London, we have lift-off

Fair-trade company cafédirect gets a boost when Damon Albarn and others perform in the London Eye for a select few.
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The Independent Online

Having criticised Bob Geldof's plans for Live8, Damon Albarn has found an African-flavoured arts festival that is much more his cup of organic coffee.

Having criticised Bob Geldof's plans for Live8, Damon Albarn has found an African-flavoured arts festival that is much more his cup of organic coffee.

Tomorrow Albarn will climb aboard one of the pods of the London Eye to give an exclusive performance to an audience of no more than 20. During the half hour the capsule takes to complete a single revolution, the Blur singer has agreed to perform songs "inspired by visions of Africa" in order to raise money for the fair-trade hot drinks company cafédirect.

In other capsules, ticketholders will get close-up concerts from Beth Orton and Turin Brakes or an intimate performance from actors with the Royal Court Theatre or a stand-up routine from comedian Jo Brand. In total, 96 performances will take place for the lucky 2,000 people who obtained the £21 tickets.

The extraordinary event, called Flight 5065 (named after cafédirect's instant coffee brand), has been three months in the planning and - as well as breaking new ground in the arts - could revolutionise British marketing. Rather than using traditional advertising platforms, cafédirect is attempting to market its brand through live performance, creating a buzz through word of mouth.

Robin Smith, creative director of the advertising agency Host, which planned Flight 5065 for cafédirect, says: "This would have made a good television commercial but we wouldn't have had any money to air it. We are creating a new media platform for cafédirect."

The success of such an approach is dependent, he says, on providing high-quality content that not only raises the status of the brand but also gives customers a story to relate to friends. He says: "The power of this kind of marketing is that if we do it right it lives with people for a long time. Whereas the average ad does not live with you for much longer than you are looking at it."

Cafédirect, which works with 250,000 growers in 11 countries, enjoys considerable goodwill from celebrity supporters. Nonetheless, it is a commercial organisation that needs to convince consumers that they are getting a high-quality product for what is a premium price.

Helen Ireland, communications director of cafédirect, says: "We've always tried to be a pioneer and do things today which we hope other people will do tomorrow." The London Eye neatly fits the coffee's branding of being "uplifting" and the Flight 5065 event is designed, like the drink, to arouse the senses. "It's important that there's a synergy in what we are doing," Ireland says. "When you do something in a positive way people engage with that. They will talk to their friends about their experiences of being in a pod with Damon Albarn or the Royal Court Theatre."

The event was modestly advertised through the London Calling flyer distribution outfit and emails from Ticketweb. Three ads were placed in The Independent, showing a digitally created image of Madonna as a coffee grower, which in turn generated editorial coverage in the Daily Mirror. The concept for Flight 5065 grew out of an earlier cafédirect project - also devised by Host - called The Lift, in which "audiences" were invited to step into a steel box, the size of a standard elevator, and be entertained by performance artists. The project, initially staged on Brighton beach, was transferred to the Edinburgh festival, where it was critically acclaimed.

The idea of both these projects, according to Smith, was to mirror the close relationship between cafédirect and its tea and coffee growers in the developing world through the intimacy between the performers and the audience in a confined space. "It really is quite intense," he says. "I've read tons of pieces about the holy grail of holistic marketing and that's exactly what we are trying to achieve: to make the idea live in the client."

Host itself is not so much an ad agency as a network that does not retain employees but builds teams of specialist workers for specific projects. For Flight 5065 the team is 300-strong. "We get high-powered people working in short bursts," says Smith.

There is one drawback with the project, he acknowledges. This radical form of marketing is difficult to evaluate. "You just have to watch the heat and look for a lift in sales," he says. "It's hard to measure but much more fulfilling."