Interactive Music Videos Deliver an Eerily Personalized Experience

It’s fun to browse for music videos online. It’s even more fun when the viewer can actually participate in the creation of the video itself. Such is the case with “personalized videos,” the latest advent in music video-making.

The shining exemplar of this newfound approach is called The Wilderness Downtown, and it’s the main feature at its website. The site is basically a full-on multimedia experience set to a song from the latest album by indie-rock group Arcade Fire; though, the experience is not nearly as much of a testament to the band as it is to the capabilities of the technology it employs. It represents a true feat in modern interactive storytelling.

Before starting the video, the viewer is asked to enter the address of the house that they grew up in. While it plays, the video gathers data from Google Maps and incorporates both overhead and street-level footage of the viewer’s childhood residence into the playback. This creates a truly unique (and intensely personal) viewing experience for any participating viewer. Different addresses will return different playback results, meaning that the video is different for everyone. As we watch, we’re captivated by the nostalgic imagery of our hometown neighborhood and taken aback by its seamless integration into the overall narrative. At the end of the day, it simply must be seen to be believed!

Wilderness is encoded exclusively in HTML5 to ensure the fluid playback of its sprawling visual and contextual scope. This means that you’ll need a browser with HTML5 support (like Google Chrome or Opera) to experience the video—so be sure to download it at home and check the site out. It really is quite remarkable!

The Johnny Cash Project is another interactive music video you won't want to miss.

The Johnny Cash Project is another interactive music video you won't want to miss.

Also noteworthy is the interactive art venture called The Johnny Cash Project. Its website showcases a user-generated music video of a song from the singer’s posthumous album America VI, released in February of 2010. The term “user-generated” is perhaps the simplest way to describe the video, but it’s not entirely accurate. The video is a landmark achievement in what’s referred to as “crowd-sourced” art. Crowdsourcing is a collaborative process by which members of a large group are designated several small, specific tasks—the ultimate aim being that their individual efforts will coalesce to form the whole of the project.

In the case of the Cash project, the endeavor is to create an evolving video memorial to the iconic musician using artistic input from the site’s visitors. Essentially, everyone is allowed to contribute in their own small way to the overall visual design. Visitors at the site use a customized drawing tool to create a unique rendition of one specific frame of video. Here’s the clincher: there are over a thousand frames to the video; and since each frame is a different person’s artistic take on the subject matter, the end-result is basically a moving and changing portrait. It’s stylistically diverse but intimate in tone. And again, it simply must be viewed to be truly understood! By the way, it’s recently been nominated for a Grammy Award (Best Short-Form Music Video). Take a look at the main site (linked above) or watch the video on YouTube.

Artistically, these approaches represent a bold new step in music video filmmaking. Allowing the viewer to participate in the creation and development of a video is an intriguingly modern touch on a decades-old concept. We’ve had the technology to do so, but now we’re seeing it applied in a more accessible fashion.

There will always be a growing need for advertisers, marketers and distributors to engaging more directly with consumers and target markets. Can this personalized approach be applied to branding in some way? Should individuals be allowed to participate more directly in the expansion of a brand or service using interactive media?

Heading image is a screenshot from The Wilderness Downtown. All rights reserved.

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. QLP Jill

    The Arcade Fire video is seriously the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen! Unfortunately, there “isn’t enough Google Map data” to use the address of the house I grew up in, but I was able to use another neighborhood and it worked out just fine. Normally I’m creeped out by super-personalized things like this, but I’ll make an exception in this case. I keep going back to the site because different addresses yield a completely different visual experience. The Johnny Cash video is phenomenal as well…it’s so cool that they let fans animate individual frames! This allows them to feel connected with the video in ways they probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I think that individuals should absolutely be allowed to participate more directly in a brand’s expansion by using interactive media, but not necessarily in the same way as these personalized music videos do. For example, more and more ad campaigns are using REAL people/customers instead of celebrity endorsements, and some companies are even listening to user feedback to develop new products or services. Harmonix (the masterminds behind the first 2 Guitar Hero games AND the Rock Band games) is a good example of this: they consistently listen to user feedback in order to develop and improve their products/services for the next game. Feedback ranges from individual song/band requests to specific technical issues with the equipment. If more brands did this, then I think they’d have a lot more customers ENGAGED with them…and that’s ever-so important nowadays. People want to know that their opinions matter to brands.

    Customers are looking for brands, products, and services that are easily distinguished from the rest, and I think that more personalized experiences could be the ticket to bigger sales and better customer satisfaction! 🙂

    FASCINATING topic and post!

    • JJ "Suite G"

      I’m not exactly sure how personalized media can be applied to branding, but I agree that companies should always find ways of listening to consumer feedback or participating with consumers more directly. When we feel that we can relate more directly to a brand, we’re more likely to buy into it.


    I wasn’t able to get up my house either. I just ended up typing in my high school and it brought back some great memories. Great post, I really enjoyed this website.

    • JJ "Suite G"

      It’s nice that the “Wilderness” site is designed in such an open way that even if your initial address doesn’t work, an alternative one most likely will. The resultant video is still a thematically enjoyable experience. Hopefully, companies can find a way to apply this kind of personalized design in different areas.

      • Cybernetic SAM

        The Johnny Cash Project is AWESOME! I am totally going to get in on that action!

  3. LGroce

    Unfortunately I couldn’t use my house either. However, I was able to use my current home and a lot has changed in 2 years.
    It’s unbelievable the technology that is at people’s fingertips now and I could really see this type of personalized media taking off in the new year.

  4. Vernon

    It is kinda like what Apple/GAP has been doing w/its commercials. I would send this out if it wasn’t so choppy in Firefox

  5. AJansen

    I was also unable to use my home address, but I did use my aunt’s address where I spent a lot of time as a kid. It was incredible to see such a personal video made up in such a little amount of time. I believe this kind of interactive media has great potential in becoming the “next big thing” in the marketing/advertising world.

  6. Cybernetic SAM

    Ah yes, I love these! I think it is a great way to market. After all, everyone wants to be a celebrity, and what better way to make someone feel that way, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I remember one of the first times I did this was for a swedish website:

    What do you know…it was a wide-spread international viral video! Not only was it fun to make but it was freaking hilarious, especially for those people who weren’t tech savvy and with a few clicks were both amazed and amused! I think interactive marketing is a good idea, even if you don’t listen to Arcade Fire I bet you’ll try this video at least once and maybe even show someone, well that is a win for the band no matter how you feel about the music!

  7. LK

    Another example of interactive media that has been used recently is those “Elf-Yourself” video/songs that come out around the holidays. I can’t remember what company it was that started them (staples maybe?), but they definitely got traffic to their website from this campaign. Around the holidays you see a bunch of those goofy lil dancing elves with your friends faces all over the internet!

  8. Bret Bonnet

    This is PURE genius as crowd sourcing is becoming an increasing BIGGER part of marking these days and interactive marketing such as these video will no doubt make an even BIGGER splash in 2011.

    Making individual persons the center of transactions — such as an interactive music video, puts the focus on the personal brand and, when effectively engaged and nurtured, can be a powerful driver of commerce transactions + brand loyalty.

    … and to think, MTV just dropped the tag line “Music Television” from their logo; they must have seen this trend coming before we all did! 🙂

    • JJ "Suite G"

      I’m surprised that there really aren’t many examples of this trend yet. It hasn’t quite taken off as quickly as I would have expected, but I agree that we’ll likely see more and more personalized and crowd-sourced videos in the near future.

      I had no idea MTV dropped the “Music Television” label. But, whatever–it’s not like anyone (outside the tween market) is watching it anymore.

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