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Dude. Excel. Rocks.
Literally. The "video" for AC/DC's "Rock and Roll Train" was actually created entirely in Excel. You saw an excerpt of it in "The Office Show: Visualizing Data," and you can see the entire thing here.
I saw AC/DC in concert once, and you know, it wasn't like I was rocking out with my mullet flying around, going "Dude, this would be so awesome in an Excel spreadsheet!"
But then again, I'm not a interactive design genius like Phil Clandillon or Steve Milbourne at Sony Music Creative in London. Phil and Steve get paid to do amazing, creative projects to promote Sony's musicians. For AC/DC, they honed in on some insights that Sony researchers uncovered about the band's typically male fans. "They generally work in quite stressful office environments, and they'll go home and they'll listen to something like AC/DC as an escape from that. It's a pure rock and roll escape," they told me.
Now for most of us, Excel is awesome, but it doesn't equal "Excape" (sorry). But that's where the genius part comes in.
Phil and Steve realized that if they could sneak a little AC/DC behind the corporate firewalls that prevent so many folks from surfing the net at work, they might be able to provide that escape right in the office.
So they hatched a plan to create the video in an Excel workbook, which then could be emailed to cubicles around the world.
"It was all about being able to get around the IT department and get this content through the firewall, and we figured that Excel is a document that everybody uses that's allowed through every firewall," they said.
"We obviously knew that you can program in Excel using VB script, and we kinda wanted to do something which was impressive enough that people would be slightly wowed by it."
No kidding. Here's what they did. They rendered the entire video as ASCII text, and used Visual Basic to animate it at 12 frames per second. They had to do a little monkeying around with the video frames first, like convert them to black and white and ramp up the contrast. Then they found some ancient program that converted the images to ASCII. Seriously, when's the last time you even heard anybody mention ASCII? "We had to jump through a lot of flaming hoops to get there," they said.
A developer in Bulgaria actually created the Excel workbook, and figured out a way to associate it with the audio file. And for around 300 British pounds (less than 500 bucks) in development costs, they had a viral hit on their hands.
Now that's what I call... wait for it.... dirty data, done dirt cheap. (Sorry! Feel free to insert a better joke...). The YouTube video is up past 1.8 million views, and it racked up all kinds of awards and accolades. More than a million people downloaded the file. And they know for sure people were emailing it around, because people started mailing it back to Phil and Steve, with no idea that they were the ones who created it.
You can see some of the video and more amazing things created with Excel in The Office Show. And it's further proof that Office and the ingenuity of the people who use it make a very powerful team. Just ask Phil and Steve:
"In terms of bang for the buck, it's probably the most effective advertising we've ever been involved with."
Download the file here, and see more of Phil and Steve's astounding work at http://work.clandillon.com/. (My personal recommendation: The human synthesizer, aka, the "Humanthesizer.")
And hey, if you've done something incredible with Excel, we'd love to see it. Log a comment and let us know about it!
- Doug Kim