Lessons From BWM’s Project Revoice (& Why You Shouldn’t Hold On Too Tightly To An Idea)

Lessons From BWM’s Project Revoice (& Why You Shouldn’t Hold On Too Tightly To An Idea)
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In this guest post, BWM Sydney’s ECD Asheen Naidu (main photo), gives an insight into the lessons learned from the agency’s groundbreaking Project Revoice initiative…

It’s not uncommon in our industry to hear the phrase ,“It’s just advertising, you’re not changing the world.”

But with Project Revoice – a BWM Dentsu initiative that introduces a breakthrough in speech technology for people living with Motor Neuron Disease – we always felt like it had the potential to make some kind of mark on the world.

What started as a crazy idea by a couple of creatives in an ad agency in Australia, has given a man on the other side of the world his voice back. And will save the voices of thousands more going forward.

At BWM Dentsu, we like to do our bit to make a positive change in the world. But since these projects often involve a huge time investment, with little to no budget, we have some criteria that must be met before we embark on a job of this nature.

The first is to make sure we can achieve a tangible result. I’ve seen too many campaigns that claim to raise awareness but can’t prove how the funds raised are actually used. Our second point of consideration is that if we’re going to commit so much personal time to it, we want to make sure it challenges us creatively.

Project Revoice ticked both of these boxes.

As co-founder of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Pat Quinn was the ideal candidate to launch Project Revoice. He had been the voice of ALS (also known as Motor Neurone Disease) ever since he was diagnosed with the disease back in 2013. But after losing his voice to it, he refused to make use of the computer voice that had been assigned to him. In essence, the ALS Association had lost its loudest voice.

The big question [for us] was, ‘how do we  give it back?’

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years in this industry, it’s that trying to hold on too tightly to an idea is a sure-fire way to stop its progress. Case in point: Project Revoice was only possible through true collaboration with a bunch of talented people and organisations.

Locally, we knocked on the doors of every relevant tech company we could think of to help give flight to this far-fetched thought. And when every single door shut, we went global.

Somehow, we discovered a tiny company in Canada called Lyrebird, who had been doing some breakthrough work in the voice tech field. While intrigued, they felt their tech wasn’t quite right for the job. One of the main reasons was that their voice cloning tech required a voice to clone. And since Pat hadn’t backed up his voice, we didn’t have one.

So, we began the process of finding and analysing every public interview and video Pat had made. We had to manually analyse hundreds of individual files to find every usable part, clean up the audio and transcribe it with 100% accuracy so that Lyrebird’s Machine Learning algorithm could analyse and replicate Pat’s voice. Rumble Studios were vital in helping us solve this part of the puzzle.

Once Pat’s voice had been cloned, Nakatomi helped us link the voice tech to his chair. We then flew over to Yonkers, New York with production company, Finch, and our PR partner, Haystac, to film the moment Pat actually got his voice back.

Last, but by no means least, Space 66 helped us put together the website to launch it to the world.

All these companies gave up their time free of charge, pursuing a goal we weren’t even sure was achievable.

Project Revoice has redefined the impact “advertising” can have on the world. It’s certainly reawakened our belief as an agency that, with creativity, anything is possible.

In the words of Pat, You have already changed my life! Now, it’s time to change people’s lives all over the world.”

So, while Pat’s voice is once again a rallying call for the ALS Association, it’s also a wake-up call to what’s possible.

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