There's a candy-coated ball of chocolate inside every one of us—and the newest M&M's campaign from BBDO/New York aims to bring that Inner M to light. The hub of the effort is the Barbarian Group-created Planet M website, home to an innovative Character Creator that allows visitors to choose from a huge range of body attributes and facial features to customize a stunningly accurate M&M version of themselves. "The biggest technical challenges spawned from the fact that—surprise!—humans don't look like M&M's," laughs BBDO art director Bryan Wilson. "We have bodies, ears, noses, chins and double chins of all shapes and sizes, and M&M'S have milk chocolate and peanut. So our self-appointed mission was to design something that catapulted the Mr. Potato-Head idea to the next level. We did this by giving users complete control over all their character's attributes: change colors, move body parts up and down, choose arms and legs, change footwear, add a hockey stick, whatever." Adds Barbarian Group chief operating officer Rick Webb, "The hardest challenge was cramming all of the assets into a reasonable file download. There are literally a trillion customization options, which means a large number of Maya-rendered assets (arms, legs, etc.) that can be in any color. Finding a programmatic solution to this that didn't rely on brute force and bloated file size was easily one of the hardest challenges of the project."
Early on, the creative team dismissed the notion of resorting to the somewhat overused tactic of user-uploaded photos, instead choosing a solution that allowed for a greater degree of creativity. "We created a new palette for user-generated content, and we felt we were giving the user enough of a creative playground to express themselves," says Webb. "Adding photos would have opened us up to the usual challenges of the photos looking out of place and jarring, as well as to potential legal issues with pornography. And finally, we wanted to stay true to the illustrative nature of the M&M characters that BBDO has developed. Making your character in the same style as the pre-existing characters reinforces the brand, and reinforces the feeling that these M&M's are a real...race? People? Tribe? Well, like Smurfs are real. You get the idea."
Additional destinations on Planet M include a studio where visitors can add their new M&M persona to animated movies and photos, an arcade filled with M&M-themed video games, and an E-Depot stocked with downloadable screensavers and customizable e-cards.