3D interactive FT wall is kind of a yawner

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Allison Schiff, web editor, Direct Marketing News
Allison Schiff, web editor, Direct Marketing News

You know that saying, “as busy as Grand Central Station?” That refers to the fact that people are constantly streaming through its hallowed main concourse to reach a multitude of train platforms. They're trying to get the last seat on the 7:15 p.m. to Scarsdale after an interminably long day at the office. Their boss was a pain; the coffee machine broke; they weren't prepared for that meeting; there's ketchup on their tie from lunch; there's a run in their stocking; they lost their office keycard somewhere and — believe me, you don't want to get in the way of a commuter on his or her way home after a harrowing day like that.

Not that The Financial Times is getting in anyone's way with its new 3D interactive billboard, which stands 70-feet tall in Grand Central's Vanderbilt Hall. It's just that I can't imagine how many people are going to stop for this for more than 30 seconds.

The exhibit will be there from March 27 through 29 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This is how it works: The interactive infographics, designed by award-winning writer and designer David McCandless, are projected onto the wall, which visitors to the hall can control and interact with through a touch-sensitive mat on the floor. The three infographics aim to parse how cell phones are transforming global economies, the U.S.'s position in the global economy and a breakdown of global recession and recovery.

The whole point of the campaign, developed by DDB Worldwide, is to creatively engage with its U.S. and global audiences, according to FT. In addition to the infographics, the push is supported by online banners, outdoor in Times Square, ads on taxi screens and a microsite dubbed “Graphic World,” where visitors can watch videos of the infographics in action, leave comments on Facebook through an embedded widget and sign up for one week of free access to FT.com (which I should day I did immediately).

The Graphic World microsite claims that its interactive stunt will “stop commuters in their tracks,” but to my mind tapping people when they're busily on their way somewhere else doesn't make them the most receptive audience — especially when you're trying to teach them about the inner workings of global economics.

I know one could say I don't have the authority to comment since I haven't seen the visuals live myself, which I could easily do if I were so inclined since Grand Central is only a 15 minute stroll away from my office. And yes, New York is certainly one of the financial capitals of the world — but not everyone lives there. What about FT's potential readership in places other than NYC? I hate to be a naysayer or criticize a newspaper's attempt to make its content resonate in the digital world, but I have to agree with Mashable's assessment: “It seems unfortunate that the FT didn't develop infographics that could have worked on the website in addition to — or even instead of — the exhibit set up in Grand Central.”

Yes, it's “cool” and flashy and the design in nonpareil, but to me this execution feels like all sizzle and no steak. And this isn't the newspaper's first lackluster microsite. Last September's Glass CityFT's attempt to brand itself in Asia — left John Gagné, VP and ECD at Proximity Canada cold. He said it had “far too much overhead for far too little payout.” Sounds familiar.

In any case, check out Graphic World in Grand Central and make your own assessment:



And now, just to be silly, click on the thumbnail to the left to view my favorite still from the video: A guy stuffing his face with a hot dog in front of McCandless' display. It's at 1:44.

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