Google: The Wilderness Downtown

Agency: Google Creative Lab
Client: Google
Product: WebGL1.


The Wilderness Downtown was launched to showcase the power of HTML5, which was at that time available in the latest versions of modern browsers such as Google Chrome.

The initial challenge was to raise awareness of what a web browser is, and how modern, up-to-date browsers like Chrome can significantly improve the user's web experience.

We wanted to create a response in the following areas:

  1. Attitudinal. We wanted people to experience the site and feel sufficiently moved or surprised that they'd go out and talk about it. There was no research plan or quantitative target for this; our intention was to track responses post-launch and monitor both the content of the response and the sentiment.
  2. Behavioral. The experience had to be intriguing enough at the landing page to get users to notice which browser they actually had, understand what modern browsers can do and ultimately consider trying Google Chrome. The experience had to be magical and seamless enough to keep as many users as possible on the site for the duration of the song (which is 5 minutes long) and emotionally stirring enough to elicit both an in-site response at the end of the video (the user could write a 'postcard' message to their younger self) and an off-site response in the form of social noise.
  3. Publicity/buzz. There was no paid support. The only publicity we gave the launch were mentions on the Google blog and Arcade Fire site that morning. We expected social networks, innovation and technology-focused media to cover it at first before reaching out mainstream press.
  4. Content generation. Towards the end of the video, the user is asked to write a postcard with a message to their younger self. Aside from underscoring the reflective theme of the video, this action had two purposes. Firstly, we wanted to project the messages live during Arcade Fire's tour. Secondly, we were making a physical installation, The Wilderness Downtown Machine, that would be taken to various locations to print submitted postcards at random.