How to deconstruct inspirational creative marketing campaigns

by on 28th July 2015

As a marketer interested in technical innovation, I like to keep a close eye on where the marketing industry is going. Often, I find things that are so inspiring, I have to find out how they were made.

Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly simple process for deconstructing how a campaign was created, and I’d like to share that process with you.

In the past, we’ve talked about how we as marketers need to know how technical projects are built; hopefully this post will help you as much as this process has helped me.

Setting the Scene: The Campaign


Browsing the web yesterday, I came across a thread (no pun intended) on Hacker News, about the Forever 21 Thread Screen. It also had a link from Mattias Gunneras to a YouTube video detailing a little about how it was done. Intrigued, I decided to see what else I could find.

Initial Research

Some quick Googling turned up the following:

It’s always a good idea, once you know who the agency is, to look at their past work and what they and others have written about it. It gives a good flavour for how they structure their projects, what kind of work they do, who they partner with and so on. That kind of background knowledge is invaluable when you come to look at the current piece you’re evaluating.

The last of the links mentioned above details how the system itself worked, and helped me discover enough to find out a bit more. The rig was built over 18 months, using custom-fabricated cartridges.


Going back to the original Hacker News article, I learned a bit more, like that…

We anticipated some static from all the ribbons, so the superstructure is heavily grounded and made of aluminum, we also have aluminum plates inside each pixel module. But when our step-drivers started catching fire we bought a 3M 718 static sensor, it maxed out at 20kV so I actually don’t know how much static we had on the ribbons. We ran tonnes of more grounding wires through the modules and that took care of the problem. But yeah, static caused a few fires here before we figured it out.

Mattias Gunneras, HN Thread

From there, I was able to piece together how this all happened.

Project Timeline

We know that the brief went out around January 2014, which means that the initial spark of the idea to create something with Breakfast probably came around Q4 2013. From there, Forever 21 gets in touch with Breakfast, and asks for proposals for what they could do, were they to be engaged on a project. I suspect that process took a few weeks, for Breakfast to respond with some ideas. Work on initial research will have started in Q1 2014, and started with fact finding.

Our next clue comes from Mattias’ GitHub account, which contains a fork of a Python Instagram library in November last year. That’s almost certainly something to do with this, and means that the webdev side started around that time. Getting that to pull images from Instagram won’t have taken long, but I’d guess that turning that into a system that could take in the data from an Instagram photo, convert it into an 80×80 image with colour matching would have taken a little longer.

In between, we have a space of about 6 months. I’d suspect that time was taken up with development of the bobbin cartridges, learning how they’d assemble, what speed they could be rotated at, and starting to solve problems such as the static build-up mentioned earlier.

Having built an initial rack, it’d take a while to build the others in a final design. Meanwhile, a prototype could be used to develop the software, while at the same time in parallel the rest of the build would take place (electronics and fabrics).

There’s a few other clues as to how this was put together too. In the behind the scenes video, we can see a close up of the bobbins used. They have Forever 21 Thread Screen, Designed By Breakfast on them, so we know these were almost certainly custom-fabricated for the build. That means sourcing a bobbin producer, and having them machined. All that sourcing and fabrication takes time. Finally, it’ll have taken a while to iron out the kinks and get everything hooked together. Given that the project launched at the end of July, and the software build started around November last year, that gives a timeline of probably six or so months for the completion of the build, and the finalisation of the marketing and PR plan.


Around two days after launch, the F21TS page has had 330 tweets (at the time of writing), 983 Facebook shares, and is adding new Instagram photos by the second (4,423 in total and counting). One of the joys of this campaign is that it’s ludicrously easy to track. However, that’s often the case with new marketing campaigns leveraging social channels – everything put out is viewable. It’d also make it easy to pull all the Instagram photos and view what’s been popular. That would be useful for a follow-up piece using more popular users to generate further buzz.

By any measure, that kind of initial social traction, along with the dozens of blog posts that are appearing every hour counts as a success. Whether it translates into direct sales, I’d question, but certainly the brand uplift from a piece of marketing like this, to say nothing of the value of that much coverage, will do good things for both the client brand and Breakfast as an agency.

Taking it Further

To put this into practice, I’d recommend looking into deconstructing some of the following campaigns. They’re all old enough that there’s good material out there, and pieces that I’ve pulled apart in the past, so you should be able to find enough to make it interesting.

If you’ve any questions or thoughts, feel free to get in touch via Twitter or leave a comment.

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