online. We think it’s the most successful piece of haggis-related social media content that the world has ever seen.”
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