Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam and MPC on creating a very tactile, real-life campaign and then putting it on the screen
In a world where we spend our days staring at pixels, a good old-fashioned games night can be the perfect antidote to our stresses and anxieties. Board games bring people together in a physical space (although as anyone who’s played Monopoly knows, they also have the power to tear those relationships apart).
The chocolate brand Milka holds this value of family togetherness dearly, so it seemed a perfect fit when Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam suggested they turn their adorable 2016 campaign ‘The Biscuit Jar’ into a limited-edition board game.
Launching across Europe, ‘Milka Biscuit Run’ sees players compete in the ultimate quest for real Milka biscuits and soft cakes. The board game sets players inside the gorgeously illustrated Lilaberg cottage, where the jar characters live. Players can choose their favourite character and must complete a series of dares and challenges to get their hands on real Milka biscuits and cakes.
To get fans excited about its launch, a 45-second online film sets up the story behind Milka Biscuit Run and invites viewers to follow and comment on the film for a chance to win the board game.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with the creative directors at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, MPC Creative director Diarmid Harrison-Murray and Jason Barnett, VFX producer at MPC Amsterdam, to find out what it took to bring the delicious project to life.
LBB> Strategically, what led you to make a board game featuring the Milka Biscuit Jar characters?
Edouard Olhagaray and Sebastien Partika, creative directors at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam> In 2016 we introduced the Biscuit Jar characters and they were an instant success. The following year, we were tasked with developing a fully integrated campaign to build upon the Jars’ success. It was a great opportunity to bring consumers further into their world and advertise the whole biscuit range in the process.
LBB> Where did the idea start and how did it develop?
EO & SP> The Biscuit Jars live, breathe and dream about their delicious Milka Biscuits. So much that they’ll do almost anything to get their hands on them.
That was the starting point of our story and as we explored different ways to tell it, it quickly became clear that we were not going to create a VR experience or a video game. We thought the most relevant medium would be to develop a physical board game. Board games have the ability to gather families and friends together. Which is what Milka is all about. And since you are playing for real treats, it was a great way to put the entire biscuit range at the heart of a fun family activity.
LBB> Making a board game definitely isn't a traditional route for advertising. What did you discover about the process along the way?
EO & SP> Brands explore more and more unusual ways to reach their audience and it’s a great opportunity for creatives to do things they haven't done before.
Once we were set on the idea, we just tried to create an experience that would be on par with the board games you already find on store shelves. That involved a whole lot of testing, with the help of our colleagues and their kids who patiently tried the various versions of the game. From the first home-made prototype to the day we received the sample of the actual game, it took about a year for the team to develop the game. It was a long process but it is rewarding to create something physical that will live a life of its own.
LBB> Diarmid, at what point did you get involved with the project? Where was the idea when you joined and how were you tasked to take it forward?
Diarmid Harrison-Murray, director at MPC Creative> There was an initial script on the table when I joined the project but the creatives at W+K Amsterdam were overflowing with other great ideas, so things were pretty dynamic at that stage. The project evolved quickly, and it was a really creative dialogue as we worked together to shape the structure and narrative. There is clearly the stylistic homage to an action movie trailer but there is also the heritage and charm of the previous Milka campaigns. What excited me about this idea was the cross over into the world of the board game. We could bend the rules and reality of the narrative as well as push the Biscuit Jars much further as characters.
LBB> MPC worked on the original Biscuit Jar spot with all those amazing CG characters! Did you work with the agency at all in the process of putting them into the physical board game?
Jason Barnett; VFX Producer MPC Amsterdam> The agency works very closely with the team at Milka who came up with the general look of the characters. They do however use our CG models as a base for creating the physical characters, although our CG ones have much more detail. So the physical ones could be seen as a simplified versions.
LBB> Animating ceramic characters to move naturally must be a challenge. How did you maintain that realism while still allowing them to move and show such relatable emotions?
DHM: The main thing is to not overplay the animation or how much the characters can move. They can quickly lose the sense of material realism and feel more like rubber or plastic than ceramic. Less is definitely more with these guys. You'd be surprised how much emotion you can create with subtle movements and expressions.
LBB> How closely does the action in the film relate to the game?
DHM> The idea was to create the feeling of the world of the board game spilling out into the real world. To this end we really tried to base as much of the action as we could from the game.
LBB> Are there any little moments in the film that you particularly enjoy? There's a lot going on!
DHM> There is a lot going on and I love the madness of it all. The action adventure is truly epic and real in the minds of the characters, but we also see the humble and charming domestic reality behind each scene. I loved crafting this balance and the moments when you can savour both worlds at once.
I particularly like the vacuum cleaner car chase. It starts with real pace, action and drama - and ends with a wide that reveals the true scale of the scene as a retro vacuum cleaner drifts around the leg of the table in a quaint alpine kitchen.
LBB> How's the competition going? Do you have any favourite entries yet?
EO & SP> The competition was launched in France a month ago and people are massively commenting (not even trolling) on the social networks to participate. Czech Republic and Slovakia followed, posting the trailer a week ago on their page with the same success. Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain and Portugal will follow soon - in total, 14 countries across Europe will host the contest.
LBB> What's next for the campaign and the game?
EO & SP> This year, 7,000 copies of the game were produced but we're hoping local markets will order more next year. It would be great to see the game sold in store with Milka Biscuits. Germany, Austria and Switzerland are already planning to launch a human-sized version of the game that will tour the country this summer. It's great for us to see this idea grow organically and reach more people.