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How To Make A Cannes Contender: “Take This Lollipop”

In one of a series of interviews with the creatives behind Cannes frontrunners, Co.Create asked Tool of North America director Jason Zada to discuss the genesis of Take This Lollipop, an interactive film/social media experiment that scared the bejesus out of millions.

How To Make A Cannes Contender: “Take This Lollipop”

It’s one thing to have an ex stalking you on Facebook. It’s quite another to find out some sweaty guy in a basement somewhere, off his meds, is obsessing over your profile. And that’s why “Take This Lollipop” was so freakin’ creepy. The app, launched last year just before Halloween, used Facebook Connect to make brave participants the stars of an interactive horror video that shows a scary-looking dude sitting in a dark room studying your status updates, lingering over your photos and ultimately mapping your address and heading to your home with a picture of you attached to his dashboard. Come to think of it, who would even want to be a part of this experience?

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Millions as it turns out. In just thirty days, “Take This Lollipop” got over 60 million visits and earned 10 million Facebook likes from around the world, making it the most successful Facebook app ever. Beyond being entertaining in a rather dark way, the nightmare-inducing app also got people thinking about how much information they should share via social networks. Co.Create interviewed Jason Zada, the Tool of North America director behind the app, to find out why he made it and how he made it great.

Co.Create: What was your initial concept?

Jason Zada: Originally, I just wanted to scare people for Halloween and, in doing that, to do it in an innovative way. I’ve always been into Halloween, and I wanted to create an experience that was as scary as it could be while integrating technology in a seamless way.

At what point did you know you were on the right track?

When I originally edited the piece together and shared it with people, before we had integrated Facebook Connect, the response I got was generally like, ‘Yeah, this is cool,’ but I don’t think they quite got it. When we finally got the interactivity enabled, I sent it to someone and decided to chat with them on a webcam while they were watching it. I literally watched them watch it, just because I was curious to see an honest reaction. I thought it was scary but you never know. In watching a couple of people go through the experience, I realized it was provoking a really strong emotional response.

What were some of the key choices that made this project really work and made it successful from an awards standpoint and a general audience standpoint?

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It’s a simple idea if you really deconstruct it, and the execution is really simple as well. It doesn’t try to do too much. It doesn’t try to be too many things. It stays very focused. I noticed this at the AICP Next Awards, just in hearing some of the judges talk about it: Simplicity mixed with seamless, strong execution–those are two really good things to have in any project. I think people responded to it because it was so simple and so focused.

Why do you think this particular construct worked so well?

Well, I think that people really open themselves up to frights and general spookiness during the whole month of October and around Halloween specifically. Making it something that was most definitely for Halloween was important. Just as importantly, though, was the fact that it was very close-looped. You couldn’t send it to anyone. You couldn’t see anyone else’s experience. It spread in this very organic way where once someone’s friend told them that they had to see it, then they just had to do it. People would share it with this sense of, ‘Well, I don’t want to tell you too much, you have to do it.’ I think that’s intriguing.

What did you gather from the popularity of this app?

After I had started to see the results come in, I realized that this had unlocked a new form of storytelling. I think this sort of personalized storytelling as a category or platform or genre or medium is really interesting. This notion of people integrating themselves into some form of entertainment has been around for a while, but this one truly made you into one of the characters in the experience. I think that that opened up some interesting doors on the storytelling side of things that moved beyond just what’s happening on the Internet, and that speaks to more traditional forms of storytelling as well.

About the author

Christine Champagne is a New York City-based journalist best known for covering creativity in television and film, interviewing the talent in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. She has written for outlets including Emmy, Variety, VanityFair.com, Redbook, Time Out New York and TVSquad.com.

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