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Pop giants Abba will soon return to the public eye with an ambitious tech-enabled concert performance and album after a 40-year break. TMW Unlimited has been serving as strategic marketing consultant of record – in utter secret. Chief executive Chris Mellish explains how the agency helped to cook up this surprise return.

Last week the media hungrily grabbed at the news that Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny, the four stars behind legendary Swedish pop group Abba, had been motion captured and de-aged for their new concert Voyage.

The quartet are to be broadcast alongside a live 10-piece band in a purpose-built, 3,000-seat arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. The gig was only made possible due to 1,000 visual effects experts from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) – the SFX studio best known for Star Wars. The four will appear on stage via an invisible screen as ‘Abba-tars’ – a play on avatars.

This all comes alongside a new album, also called Voyage, to be released on November 5 by Universal Music Group. There are 10 new songs for fans to enjoy, with I Still Have Faith in You and Don’t Shut Me Down now released as singles.

Chris Mellish, chief executive of TMW Unlimited, the strategic marketing consultant of record, admits: “Clearly briefs like this don’t come along very often so once we knew what the brief was, we reacted as you would expect – with huge excitement and a concerted effort to make sure we took this amazing opportunity to be part of such an iconic movement in the entertainment industry.”

Months ago, the agency had to pitch for the client in full secret. “The toughest part was, due to the confidential nature of the brief, only the team working on it could know about it.”

It was only when the news went live last week that those working on the project could tell suspicious colleagues and the wider industry. Working alongside the in-house Abba Voyage team, as well as Dawbell PR and Total Media, TMW Unlimited handled all marketing communications and strategy. This included all integrated marketing, customer relationship management, design and data operations to help news of the concert and album reach as large and as relevant an audience as possible.

“Our ambitions for this project matched that of the client. Abba likes to do things differently, and so do we.”

It took “many hours” to work out how to communicate this “truly original and one-of-a-kind experience”. Abba’s last album, 1981’s The Visitors, predates Jaws 3-D, and came not long after the sale of the first Sony Walkman. A lot has changed since then. And original fans of Abba are going to have to get to grips with the nuance of just what exactly Voyage is. 

Digital versions, not holograms, of the quartet will be projected on to the stage. Thousands of hours of motion capture were recorded to ensure the performance was authentic to Abba, while also granting the 70-year-olds the energy and movement of their prime. But as well as original fans from the 70s and 80s, the gig looks to attract a new generation.

“This has such wide appeal to such a wide range of audience groups, all with their own motivations and needs – as such we must consider every channel. It’s a journey for us on so many levels – from a creative, CRM, insight point of view. The list is endless,” says Mellish.

Beyond the concert, there is more to come from the album launch in November. The venue’s 3,000 capacity has frustrated some fans. But could the experience mark a change of pace for the music industry? Why host a single gig? And why restrict it to one venue? Theoretically, people could simultaneously watch the performance from anywhere in the world – particularly with virtual or augmented reality tech.

Mellish believes the campaign will help transform the face of music and performance. For TMW, it marks a departure from recent briefs, which include creating immersive experiences for Lexus.

“Abba Voyage is a triangulation of world-class craft, on an enormous scale, blended with the magic of Abba – the implications of this are huge and it will transform live music for good, opening up an entirely new way for the world’s biggest bands to deliver concert experiences to their fans.”

He points out that this is only the start of the voyage – and he’s been sworn to secrecy on a lot more activity coming down the line. 

Watch the making-of video below. 

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