GE looks to Super Bowl and holograms for Smart Grid push.

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Leading up to our CaT: Creativity and Technology conference on June 3rd we're highlighting work from some of our presenters who've been standouts throughout the year. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was the agency and Sweden's North Kingdom handled the digital production on this augmented reality shot from General Electric, by far the highest-profile exposure of the technology to date. Below, a Creativity Online story on the making of the Smart Grid augmented reality-enhanced site. Goodby chief digital officer Mike Geiger will be presenting at CaT, in addition to North Kingdom's Daniel Ilic; pick up your tickets now.

A new campaign for General Electric's Smart Grid technology is bringing the conglomerate into two new worlds next week: the Super Bowl and Web-based interactive holograms. For its first-ever Super Bowl buy, GE will air "Scarecrow," a "Wizard of Oz" themed spot supporting its eco-friendly electric grid technology, which aims to increase access to renewable energy, improve efficiency and win savings for consumers on energy bills. February 1 also marks the launch of an informational Web site,, which features an augmented reality component that allows users to interact with digital holograms without downloading software.

The site, from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, explains how the Smart Grid works in and out of consumers' homes, as well as it's impact on environmental issues, like carbon dioxide emissions and alternative energy usage. With the augmented reality function, users can manipulate 3D models of wind and solar power using only a webcam and a solar panel marker, a distinct symbol that will activate the hologram. (The marker will run on GE print ads, can be printed off the site or pulled up on an iPhone screen.) To launch the augmented reality, users hold the marker up to face the webcam and can then watch it unfold into a 3D hologram on-screen. To interact with the hologram, users can rotate or move the marker or blow into the microphone to increase the animation speed. Goodby, with North Kingdom, created the completely Flash-based feature with open source code that was then adapted so anyone with a computer and webcam could experience it.

Goodby associate partner and group cd Christian Haas cites how the function allows Smart Grid technology to literally unfold within users' hands as they interact with it, much like a pop-up book.

"Being able to tap into alternative energy from all around the country is one of the main benefits of the smart grid," Haas says. "And since most people have never experienced that before, we wanted to give them a taste. The idea is to invite you to test drive the smart grid. Augmented reality gave us the opportunity to create something people most likely have never seen before. It also helped that our client told us to do something that had never been done before."

Print component of the GE
Print component of the GE "NOW" campaign, from BBDO.

Smart Grid technology is intended to update the existing electricity infrastructure with such features as smart meters for homes and buildings. Smart meters allow consumers and utilities to monitor power usage in real time to promote a more efficient energy system. With the meters, energy companies can set power pricing according to demand, instead of flat rates. For example, on the Smart Grid, using electricity in the middle of the night would cost less than using the same amount during periods when strain on the grid is highest, like peak air-conditioner hours in the summer. In homes, consumers can learn when energy is least expensive and opt to run high-expenditure appliances, like dryers, at those times to save on energy costs.

Smart Grid technology also aims to overcome a standing storage problem for renewable energy by creating conduits to transport electricity across greater distances. Currently, because of limited battery capacity, surplus energy produced from, for example, wind turbines in Texas often go to waste. Now wind energy is only available to the region where it is produced, but with the Smart Grid, GE imagines utilizing surplus renewable energy by sending it to areas with high energy demand, like New York City.

For the Smart Grid to take off, utility companies will first have to adopt the technology before it can be rolled out to the consumers those companies serve. Also, governmental and regulatory bodies will have to facilitate cooperation between regional energy companies and infrastructure investment. Therefore, in addition to the consumer push, GE is supporting an influencers direct mail campaign. Katy Brady, Manager of Global Advertising, says that GE sent hundreds of top utility costumers, regulators, members of Congress and governors webcams and decals so they could trial the augmented reality feature.

So, why the consumer push at all?

"Simply, we need to communicate with everyone, " says Jen Walsh, GE global director, digital media. "The smart grid is not just about one technology or one company, or one government. It's really about the power of all of us working together. We think that it can make the way we manage and distribute energy more efficient. We think we can enable renewables. We think we could bring solar power and wind power directly to areas that may not have access to them already. It empowers consumers to better manage their own electricity consumption because things like smart meters in homes tell you when you can use power during off-peak hours when it costs less. So that's why we want to keep all parties informed."

GE is currently working with a handful of utilities across the Unites States in technical trails. One GE customer, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, has smart meters and related technology in the hands of 6,600 consumers.

The site and Super Bowl work are part of an umbrella campaign that posits GE as "innovation you don't have to wait for." The multimedia campaign covers GE healthcare, global research and ecomagination, under which green tech like the Smart Grid falls.

The Super Bowl spot, above, from long-time GE agency BBDO, New York, director Traktor and animation company Framestore is an animated update of "If I Only Had A Brain," from the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz."

BBDO also created web films "Pluck" and "Listen to the Smart Grid" to explain how the grid works, as well as print ads that will debut on Wednesday in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
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