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Case study - Engineering Happiness, 2014

Case study - Engineering Happiness, 2014

Case study researched and written by Paul Avery. 

Engineering Happiness is a YouTube video and social media campaign launched by The Institution of Civil Engineers on 19 September 2014.

Click on the video below, and prepare to boogie...


The team behind it all

The campaign is masterminded by ICE in association with Bechtel. It features engineers from across London. The video was created by Wind and Foster film productions. Directing, choreography, and other credits are given at the end. The main soundtrack is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams.

The campaign objectives

Young people are creative, inquisitive, and fascinated by new technology, but they don’t want to be engineers. How can engineering grab their attention? This campaign aimed to:

  • Show the engineering profession to be fun, diverse and rewarding
  • Entice school leavers of all genders and backgrounds to the sector
  • Promote STEM subjects at school and beyond
  • Showcase hidden infrastructure gems to the general public

Target audience

14-16 year olds with subject and career choices ahead of them.

The strategy

The campaign chose to:

  • Refresh the image of the profession with a video that is as fun and surprising as it is persuasive.
  • Consult the target audience to ensure the campaign caters to their tastes and arrives through the networks they use.
  • Broaden our idea of what engineering involves day to day and what it achieves for society.
  • Recruit enough big names and unexpected dancers to attain attention in the press as well as a few giggles.

The cast and crew

In a recent survey, ICE found that only half of 11-14 year olds would consider a job in engineering, and fewer than one in ten intend to actually pursue it. This is a huge problem when you consider that 640,000 new engineering graduates are required by 2020, according to a Royal Academy of Engineering estimate.

Recognising the urgency of reeling in the next generation of engineers, ICE immediately set about capturing their imagination with an injection of spontaneous fun.

Engineering Happiness - tweet 1

Two students from a girls’ school in Bow doing their work experience at ICE’s London office collaborated with Director Miranda Housden on the project. Together they decided to make a film that would be attention grabbing and funny rather than a more traditional talking heads documentary, and to use a soundtrack that would make 14-16 year olds pass it on to their friends via social media.

Having settled on a danceathon to ‘Happy’, work then progressed on cajoling the would-be talking heads into getting their freak on instead, which was no mean feat.

Engineering Happiness - John Armitt

Of the high profile hoofers, Sir John Armitt – Olympic mastermind, International VP of ICE, former head of Network Rail – is one of the biggest names on the bill. He is joined by other leading lights including Victoria Borwick, Deputy Mayor of London, and the heads of engineering and infrastructure at London Underground, Bechtel, ICE, and too many others to mention.

Given Lady Borwick’s contribution, Boris Johnson’s absence was conspicuous, although he spoke out to ‘welcome ICE’s imaginative approach’. Nevertheless, the impressive turnout is testament to ICE’s industry clout and the good cause the campaign represents. Such public tomfoolery requires serious mettle, so all deserve applause for taking part.

It is easy for the captains of industry to grab the headlines. Of course that helps to sell the story, but this video is about allowing people at all rungs of the ladder to share the stage and their achievements.

The film loudly asserts that young and old, men and women, tunnel-dwellers and high-fliers are all truly, ecstatically happy in their career choice as engineers. Apart from anything else they look like a fun bunch to hang out with – one important part of the message ICE wanted to get across to potential recruits.

The setting

So engineers are happy, but the other part of the message – which appears in caps at the close of the shape-throwing montage – is that ‘ENGINEERS ARE AMAZING’. This comes across most directly in the second part of the video, detailing why each venue is significant, its history, benefit to society, feats of sustainability, and so on.

Even if viewers’ attention has waned by the time the frivolity ends, they will still have had their fill of awe-inspiring backdrops and widely varied projects. The interplay between the entertaining footwork in the foreground and such monumental sights as the Thames Barrier, Crossrail tunnels, and the Olympic Park in the background makes for delightful viewing.

Who wouldn’t want to sing and dance about working in such sublime locations? They aren’t only stunning; they also remind us how much important work engineers do behind the scenes in everyday life, providing water, power, and transport, protecting us from flooding, and setting the stage for historic sporting events.

