sethjacksonheadshot2_-_Copy_(681x1024)Innovate, impress, inspire, be remembered; worthy goals for any organisation striving for success, but with so much competition they’re not easy to achieve. Nevertheless, Bristol-based agency Strange Thoughts seeks to do all four, not only for itself but for the brands it provides creative media services for.

Working with the likes of Reebok, Samsung, Skype, and O2, the organisation has gone from strength to strength, carving itself a niche within Bristol’s growing tech scene. We spoke to Founder and Managing Director, Seth Jackson, to learn more.

Since 1999, Seth has founded a number of tech startups within the music and entertainment industries – some more successful than others, he admits – but by the time he founded Strange Thoughts in 2013, he was already very familiar with the media world. More importantly, he knew exactly what it needed.

Crowdsourcing expertise

This latest venture aims to find innovative, memorable, and fun solutions to branding and marketing challenges, using the collaborative power of creative experts from a variety of fields. More than a year on, that vision is the same, something Seth believes is unusual for many successful organisations.

The agency initially drew from what Seth describes as “the experimental academic talent” of Bristol. Although there are now offices in both London and Milan, he notes that the city remains integral to the company’s success, and the source of around 90 per cent of its tech talent.

Another asset unique to the city is the Pervasive Media Studio, the interdisciplinary lab within which the company’s projects come to life. Seth himself spends a large portion of his working week there, while even the agency’s London-based collaborators regularly travel to Bristol to make use of the facility. This is where the magic happens. Whatever the location, at the heart of all of Strange Thoughts’ projects is the desire “to make people smile, engage, and laugh”, he explains. “It’s expert crowdsourcing for fun”.

Beer and particle physics

Past commissions have focussed on reinventing traditional brand promotion via digital schemes including, amongst other things, a unique body-scanning dome that incorporated particle physics to recreate the movement of atoms as people danced, a thought-controlled beer-pouring robot (which we can all agree is the proof we’ve reached tech nirvana), and the creation of a customisable pocket spacecraft to enable a crowdfunded mission to the moon. The word is eclectic.

“By introducing creators to the challenges posed by the brands with which the agency works, it’s possible to do fantastic things”

 

One of the agency’s most recent triumphs, which Seth describes as “simple and lovely”, arose from a collaboration with internet incubator WebStart Bristol at which the Strange Thoughts’ founder acts as a mentor. The goal was to promote the release of a new album from indie rock band alt-J.

With the help of a powerful music-streaming service, they created a mobile app that allowed users to access the album by visiting a location revealed to them via Google Maps. While not the sole reason for the album’s success (it reached number one), this geo-listening event met with huge acclaim, gave their fans something tangible they could interact with and the band kudos for ingenuity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg0U6n0IHwo

Projects like this really embody the Strange Thoughts spirit. As Seth explains, it can be hard to find the funding to realise interesting and creative ideas. However, by introducing creators to the challenges posed by the brands with which the agency works, it’s possible to do fantastic things. He does acknowledge it’s not for everyone: “You need a client that’s brave and willing to take a risk”. Even so, the rewards for taking that risk can be spectacularly memorable.

Bristol’s flourishing tech scene

Moving forward, Strange Thoughts aspires to develop its own tech in collaboration with its team of ‘creators’. As it stands, the intellectual property of Strange Thoughts’ team is protected via the agency, which actively encourages people to approach them with ideas, and Seth emphasises his interest in innovative and experimental undertakings.

In Bristol particularly, he feels the pool of talent and resources has widened substantially: “The last nine months in Bristol have been very exciting”, he remarks.

The agency’s work made Seth an obvious choice to act as a judge at TechSPARK’s 2014 awards, The SPARKies. The yearly event is a great opportunity for tech startups in Bristol and Bath to showcase their talent and demonstrate what they have to offer. Seth describes it as a great chance for the two communities to come together and share ideas.

“At the heart of all of Strange Thoughts’ projects is the desire ‘to make people smile, engage, and laugh'”

 

Through his work with Strange Thoughts, Seth is already very familiar with many of the startups in the Bristol area. Comparatively, however, he says he has little idea about the sort of projects that are going on in nearby Bath. As such, he says events like the SPARKies introduce much-needed opportunities for collaboration and increase the cohesion between the two communities.

By sharing expertise in this way and being unafraid to take a chance on an avant-garde idea it’s possible to create ground-breaking initiatives that both captivate and inspire, as Strange Thoughts have demonstrated.

What’s next for the agency? Seth hints at a “secret shoe project” that’s currently on the cards, but that’s all he can tell us for now.

Details of past projects are available at StrangeThoughts.co.uk, along with details on how to contact Seth’s team should you have any Strange Thoughts of your own.