Step Inside the NOLAF Facility

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Veering from the standard "this is why we're awesome" pitch for clients, Chicago-based agency Element 79 decided to flip things with its new, full screen video-enhanced site for Frito Lay brand Tostitos. Creating a fictitious sourpuss outfit called NOLAF, or National Organization for Legislation Against Fun, Element 79 cleverly made the bad guy the main character and the fun-loving brand the subtle good guy.

"We thought a really cool creative opportunity for us would be to tell how fun this product is through the other side of the lens, through an organization against all things fun that just happens to include Tostitos among other things," says Element 79 interactive GCD Todd Crisman. "We knew we needed to engage people immediately and also make sure Tostitos gets credit for it. Above all, number one, we needed to be funny, number two, we needed to be funny and number three, we needed to be fresh and funny. It's not secret that you want be able to give consumers an opportunity to spend a bunch of time with the brand and actually go really deep. One thing led to another and through this idea of NOLAF, we brought it to life."

With a roly-poly, middle-aged and highly charged spokesman for NOLAF as your guide, the site takes us inside the fictional facility which offers several areas to roam. Visitors can watch an orientation video that examines when fun goes too far, a conference room where our spokesman preaches NOLAF to an audience of "fun" people. Here, via mouseover, you can raise each individual's hand and hear their questions, which the NOLAF guy answers with un-fun suggestions in his overly enthusiastic tone. Or you can stroll over to the R&D room to watch several videos of how to discourage fun brought on by items from Tostitos and more.

To produce the considerable amount of content found inside NOLAF, Element79 enlisted the services of Mekanism and director Tommy Means, who translated its concepts into a full-screen interactive environment. "In order to do it the way we imagined it, we wanted something really arresting to look at so it'd stop you in your tracks and you would pay attention," says Crisman. "Working with [Element head of production ] John Noble and [producer] Katie Juras on this project, we knew there were only a handful of people in the country that can pull off this sort of thing. We knew we needed to hook up with the right kind of partner."

According to Means, who started collaborating with Element 79 early in on the project, it was not only the agency's templates for the site that appealed, but the copywriting skills of Element's Kevin Mulroy. "You look at the writing and it's so damn funny and just spot-on. What I loved about the writing is it didn't try to hide the brand and got it so up front in a way that was so unexpected and clever. I just really love subversive comedy, and there's so much of that in here. I think Kevin is a bitter man and it comes through in his writing."

With the working relationship established, the idea of full-screen interactive video implementation quickly came to fruition. "[Element] really wanted to convey a sense of place in that this organization is real, there's a building and you can go inside it and walk through it," says Means. "When they started talking about wanting to insert the user into this environment, it got the wheels turning. We thought let's do some full-screen stuff and make it feel like the user can actually walk into these rooms and make it feel like they're inside this building. We've done full-screen video in the past but it's been like fits and starts. We have definitely learned from our mistakes and it's been great to apply all that learning to this project."

The section that seems to fall most in line with Means' sentiment is the aforementioned conference room, which took a lot of technical planning and calculation to execute. "We actually had our user interface designers and engineers on the set of this shoot collaborating with us on how we were going to set up each shot," Means says. "[For the conference room], we had a big hi-def monitor, a wax pencil and the [technical] guys were talking about how nobody could overlap each other and just all the elements I never would've thought about. It's almost analogous to having a visual effects supervisor on the set and it really created for a super-seamless experience."

The site did have its share of hurdles, Means admits. "When doing a full-screen interactive video site, you have absolutely no room for revisions, just like a regular website. We had three editors working round-the-clock full time and we had 50 scenes that had to be signed off on and approved before we could actually start building the site. You're building a site in video and if there's a change or a tweak, you seriously have to go back into the edit suite and do major programming around it. I think Element 79 did a fantastic job in the pre-production of really conveying exactly what this thing looks like as a site. Looking at it on paper, it's really confusing and hard to understand. So we had to be pretty courageous with this client and say you cannot make any changes once we sign off on the rough cuts, but at the same time, we're going to be improvising like crazy and taking advantage of this [actor's] talent."

To further the lifespan of NOLAF, Mekanism and Element 79 are sensibly taking advantage of multiple channels, seeding what will be over 20 pieces of video content culled from the site. "Frito-Lay was looking for this to really feel grassroots," says Means. "So, we had a really great opportunity to think about all of that before the shoot and actually storyboard out how we can lift standalone viral pieces of content for a comprehensive syndication program."

This resulted in a three-pronged approach to what Mekanisn calls the "network effect." "We want to infiltrate all these different networks with the content we create. It's the 50 video-sharing sites out there—obviously there's YouTube—but there's definitely a long tail of video-sharing sites that if you add them all together, you can get about the same audience as you can at YouTube. We then established a network of digital influencers and at this point we have about 150 of them that are just super-hungry for content. The more good content they have, the more visitors they have coming to their blogs or their video sites. Then, we've got a little secret recipe for social networking and creating the network effect throughout the social networks. We actually have a couple of these Stanford engineers that have really cracked the code on seeding content through social networks."

But the willingness of a brand like Frito Lay to green light such an expansive and edgy approach to marketing surprised even Means. "I have to give credits to those guys. I just can't believe some of the stuff that was sold through. At some point, we've got to do an outtakes video of some of the stuff we couldn't sell through, it was outrageous."

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