The agency’s DC office was responsible for the game’s whole brand identity, as well as the kitschy creative content, finds LBB’s Addison Capper
What if Nazi Germany won World War Two? That’s the question that AKQA’s Washington DC have had to ask themselves repeatedly as they worked extensively on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, a new Bethesda Softworks video game that’s set in a 1960s America that’s under Nazi rule. Interestingly for an advertising agency, AKQA were responsible for the entire creative concept behind the game, tasked with creating and capturing this mythical - but frighteningly real - in-game world. It’s full of familiar pop culture that the AKQA team has ‘Nazified’, such as TV shows spun to present the desired message of the country’s German rulers.
The campaign’s been seeding for months but with the game launching at the end of October, it’s back in the spotlight. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Ed Davis, senior account director at AKQA in DC, to find out more about this process.
LBB> It’s quite rare for an agency to develop the entire identity and branding for a game - that’s usually done in-house. How early on were you brought into this process and how did it initially come about?
ED> AKQA has been a partner with Bethesda Softworks for a decade on brand identity and campaigns for their titles. We work closely with both the publisher and developer to create a brand tone and visual identity that captures the spirit of the game and positions it uniquely in the marketplace. We typically work on game brands from one to two years before the title was announced, so it was a similar timeline here.
LBB> How does this process benefit the overall product?
ED> We share a belief with our client at Bethesda that the marketing and the game should be a cohesive product. From the very first trailer you see, to the moment you start playing the game, everything should feel connected. We’re really lucky to be a trusted partner in the process alongside the client team to help shape the final consumer experience.
LBB> It’s interesting because I imagine the whole process and rollout is quite different to a more traditional campaign. Would you agree with that? How has the experience been for you?
ED> At the end of the day, we’re still marketing a product to consumers. We need to demonstrate why this game is worth their time and money. At the same time, games are not like other products. They come loaded with story, tone, mood, characters, etc. Our job isn’t to create those pieces as most campaigns must, but rather to find the right way of presenting them in a very short window of time to a very well-informed audience.
LBB> What kind of brief did they present you with? And what were you thinking when you first saw it?
ED> We typically begin the process with a briefing on the game direct from the developers. What is the story? What is the mood? What kind of experience are they trying to give the player? From there we work to set the brand identity, before moving into the campaign planning and creative ideation. Having worked on Wolfenstein: The New Order, we were very familiar with MachineGames’ approach to the franchise, but we were blown away by their vision for the sequel. It managed to take everything they had done in the first game and crank it to 11. We were excited to dive back into their world.
LBB> Where did you look for inspiration for the overall look? It’s an interesting task because it’s naturally very akin to the look and feel of Nazi propaganda, but you’ve also had to modernise it.
ED> We began the visual style with Wolfenstein: The New Order, where we took the recognisable colours of red, white and black then combined it with 1960s-inspired design elements and modern composition. There was also an intentional focus on the new 1960s Nazis, like massive robots, rows of faceless soldiers, and hulking super soldiers. For Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, we built on that look, but expended it out to tell more story and shift the focus from enemies to the protagonist, B.J. Blazkowicz.
LBB> Did it feel odd to place yourselves in those shoes?
ED> When it came to creating the “Germericana” pop culture television content, it was certainly an odd exercise at times. We would find ourselves having the strangest conversations around how the Nazis would take a particular classic American television trope and twist it to help promote their message. We knew that it couldn’t be too over the top, but still had to have a sinister edge to it. There were definitely some strange moments in the studio was we worked through the scripts!
ED> I’ll defer to the commentary made by our clients here on the topic:
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
ED> The most difficult part was honestly cutting ideas. We developed concepts for tons of potential bizarre Nazi television programs that sadly didn’t make the cut. Even once we locked in our shows to create, there were tough cuts. Blitzmensch had a list of dozens of potential ‘American villains’ for the Nazi superhero to fight. But we only had so much time to create!
LBB> And how about the most memorable?
ED> The whole team was elated when we secured ‘Danke Schön’ for the announcement trailer. We had been working with it as our temp track and it fit so perfectly. The period, the tone, the German, it was the absolutely perfect foil for revealing B.J.’s battle to liberated a Nazi-occupied America.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
ED> This campaign is a prime example of the kind of work we love to do: delving into a product to find its most compelling core, bringing that out to gamers, and getting to create content from inside the world that helps pull you in.