A Few Thoughts About The 24HoursOfHappiness Experience

UPDATE: The experience also wins the Grand Prix at Cannes.
UPDATE: The experience wins the 2014 Webby for the Best Use of Interactive Video.
UPDATE: The experience is no longer operational in its original format.

Probably like many folks, I had never heard of the International Day of Happiness before last week. However, last Wednesday night I was going though my LinkedIn feed when I noticed a post mentioning it. I clicked on the link and was taken to a website that claimed to be doing the world’s first 24-hour music video. The music video would feature Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” which I’ve liked from the first time hearing the song. It reminds me of an old Motown-era tune that just puts a smile on your face. So I thought the partnership seemed like it could be a great fit.

It turns out the International Day of Happiness (#HappyDay) was created by the United Nations in 2012 to recognize the “relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.” Now, being the realist that I am, I certainly understand the skepticism around a day of mass organized “happiness,” but given that it was the United Nations, I hoped for the best. Besides, with a missing airliner weighing on anybody around the world with even the slightest bit of empathy, a politically divided country, and enough other bad news in any given day to ruin it, I thought folks could probably stand to use a bit of cheering up.

(Before I proceed, here’s the bad part: The experience is built using Flash, so if you’re on a mobile device it won’t work for you.)

After landing on http://24hoursofhappiness.com and being greeted with a prestitial ad soliciting a donation, the site loads and a video of an artist named Angel, who does a fantastic acoustic soul cover of Happy (see video below), plays behind the ad. I close the ad and watch the rest of the video. After a slight but bearable pause, an artist by the name of Raashi Kulkarni plays an inspired classical version of the song. Her video features what appears to be her family and friends holding up pictures of things that make them happy. I’m starting to really like the concept.

My friend Ligiah, who is a brilliant filmmaker, made a documentary several years ago where she went around the world asking the same set of 16 questions to people: about love/relationships, our desires for our family, etc. I remember leaving the theater after watching it — I was struck by how much I felt connected to the rest of the world. No matter what part of the world, we basically all want the same things – happiness. I was thinking that maybe this would be the online musical equivalent of my friend’s documentary – only I could experience it from the chair in my home office. I love technology!

Between Happy getting its cameo in the movie “Despicable Me 2” and the resulting global Oscar telecast performance, its appearance in the Fiat commercial with Sean Combs, reading about it topping Billboard’s Hot 100 chart multiple times, topping the U.K. charts, etc. – all in the last month or so – I figure there probably isn’t a person on the planet who wouldn’t recognize the song. The timing absolutely feels right for the experience.

I notice the 24-hour timeline at the bottom of the site. It shows that I have entered at “hour 3.” I also notice a descending timer with the words, “Until The Next TimeZone (sic) Is Unlocked.” I try clicking on the navigation buttons: the two back buttons take me to the previous video and previous time zone, however, neither forward button works. I assume they’ll navigate the same way as the back buttons after the 24-hour period has expired (that turns out to be true). I hit the “Share This Video” button and my Facebook page pops up in a separate window ready to execute a post featuring the name of the video I am watching — great for spreading the word.

After a slightly off key interpretation of the song by a female artist (all good, it’s user-generated content) and a cool kind of hip-hop a capella cover by five guys and a gal, the timer strikes zero and the next time zone unlocks. The letters T-O-K-Y-O appear on the screen and Pharrell’s version of the song begins to play. A number of Japanese folks dance through various part of the city. I’ve been to Japan but not to Tokyo — I’ve always wanted to go. For three and a half minutes I’m vicariously transported there. It makes me feel, well, happy. I think about the Fukushima disaster… It’s good to see people in Japan smiling and dancing. I know they’re still going through a lot.

Over the course of the evening, I check to see what’s happening in some of the time zones. It’s a full 24-hour experience, so I wake up in the morning wondering what I might have missed while sleeping. I watch a few videos from the missed time zones and find more interesting versions. I also check throughout the rest of the day when time permits. One of the things I enjoy doing each New Year’s Eve is watching footage of the various countdowns across the time zones around the world leading up to mine in Los Angeles — it feels a bit like that to me. While I have a hunch the experience will live on after IDOH is over, the timeline compels me to want to experience it in real time – as much as possible anyway. The unlocking of each new time zone feels like a communal event.

