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McDonald's Puts Londoners Up In Lights In Picadilly Circus

A parallel, avatar universe above Picadilly Circus.

McDonald’s is giving power to the people, or, more accurately, their avatars. The brand is inviting people to populate its high-profile digital screen in London’s Piccadilly Circus with animated versions of themselves.

Situated in one of the biggest tourist hangouts in the world, the newly re-launched interactive screen aims to act like a giant visitors’ book. Dubbed "Little Piccadilly," it allows people to choose from over 300 million possible combinations of illustrated artwork and animations from the website LittlePicca.com.

Anyone can create their own characters on the site and then, once they are in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus, they can propel their creations directly onto the screen via their smartphones. McDonald’s claims it is the world’s first digital advertising screen to be fully interactive 24/7, 365 days of the year.

Leo Burnett London is the ad agency behind "Little Piccadilly" and the creative directors Charlie Martin and Ben Lunt testify to a very positive reaction so far. “The site seems to be capturing people’s imaginations,” says Lunt.

Once posted to the screen, the characters can introduce themselves and interact with each other. The site detects the default language setting of the user’s smartphone and flashes up a greeting from their character in their native language. The characters can dance, high five each other and perform magic tricks on the big screen. The sign is also updated according to the time of day, time of year, and the local weather.

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Though the screen aims to hold a “mirror” up to London, the characters don’t need to be in the image of their creators. The artwork, which is created by the illustrator Stanley Chow, offers all sorts of accessories and looks to play around with, from wheelchairs and berets, to ball gowns and monocles. There are limits though, and participants wanting to unleash their darker side on the London populace will be disappointed. “There are no untoward combinations,” Martin assures us.

So far, the creations have not been too outlandish. But it’s early days and, the team has not yet had what they call "the coach load of children test." “Imagine a coach turning up with everyone trying to create a character that looks like Rick Astley?,” says Lunt. But '80s pop stars aside, "Little Piccadilly" is prepared for just about anything that comes its way. Large groups of simultaneous postings can result in the characters doing interesting formations, like an animated human pyramid, on screen. The screen, which is designed to operate for a number years, is also set to develop added extras such as messaging and real-time games.

The team arrived at the idea for the interactive screen after spending a lot of quality time at Piccadilly Circus. “One of the things that struck us about Piccadilly Circus is that it is a little world in microcosm. It’s pretty unique in London and about as close as we have to a piazza,” says Lunt.

McDonald’s, which has had a sign at Piccadilly for over 20 years, believes "Little Piccadilly" reflects its “democratic values.” As people can post their creations to the sign directly and without moderation, Martin and Lunt see it as an expression of the “open values” of the brand.

Martin says: “This represented a truly unique opportunity, bridging real and virtual, and to be part of the architecture of one of the most iconic, instantly recognizable locations in the world. We had to do something big and special--there was no other option really.”

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