When it comes to massive sporting events like the World Cup, major marketers show up in droves, eager to grab a moment’s attention from a captivated global audience. But with so many brand voices rushing to the pitch, it can be difficult for a brand to differentiate itself.
So for its 2014 football campaign (though not an official World Cup sponsorship) Pepsi decided to fill the space that surrounds the pitch by elevating the culture surrounding the sport. “Now Is What You Make It” celebrates football through art, music, and an interactive commercial, featuring all-star footballers such as Lionel Messi, Robin Van Persie, and Sergio Agüero.
Dave Horton, creative director at 180LA, the agency behind the work, says, “Pepsi at its core isn’t a sports brand but it has a long history of culture, both in terms of celebrities and music, so they wanted to take a stand in the culture of football and do something that brought those things together.” And so, the effort includes an art project called The Art of Football with photographer Danny Clinch and various street artists, a re-imagined version of David Bowie’s “Heros” performed by Janelle Monáe, and a lively interactive spot featuring YouTube musician Stony that takes viewers through the streets of Rio, allowing them to interact with footballers, engage in little subplots, and ultimately affect how the spot plays out.
In many respects, the campaign is what you’d expect from a global push around a major event. It has many tentacles aimed to appeal to a wide swath of people: those interested in music will likely be drawn to the stripped down Bowie track; art fans will appreciate The Art of Football, wherein the footballers were paired with a renowned street artist from their country who then added their art to the athlete’s portrait; and football fans will simply enjoy seeing the all-star players be charming and whimsical in the interactive spot.
Yet the way it all comes together is what’s interesting about the project, and signals a step forward for integrating campaign pieces in a single and fluid space. Rather than creating a separate interactive experience to accompany the TV creative and relying on a microsite to house the various content pieces, the TV and interactive were conceived as one, and the interactive spot itself serves as the hub for the entire campaign, including films on the artists collaborations, and making-of footage from the spot.
Developed by integrated production company m ss ng p eces, the spot uses Interlude technology to allow the narrative to seamlessly flow between scenes (as recently seen in Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” interactive video), and serves up different scenarios based on a user’s location, such as featuring a different player when the experience was accessed from his home country. All of this exists as a self-contained embeddable link, meaning the entire experience can be shared as one.
“A lot of times brands will create a big, epic film for any large event and you just put it online and then that becomes the online film. But we wanted to modify that video or that viewing experience to be appropriate for the medium, so when people went online there was an interactivity to it,” says Horton. Matt Woodhams-Roberts, creative director at 180LA adds, “Instead of creating a traditional hub, like a microsite where you put all these pieces together and let people explore, we wanted to keep the storyline and the energy of moving forward throughout, so that when you do interact with the video, you keep moving. So it’s not just a static hub.”
With so much coming together in one neat experience, we asked key players from Pepsi, 180LA and m ss ng p eces to break it all down for us.
Woodhams-Roberts says the whole campaign started as a traditional film piece that was scoped to run globally on TV. “It was meant to be something around music but then it quickly evolved into this question of what can we do to bring it to life even more in a more engaging way in a different medium? When we put something online on YouTube, why should it just be the same thing? That brought up the idea of doing something new with Interlude and m ss ng p eces that would make it a fresh experience to every viewer every time.
“From there we started thinking about how do we capture the energy of these iconic footballers,” says Woodhams-Roberts. “Then it all started streaming out–music to art to street art… that turned into the art project, the Art of Football, and that turned into the idea of trying to fill all of the different corners around the pitch but are not on the pitch, with art and music and film and interactivity. It just kept snowballing.”
Pepsi has long collaborated with musicians in its advertising but marrying art and football was new. As the idea evolved, Pepsi CMO Kristin Patrick says she was struck with how naturally the two fit.
“Athletes are creative spirits as well, so we really wanted to tie it back to this idea of creativity and likening these footballers to artists. It was so interesting to us to hear the artists talk about their form of creativity and then hear how it was likened to the game of football. They all talked about going into this zone where they lose themselves; they lost track of the screaming crowd or of the piece they were working on. This idea of really being in the moment and being in the now was so interesting. All of that came out unprompted for us and when we set out to make The Art of Football documentary, we didn’t really say this is what we’re hoping to get, but when we started talking to them we realized that when you really live in the moment you experience this thing where you are completely present.”
Since “Now is What You Make It” is ostensibly about a dude on a tightly synchronized musical journey through Rio, and the linear story had to make room for user-initiated side stories, there was little room for error.
“Shooting for interactive brings a ton of special challenges and creative solutions. For every scene, we had to figure out how to transition out of the story and back into it, in a way that would be both seamless and cinematic,” says interactive director Jordan Fish, who shot the interactive portion of the story alongside director Johan Renck. “The spot being entirely musically driven didn’t make matters any easier. It can be complicated to make something that stays simple and fun, no matter how it plays.”
Or as Horton puts it, “this gave us a refresher in math!
“Everything needed to stay on beat, and the beat would allow for certain windows in which you could execute any given thing. But if you were off that window by a beat then it wouldn’t work. So we would always need to execute things in increments of four seconds or increments of 18 frames.”
“Even with the editing on the main film–as traditional as a film edit could be–we were so locked into the sequence of beats and the transitions of the song. You can’t slide things by a couple of frames; you’re locked down and married to the song,” says Woodhams-Roberts.
Fish says that post-production was all about problem solving too. “Unlike a typical film that ends up delivered as one linear export, what we ultimately shipped to Interlude was 45 short video files, that then got stitched together dynamically depending on the user’s choices.”
But within such tight restraints there were moments for high engagement. Ari Kuschnir, CEO and executive producer of m ss ng p eces says that in his experience in working with Interlude (the company created one of the most notable videos using the technology, Chairlift “Met Before”), he’s learned that certain choices work better than others.
“There are rules to Interlude that we’ve learned along the way. Certain choices work better than others and there’s a dashboard where you can see where choices affected the narrative,” he says. “For instance, when you make a choice, in the next thing that happens it has to be very clear that you made the choice and now a new path or thing has happened for you.”
He says interactive choices that have so far proved successful include a moment where a user clicks on Messi and he’s suddenly mobbed by a crowd (left unclicked he simply continues to read his newspaper), side stories such as a scene where Stony goes on an impromptu date with a cute girl he sees on a bus, or a moment where Sergio Ramos stops to write your name on a ball. “That’s the moment in the spot where people totally convert,” he says, noting that people have viewed the interactive spot, which includes over five minutes of content, an average of 2.5 times. “The moment that someone sees they have an effect and they’re creating their own version of a thing, they get really excited about. That’s one of the great things about this technology.”
While the making of the interactive film might have required Swiss precision, Horton and Woodhams-Roberts praise their client for being collaborative and trusting, and Patrick says the process of getting to an innovative final product was an exercise in letting go.
“We started out with this idea of unifying the athlete and the artists with the world of music and as we dove further into our subject matter, we just tapped into this thing that connected so naturally to the brand,” she says. “Honestly, that’s the most exciting piece of all of this. It happened in a really natural way. A lot of times we plan and plan and plan. I think there was something really organic about this process.
“Also, we took a huge risk. Brands like ours usually like to be super calculating in terms of the brief and how things are going to be. We literally give the artists freedom to take those beautiful photographs by Danny Clinch and really messed them up with their street art. And with the interactive, I think we started talking about making the brand more open to consumer input. When talking to the next gen of consumers, we’ve learned that they like to have their imprint on things. I think we opened up through the interactive piece and allowing you to sort of form your own story. That, for a company like this, is a huge risk, but getting back to the creativity and thinking small to be big again, it’s what was so inspirational about this whole thing.”