Coke Starts Taking Applications

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In a seemingly obvious reaction to the numerous plaudits that have been heaped upon its "Happiness Factory" spot, including a 2007 Silver Lion at Cannes, Coke recently plotted to extend Wieden + Kennedy and Psyop's effort to the web. To do so, the soft drink monolith ultimately chose the digital services of AKQA, New York, who were like many, big fans of the original work.

"This is something we presented independently to Coke," says AKQA New York creative director Jerome Austria. "We'd seen the commercial and we knew there was a lot of excitement around it. The spot was hugely popular in the States, China and all over the world. We were just inspired and the team here at AKQA, New York, we came up with the idea of how to make Happiness Factory interactive. Obviously, Coke wanted to really make this into a long-term property. A lot of people watch commercials and they figure it's just a one-off thing. What we wanted to do was raise the awareness level of the deeper Happiness Factory world." AKQA's concept in turn was to place visitors not just inside the Happiness Factory itself, but in the shoes of its quirky, alien-like staff through an application and "hiring" process. "When we watched the commercial, we realized that each of the different characters performed a very specific job in order to make the Coca-Cola bottle," Austria explains. "We basically took that idea and thought, what if people could apply for a job at the Happiness Factory and actually do these different jobs?"

Along with the otherworldly receptionist, whose indecipherable babble is translated via text balloons into English or other pertinent language (since the site is global), the job openings section introduces visitors to the four major "employees" of the factory: the propellor-lifted, blob-like Chinoink, the unrelenting Mortar Man, the bloated furball Kissy Puppy and the shield-wielding, helmeted Capper. Each performs a specific task to deliver the bottle, whether it's kissing a bottle, helicoptering it to the next location, or operating the bottle cap catapult.

Of course, while the site challenges visitors to games for each character while offering other content in the process, AKQA had its own set of challenges—the biggest of which was to translate the impeccable aesthetics and fluidity of the TV spot onto the web. "Because it was such a beloved commercial, we had to make sure we retained the lushness and playfulness of the world that had been created previously," adds AKQA, New York ECD Lars Bastholm. "We didn't want this to be a watered-down universe [of something] that people had really latched onto. It had to be an extension or even a broadening of that universe. That also became our biggest challenge —the lushness that the TV spot can represent. Unless you're on an ultra-hyper broadband in Korea or something, it's not really reliable in an online environment without crashing all the pipes in the known internet. So we had to be clever and work in a way that allowed us to retain the lushness of the site, but without doing it so that no one would be able to access it. The one key thing we looked at with this project is that there's a reason why Pixar doesn't make movies online." (laughs)

After brainstorming and assembling its crew of Flash designers and developers, AKQA found a solution. "Instead of doing full-screen animation," says creative director Austria, "what we did instead was we would take an image of the character, cut it apart limb from limb and animate each individual limb in Flash so that you would get around having to download a big movie—so it's really instead just a Flash-animated character with moving limbs. We had to do tricks like that and that significantly reduced the download time, but we really had to work hard to get the animation to look right so that it did live up to the quality of Pixar animation."

Of course, it helped that AKQA worked in tandem with original production company Psyop, though the latter's involvement was a bit more peripheral than primary. "Once we got buy in from Coke on the concept, we developed the interactive scripts that we did," Austria explains. "We had a series of storyboards and what we'd do is give those out to Psyop, and they would basically render out the raw assets for us."

Weaving a linear tale isn't so easy to achieve with an interactive effort, which also presented its own challenges to AKQA. "The way we presented this was very unlike most interactive projects in that there were essentially storyboards for all the individual scenes," says Bastholm. "It was almost like taking a very long TV spot and chopping it up into 20 different scenes. In the interactive environment, people jump from scene-to-scene and you can't really control the narrative flow."

But Austria maintains that the user ultimately benefits here. "The interesting thing about interactive narrative is that they're different from spots in that time the timing and pacing of the spots is controlled by the editor, whereas with a lot of the interactive experiences that we scripted out here, the timing and pacing was controlled by the user. This is not just a passive experience and they can really feel a part of it."

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