'More hurdles than Aintree' – Behind the Campaign, My Little Pony at The National Gallery

Leigh Debbage, creative director at Premier, gives the lowdown on the recent art-filled campaign for the launch of a new My Little Pony film.

'More hurdles than Aintree' – Behind the Campaign, My Little Pony at The National Gallery

What was the campaign, in a nutshell?

Tasked with creating a cultural cut-through moment around the release of 'My Little Pony: A New Generation', eOne and Premier secured an unlikely partnership with The National Gallery, which would see 10 of its equine classics transformed into My Little Pony art through the magic of augmented reality. Whilstlejacket and other masterpieces would make way for Sunny Starscout and friends in a bold and original stunt.

How did the idea come into being?

Our starting point was to explore cultural events and establishments that could be sprinkled with the magic of Equestria. September events like London Fashion Week and the Chelsea Flower Show were considered alongside equine institutions such as Horse Guards Parade and Royal Ascot. We ultimately settled not on The Grand National but The National Gallery, home of so many depictions of horses through the ages. The world-famous museum would provide the perfect canvas for a magical, educational and unexpected PR initiative.

What ideas were rejected?

Other ideas in the pitch included a colourful takeover of White Horses around the British countryside, a Chelsea Flower Show stunt – ‘My Little Peonies’ – and a partnership with Brockenhurst, honouring it as the UK’s most pony-friendly town.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process.

We had just one month from approval to deliver a campaign with huge numbers of moving parts. As soon as we secured the partnership with National Gallery we simultaneously briefed AR design studio Playlines and children’s illustrator Rachael Saunders, then chose the 10 paintings around the gallery that would be augmented in the discovery trail we named The Magical Gallery. Working at a faster pace than Red Rum, Rachael had just two weeks to produce the 10 paintings that would masterfully reimagine the likes of A Horse Frightened By Lighting and Whistlejacket with characters and landscapes from the film.

Access to film talent including Vanessa Hudgens was secured, providing fun commentaries for the app. We also needed a UK personality and opted for horse-lover, mum and influencer Jodie Kidd (pictured below), who lent her vocals to the app with an educational and entertaining commentary as well as being the face of the launch.

With the run of The National Gallery before opening hours on day of launch, we staged a grand unveiling by Jodie and Rachael and private press tours.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?

With so many stakeholders and so little time, the campaign had more hurdles than Aintree, but the biggest challenge was managing the balancing act between the prestigious reputation of The National Gallery and the mainstream, youthful appeal of the film. Every element – from the paintings to the commentaries and press materials – had to meet the approval of both parties as well as toy company Hasbro, often with windows of just 48 hours. The key was ensuring that the content struck the right balance between educational and fun, and beyond just hoofing out classic paintings, it encouraged children to approach them in fresh ways through a fun, engaging but respectful lens.

How did you measure the results, and what were they?

The eOne/Premier objective was to generate nationwide press, garnering positive brand awareness while also reaching the target audience through social amplification. Twenty-one photo-led print features included page three of The i and page nine of The Telegraph, along with more than 80 online articles. The stunt was one of the most talked-about stories of a busy week, with further pieces in the Evening Standard and Metro, and on Virgin Radio and BBC regional.

Public engagement was also a significant factor, and with over 630,000 visiting the gallery in the six live weeks, exposure to the app and branding on each floor was huge. The National Gallery also promoted it across its popular social channels, including its 1.3m Instagram followers.

This contributed significantly to 'My Little Pony: A New Generation' becoming the biggest film on Netflix that week.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

To be prepared to take a brand to unexpected places. Few would have paired The National Gallery with My Little Pony, not least the British press, but this was the very reason the idea worked.

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