“We don't stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Fanta recently unveiled its most ambitious and playful campaign yet: an immersive storytelling platform called Play Fanta. The cornerstone of the campaign, which will roll out to more than 190 countries this year, is a nine-chapter digital graphic novel. Saving the Source tells the story of a group of eight animated teens who embark on a mission to save play after it mysteriously disappears from their town. 

The brains behind the brand challenged themselves and their agency partners to make every element playable across all technology platforms, geographies and languages – from TV spots, social content and games, to print ads and outdoor creative. Ogilvy & Mather New York led the creative vision for the campaign, and Hollywood scriptwriters The Alchemists developed a central narrative for the graphic novel. Animators at Psyop created the unique graphic novel look-and-feel, and Vectorform powered its reach via a sophisticated HTML framework to deliver the experience across every type of screen.

We caught up with the Play Fanta team for the inside story on how the campaign came to be:

The Inspiration

Chris Lydon-Omark (global creative director, Fanta): Fanta is inherently a playful product. It’s bright, orangey and bubbly; we’ve always said it’s a giggle in a bottle. In 2006, we saw an opportunity to champion play and promote the need for more play in the world. Once seen as frivolous, play is now being studied and appreciated for the value it delivers to people of all ages – particularly teens, who are not making enough time for play in their daily lives. We built the Play Fanta campaign on the back of research revealing the fundamental and positive role of play in teens’ emotional, social, cognitive and physical development.

Jonathan Mildenhall (VP, global advertising strategy and content excellence): Play as an engine of social improvement is well proven. Teens who play more become more socially intelligent, more compassionate and more empathetic. Families who play together share a stronger bond. Corporate teams who play together are more productive and less political. And when nations play together, they become more diverse and inclusive. Fanta wants to shine a light on the benefits of play in the same way Coca-Cola shines a light on the benefits of happiness.

The Ambition

Mildenhall: With Play Fanta, our brief was to move from one-way advertising to dynamic storytelling where teens all over the world could become marketing directors and advertising spokespeople for us because we inspire them to engage in and own the conversation. We used the entertainment industry – not the advertising industry – as the benchmark for this work. We studied Harry Potter, Twilight, Batman, Game of Thrones and other iconic teen franchises. And since we wanted a communications platform that transcended advertising norms, we partnered with gaming experts, animation studios and Hollywood writers. The mix of agencies we worked with was very different for a global campaign at The Coca-Cola Company. Looking ahead, we hope to partner with companies in other industries to build what started as an advertising idea into a compelling, multi-platform entertainment property.

Lydon-Omark: Since play is the opposite of passivity, we saw an opportunity to make our world more immersive. Over the last eight years, we’ve created an animated Fanta world and a cast of globally recognized characters. But until now, you could never walk into our world, talk to our characters or get to know them over time. Play Fanta is an invitation to learn more about – and connect with – our characters.

Heather Bell (global communications manager, Fanta): We worked with The Alchemists first to narrow down our cast of 25 or 26 characters to eight, then did deep-dives into their likes, dislikes, personalities and relationships so teens could relate to them. Each character has an arc that will evolve over time and build brand equity.

The Creative

Bell: When we initially wrote the long-form story, we didn’t plan to produce a graphic novel. We went through several different ideas on how we would execute the narrative – including an hour-long film. We landed on the graphic novel because it made sense to the bring story to life and build a global franchise for teens.

Mildenhall: But it certainly wasn’t a compromise. The interactive graphic novel as a medium allows us to tell a bigger story and to depict a rich and compelling world, and it allows for greater consumer interactivity through games and rabbit holes.

Teams from Ogilvy & Mather and The Alchemists build the graphic novel storyline.
Teams from Ogilvy & Mather and The Alchemists build the graphic novel storyline.

Rachel Holbrook (global director, film production): Graphic novel illustration is an artform. By expertly illustrating characters and backgrounds, you can capture in a single frame what might take five minutes of film to communicate. In the beginning, we said our test would be deciding if we would print out an illustration and hang it on the wall, and I’m proud to say the novel passed that test. We all have favorite panels we think are beautiful.

Flavia Buchmann (global brand director): Fanta is constantly looking for ways to turn brand assets into a powerful franchise. We all know the importance of getting away from the traditional advertising model and embracing storytelling as our way to engage to consumers. With Play Fanta, we are proving that we are not afraid to experiment, whether it is with new contact points, new formats or new working models.

The Execution

Holbrook: Throughout production, we had to constantly balance our creative ambitions with the technical realities of the markets we needed to reach. Our goal was to push the creative as far as we could without breaking the technology. Play Fanta demonstrates how technology can enable great creative and make it stretch to every corner of the globe. The technology allowed us to create a more immersive experience because the consumer controls his or her journey through our story.

Richard Toranzo (global digital brand experience manager): Our vision was to ensure our franchise story could spread everywhere we sell Fanta. The difficulty was to understand the technology footprint in over 190 markets. It's complex and ever changing.

Stephen Seabolt (global brand director): Fanta is the company’s second-largest brand outside the U.S., and Fanta sales are more geographically dispersed than any other brand. So the campaign needed to be flexible to work in a wide variety of countries. We incorporated feedback from each region of the world as we developed the strategy and story. 

James Seay (IT architect): The technology and processes we put in place were true difference makers. We partnered with Vectorform to bring the graphic novel to life and make it truly interactive and seamless. We created a single entry point, so everyone goes to the same URL (www.playfanta.com), and the framework figures out the language and version the user should experience based on location and browser type – from an HTML version with images and narrative only, up to an interactive HTML5 version with parallax scrolling, full gameplay and multi-track audio. We also built a localization tool that allows markets to quickly customize the story and graphics to meet their local needs without having to hire an agency to recode anything.

Toranzo: This platform balances interactivity, animation, gaming and music with a back-end system that accounts for translations and trans-creation, while measuring its effectiveness. That's a lot of work in one platform build...and learning that can be carried across our global system.

Lydon-Omark: We created 167 total pieces of Play Fanta content that can be accessed on any screen, by anyone, anywhere in the world. All elements can be experienced in any order or on their own, yet each piece makes the others stronger and ultimately connects to the Saving the Source story. So it’s an invitation to play, but also to come back and discover the experience again and again.

The sound design of the graphic novel plays a key role in the story
The sound design of the graphic novel plays a key role in the story.

Seabolt: The campaign is flexible with different lengths and formats of content. If people want to spend 60 seconds with the Fanta content, then they can play a really fun, simple game. If they’re intrigued and want to go deeper in the experience, they can play their way through the graphic novel. 

Brad Ruffkess (connection strategist): We built a 38-week calendar of social media content local Fanta teams could adapt or use as-is to engage in a daily conversation with consumers. We recognized that everyone would not take 10 to 15 minutes to go through the entire graphic novel. Through this approach, we will maintain a steady drumbeat of easy-to-digest vignettes from the story that will pull people into the graphic novel if they want to go deeper.

Mildenhall: Play Fanta represents a number of firsts for our company, but the technology innovation powering this work is the true headline. Play Fanta represents our biggest integrated campaign, to date, from a technology perspective. Regardless of where teens are in the world and regardless of the device they have – from a basic feature phone in South Africa to an advanced iPad in North America, to a desktop PC in China – they can enjoy an immersive experience. The more time they spend with the content, the deeper into the story of Fanta and of play they go. And the more they understand it, the more compelled they are to play. 

UPDATE: The Play Fanta graphic novel recently was named FWA Site of the Day and Mobile Site of the Day. FWA, which stands for Favorite Website Awards, is an industry-recognized Internet recognition program established in May 2000.