Three years since joining Wink, the in-house creative agency for email and automated marketing platform Mailchimp, group creative director Christian Widlic has seen the team quadruple in size - and the team’s advertising ambitions have grown in step.
Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway at the Design Museum in London - the venue for Mailchimp’s ‘Email is Dead’ exhibit running from the 28th September to the 22nd October - Christian says that experiential is a relatively new area that Wink, now around 60-strong, is exploring for the brand.
“Mailchimp has a rich history of creativity. They have always had a really strong in-house team, but we didn't do our advertising. We didn't really do that many experiences like this.” Now, as well as experiential, Wink’s capabilities expand from design to video production, to banner ads, email marketing and beyond.
The ‘Email is Dead’ idea came to be after Michelle Taite, CMO of Intuit Mailchimp, was inspired by an ASMR exhibit at the same museum in May 2022. And for the last nine months, the team has prepared the activation, all with the goal of teaching people about email in an engaging way. “We wanted to make a really playful, immersive, colourful and exciting experience that talks about this somewhat mundane thing - and challenging that. What does email smell like? What does email look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? And in really diving into those subjects, you start to ask different questions and thoughts.”
Created with Something Special Studios, the experience includes an email personality test, an email time capsule and a fun photo booth, as well as a room that showcases aspirational email-based mock technologies, a display that celebrates significant moments in people’s lives - including celebrities like Annie Lennox and Amelia Dimoldenberg - that came about via email, and a particularly Instagram-able ‘cloud room’ for reflecting on email’s role in your life. There’s even an ‘emailcore’ merch line that’s available both online and at the museum’s gift shop.
Christian wasn’t joking about ‘the smell of email’ either. The entire exhibit is accompanied by a custom-made aroma of bergamot, geranium, sage, lavender and sandalwood - a special blend crafted by Olear Studios’ olfactive artist and founder Tatiana Godoy Betancur to “replicate a type of lucidity and sense of connection that email can generate as a whole”.
A similar process was applied to the experience’s soundtrack, which was developed with Something Special Studios’ composer and Wink’s in-house sound team. “We wanted it to evoke an emotion and feel tangible, but not that overt. So not just the ‘whooshing’ sound of sending emails - digital but a bit more personal.” He adds, “Working with the composer was really interesting. How do you give feedback on a track and be constructive when asking if this sounds ‘like email’?”
Christian hopes that any visitors to the exhibit will leave sharing his feeling that email is “incredible” and often undervalued. “It's been around for 50 years and I don't think it's going away,” he says. “The first letter was sent by a Persian queen in like 500 BC - and that's what email is. It's a letter. It’s a bit more personal and formal, and if there's anything important in your life, it’s not on Slack, over text, or on Snapchat - it’s an email. It's kind of this tool that we just take for granted.”
The GCD says that the Wink team doesn’t necessarily look at experiential activations like this exhibit as marketing, but rather an extension of the brand being true to itself and doing projects it believes in. “We really believe in email and we see how our customers are growing and making a living off of their wild ideas using email,” he says. “So we really try not to follow the trends. Let's do what we're good at! And let's talk the way we talk! If you look at our website, we don’t use marketing words… It's a bit more of a conversation, rather than shouting at a crowd.”
He adds that the past 22 years of growth for Mailchimp have been fuelled by lessons from its customers - a group he acknowledges are “weird and incredible”, as well as getting smarter and more sceptical when it comes to advertising. This has resulted in Wink embracing Mailchimp’s individuality and personality - leaning into the yellow and chimpanzee-themed branding to stand alongside its varied customers, who use the platform for equally unique reasons - be it a large tech firm or a small creator making hats for cats.
“We're really trying to be true to ourselves, and do something that we really believe in,” Christian says, adding that Wink’s approach relies heavily on fully understanding Mailchimp’s product and its customers, and communicating the benefits of the brand in a non-technical way. Comparing the strategy to Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaigns, he shares that projects like the recent ‘Turn Clustomers Into Customers’ campaign are focused less on Mailchimp’s features themselves, and more on the problems they solve.
This particular campaign, which features a hero film directed by Prettybird’s Calmatic, explores the benefit of ‘personalisation’ without creating a generic ‘product campaign’ - an insight that Wink identified using its first-party data. “Businesses market us as this one group, not as individuals. And with Mailchimp, you can really start to dissect them and create more personalised individual emails,” he says. “You might like a short email, but this person might like a longer one… that was kind of the idea behind [Clustomers]: How do you visualise personalisation?”
Above: '‘Turn Clustomers Into Customers’ hero film
So after this month’s activation in London, what is sitting in Wink’s ‘drafts’ folder, waiting to be sent out to new Mailchimp customers and old contacts alike? Well, while the team isn’t opposed to bringing on external help for campaigns with considerable assets or VFX demands, Wink has recently developed its own production capabilities, including hiring production designers, photographers, videographers and motion designers. And the new year already presents two opportunities to flex these creative and production muscles.
In January, Mailchimp is opening its new headquarters in Atlanta, which is providing Wink and Christian, who is leading the project from a creative standpoint, with its own design challenges. “People want to work from home, so we're competing with people's homes,” he explains. “So, how do we create a workspace that people actually want to go to, and that's inspiring, and that promotes productivity?”
Taking inspiration from the hustle and bustle of another of the States’ major cities, New York, the office is being designed to have a different feeling on each floor - using different furniture, colours and artwork to create distinct ‘neighbourhoods’. Each of the eight floors will be home to a different artistic movement, be it surrealism, futurism or contemporary art, created by around 100 different artists.
The following month then plays host to the Super Bowl, which Christian teases is a specific point of interest for the Wink creative team. While not aiming to purchase a TV spot during the broadcast, he says that the company will be creating a campaign around the Big Game to write another chapter in Mailchimp’s rich in-housing story.
And if you can’t wait a couple months to see these land in your inbox, you can breathe in the Eau de Email yourself and immerse yourself in the history - and potential future - of the technology by planning a visit to the Design Museum here.