How We Made Chobani's 'Giving Tree' Installation in Grand Central

A high-tech activation in a classical venue

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary and recent rebrand, Chobani looked to place greater emphasis on its mission of giving. To do so, the brand decided to go big. 

Building on the theme of The Giving Tree, Chobani wanted an innovative, symbolic, one-day activation in a high-profile, public New York City location. What better place than Grand Central Station, the iconic high-traffic commuter hub that boasts over 750,000 people passing through every day? 

The original goal was simple—create an event that was open to the public and gave everyone chance to physically "activate" a Giving Tree and donate yogurt to children in need. Working with the brand, my experience agency HUSH then conceived an interactive and playful installation that would grab attention, stop people in their tracks, encourage interaction and "giving back," as well as leverage some surprising technology. 

Before we got started, though, there was some critical research and ideation to be done. This included finding solutions to key parts of the activation, beginning with the experience itself. 

As most New Yorkers know, Grand Central can be a whirlwind, so we began site scouting weeks before to evaluate the behaviors of people within the hub, tracking their speed, movement and attitude—which changed throughout the day—as well as sight lines and lighting. 

From there, we had to figure out how to compete with the scale and grandeur of Grand Central with our installation. To accomplish this, we decided to build something that contrasted with the classic architectural language of the venue—a high-tech, modern and bold gesture. In this case, a "living" LED-lit tree. 

It was also crucial to get the scale right. From our perspective, a "Giving Tree" experience would only deliver the feeling of being under an immense tree awning if we committed to the large scale of the technology surface. Anything smaller would diminish the metaphor and make the experience less impactful. 

After looking at several technology platforms, we realized that interacting with anything traditionally "digital," like touch screens or glass surfaces, would instantly take the human-ness out of the experience. As such, we built our own system of tactile capacitive sensors and worked with wood materials and lighting to make the interaction feel less technical, even though it was actually quite high-tech. 

How did it actually work? Throughout the day, Chobani invited passersby to interact with 12 physical domes and plant digital "seeds" by placing their hands on the surfaces and letting go. This in turn sent light impulses up an LED-illuminated tree trunk and triggered magical, vibrant fruit explosions on the large-scale, LED ceiling panel above, which was designed as a lush digital tree canopy. 

Chobani | Giving Tree

The payoff was huge, visually and sonically, and those interacting were not only instantly rewarded with a coupon for free product samples, but the positive feeling of donating a cup of yogurt to those who might need it the most. 

During the course of the one-day event, the interactive Chobani tree installation was activated nearly 22,000 times, which translated into approximately 261,750 cups being donated. Of course, the most fulfilling aspect of this project was helping children in need, but seeing passersby experience our installation was also a real treat. We solved a lot of design challenges very quickly, while retaining the original vision for a bold, beautiful gesture within one of New York's most iconic spaces. 

Working intimately with Chobani's creative team to figure the strategic nuances and clarity of messaging to guide participants, we felt we delivered something truly rewarding.

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