The backdrops are well chosen despite being restricted to the capital, but the undisputed triumph of selection in this case is obviously the song choice. It is a stroke of good fortune that the feel-good hit of the year also happened to express ICE’s primary message with the almost-too-perfect recruitment rallying cry of ‘come along if you feel like that’s what you want to do’. Not to mention other appropriate lyrics to do with incomplete structures (‘room without a roof’) and indestructability (‘can’t nothing bring me down’).

Engineering Happiness 1

Viral load

The video itself is a triumph. So at first it is very surprising that, although ICE London plasters it everywhere, the national ICE website carries an entirely different video on its homepage.

It is called ‘Shaping the World’ and features a sombre gentleman in a bleak winter landscape brooding over the challenges of civilisation. It oozes gravitas, and apart from the obligatory sequence of beautiful bridges and dams it has nothing in common with Engineering Happiness.

In fact, in many ways they are opposites: a trudge through the snow in a coal-black overcoat couldn’t be more different than the high-vis cavorting of Engineering Happiness. Instead of a dance party it presents a grave monologue. Instead of ‘I’m happppppyyyyy’ it says ‘I’m serious’.

Engineering Happiness - serious

The contrast puts ICE’s intentions for Engineering Happiness in a sharper light: it is obviously aimed at a different crowd, and expected to be shared in a dramatically different way.

While the main website caters for existing engineers (and relegates the dancing to a transient news post), ICE’s social media face is explicitly geared towards the engineers of the future (and doesn’t show the other video at all).

The ICE Facebook page was the launch platform for Engineering Happiness, and its specific intention was to go viral.

The hallmark of viral online content is that it spreads organically, allowing its source to connect with people way beyond its usual sphere of influence. Because this campaign is targeted precisely at people not already involved in the industry – school-aged children – it sensibly neglects the website in favour of the more dynamic platform that social media affords.

Engineering Happiness - 3


Thanks to the right mixture of silliness and cool backdrops, with some surprising performers and a well-chosen soundtrack, the video really got around. It had 33,400 views in the first week and now has over 96,000, as well as 800 likes and 100+ comments from enthusiastic viewers.

The Twitter hashtag #Engineeringhappiness was hugely popular and not at all dominated by ICE staff, while each Facebook post relating to the video was liked a few hundred times, often shared, and boosted the ICE page likes to an impressive total of 160,000. Everyone in the industry hyped it up too, including Sarah Sillars OBE in her renowned skills blog.

Miranda Housden attributes the viral success of the film to its life-affirming and unexpected qualities, but also to the big promotional push provided by the people involved. Because the project engaged with so many organisations and people who are proud to be associated with it, the film was shared enthusiastically from the start.

Insofar as the spread of a virus can be pushed along, ICE sneezed on as many buses as it could. Internal staff were encouraged to plug the video on their personal accounts, and the official press release bulletins even provided template tweets for busy or unimaginative fans, which a lot of people used. The ‘clap your hands…’ tweet was catchy enough to become a kind of hashtag within a hashtag, helping to fan the flames further.

Aside from views, likes, shares and re-tweets, the impact of the campaign is being measured by the enthusiasm and support received from schools and the industry.

Miranda Housden says that a significant number of companies have already asked for permission to screen the video at events and awards ceremonies, while a programme to engage directly with schoolchildren across the capital is in the works. ICE were also delighted to receive nods from a few government departments, including the PM himself.

As for news media with a massive audience, the story was picked up in The Guardian, The Independent, and Construction Index. The video was flaunted by Cambridge University Engineering Department, Women’s Engineering Society, and Infrastructure Intelligence.

It also had its own discussion board on the unstoppable force that is mumsnet. And coverage wasn’t limited to the UK either, with outlets including Engineers Australia, Dutch site thedailygood.nl, and even Tampa Bay Gay News Today getting in on the action. 

But such impressive global reach shouldn’t distract from the glory that is a spot in the national left-leaners. And not just a mention in The Independent but a multi-page spread complete with insight from Dame Sue Ion, VP of The Royal Academy of Engineering, and the (thermo-) dynamically geeky headline: ‘If engineering is hot, will it expand to meet demand for new recruits?’

The Guardian focuses more closely on Sir John Armitt, the headline act of the video, who wanted to ‘prove to a new generation of students that engineering is not all about mucky overalls and bashing metal.’ With Engineering Happiness, ICE certainly did the job.

Engineering Happiness - Guardian