Jack The Ripper and the East End – 2007

Creating publicity for the first ticketed exhibition at Museum of London Docklands, our brief was to strike a balance – accessible and populist but not gory or sensationalist.

Jack the Ripper and the East End - stack of newspapers on a wet, stone floor

As the subject for their first ticketed exhibition, the Museum of London Docklands (then known as Museum in Docklands) chose the notorious killer, Jack the Ripper.

The Victorian character is well known through countless retellings and fictionalisations but there had never been an exhibition devoted to him. This exhibition was definitely not a salacious ‘who was he’ examination. Instead it focused on the story as a pivot point in English history – the first use of forensic science, the emergence of a recognised police-force, the beginnings of tabloid journalism and a moment of social history where immigrants and society’s outcasts were overflowing from the slums and imposing themselves on London society.

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As is often the case with an exciting brief, we all wanted to have a go at the creative concept work. We ended up producing several options as the starting point for discussions with our clients.

The newspaper route was chosen because it encapsulates so many aspects and stories in a single image.

Jack the Ripper and the East End. Poster for Museum in Docklands exhibition.

We created and printed the papers (actually just the covers, wrapped around copies of The Guardian) and bundled them in string. Then we photographed them as if left on a street corner. The grounds of St Alfege church in Greenwich were selected for its authentic flagstone paving and spooky atmosphere; we were given some very strange looks when we were there, photographing into the night.

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Designer James Hurst, setting up for the evening photo-shoot.

With the main campaign image in place we were able to build on the theme, using the aesthetics of newspapers to create all of the accompanying communications and publicity materials.

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Jack the Ripper leafet spread

The publicity image was so popular that it was picked up by many different press outlets. We were even commissioned by BBC History Magazine to create the front cover of their Jack the Ripper special.

BBC Music Magazine, featuring Cog Design's work for Museum of London Docklands

One of our favourite parts of the campaign was that we were able to build a microsite as part of the publicity mix.

Picking up on the theme of the anonymous notes sent by ‘Jack’ to the police, we created a ‘viral’ video that could be sent to your friends and would contain their name.

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The basic idea is that you receive an email from a friend that has the qualities of a Victorian ransom note. By clicking on a link you go to a video; a short film shows a stack of papers being cut up and made into an anonymous note, the note is folded and wax-sealed; it drops through a letterbox and the camera follows as the envelope is picked up, sliced open and the note is unfolded to reveal… your name and an invitation to visit the exhibition.

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You are then invited to repeat the process by creating your own note (using drag and drop slices of newsprint), registering your name and email address and then forwarding to friends. The pay off is that by sending the note to three friends you receive a 20%-off voucher.

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It’s a simple idea but a complex task to deliver; individually rendered video clips are linked via a sophisticated database containing your message and the details of you and your friends. We created the video and all of the graphics ourselves, but we had to call in a specialist development company to build the back-end systems. They used a then new technology, Adobe’s Flex3, which combines with Flash to interrogate databases and deliver video in a fraction of the time of other systems.

It was great fun to work on and hugely successful in driving traffic. Sadly, as the technology is now outdated, we can’t host the site anymore but you can still see the raw video, below.

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