(In the interest of time, I’ve embedded some of the videos here on my blog. However, you really won’t get the true feel of the experience unless you view the videos within the timeline on the site.)

Artist Covers

Angel (Acoustic Soul)

Raashi Kulkarni (Classical)

Dance Videos With Pharrell’s Version






Ivory Coast

Brands That Seized The Day

Southwest Airlines (I love how she changes the entire mood of the plane by the end)

Norwegian Cruise Line

24hoursofhappiness was an ambitious project from both a technical and conceptual standpoint. With Happy being at the peak of its popularity now, I suspect the partnership with Pharrell is a one time occurrence (at least with regard to that song), so I’m glad they decided to go as big as possible. Having said that, there were some glaring issues that limited the success of the project from the onset that I wish they could have resolved.

As mentioned previously: mobile accessibility. When I accessed the site from both my desktop and laptop computers, the experience was absolutely terrific. However, when I pulled the site up on both my Android phone and Android tablet, the navigation buttons worked but the actual videos did not. Obviously the iPhone would not show any parts of the site that are coded in Flash.

In terms of functionality, the most complex thing the site seems to be doing is calling video playlists from Pharrell’s YouTube channel and allowing the user to play them, or move backwards and forwards within them. Given the resources of the United Nations and Sony Music (Pharrell’s record label), I assume they would have built a mobile site (using HTML5, etc.) if it was possible and not cost prohibitive. Unfortunately, without a mobile site the experience simply could not get the traction it needed.

YouTube does have APIs, so my guess is that it would be possible to build iPhone and Android apps. However, I can certainly understand why they didn’t. Unlike the Samsung/Jay Z partnership, for example, the user isn’t getting free music or anything tangible, so I think they would be less inclined to download an app of any kind simply to view the experience.

Ironically, I had been tinkering with using the sequencing of YouTube playlists to tell a linear narrative last summer when I shot some video segments for our Seahawks group. It was for an all day preseason party that I wanted to show in chronological order. I ended up using a sequenced playlist on our YouTube channel, but I hadn’t seen other instances of playlists being used in a similar manner there. So, from that standpoint, I thought the use of the 24-hour timeline was very innovative. While the experience doesn’t tell a linear narrative per se, the timeline is certainly the glue that holds the concept together.

From a conceptual standpoint, I think creating an experience of this nature is bold. But I think organizations absolutely must be daring to cut through the high level of clutter existing within social media these days. Especially as it pertains to charitable giving. With the rise of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc., I probably receive at least three requests a week on Facebook to fund friends’ recording projects, new tech products, etc. Additionally, from the looks of the Twitter profiles of the people that were tweeting on IDOH, building an experience around Web video seemed to resonate well with millennials.

It was predominantly individuals tweeting with the #Happyday hastag, however, there were also brands/organizations: YouTube, UNICEF, CNN, Music Dealers, etc. Here’s an example: Southwest Airlines tweeted a video of YouTube star iJustine dancing to Happy on one of their flights. Similarly, Norwegian Cruise Line featured the crew of one of its ships. Coca-Cola had its own #HappyDay Music Mix, but also referenced @Pharrell with its tweets. I imagine that brands will be eager to associate themselves with the day as long as they can do so in an authentic way. As the awareness of the day grows, I think so too will the number of brands participating.

I believe the Foundation’s use of music as a way of connecting with particularly millennials around the International Day of Happiness is right on the money. While I don’t think Happy will be used again, I can certainly imagine, for example, the Foundation soliciting artists from around the world to upload videos of songs they have written around the theme of happiness. The best of those videos could then be sequenced using a similar timeline format so they reveal over a 24-hour period. Or, they could partner with a brand like Coca-Cola that already has a robust music program to find artists via music competitions, etc. (as long as it doesn’t have the feel of being overly commercialized).

I look forward to seeing what the Foundation will do next year.

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