Everyone has heard of "the ghost in the machine." No doubt everyone has also heard of "the Coke in the machine." But no-one has explored the magical machinations which occur inside a Coke vending machine. No-one, that is, until now; since PSYOP have boldly lifted the lid on one of the most surreal tales ever told, beyond the imagination of mere non-animated creatures like ourselves.
It takes a happiness factory to understand a happiness factory, and PSYOP are known throughout the world as a place where the banal laws of physics and reason no longer apply. Once you walk through the door of this Manhattan studio, you are likely to encounter a community of characters who seem to have leaped from the screens from which they create their famous and compelling stories. So it makes sense that Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam and Coke would combine forces with PSYOP to chart unexplored terrain: the world inside the vending machine, which seems to extend off into infinity, and - paradoxically - seems larger than the actual world. (Did somebody say E = MC2?)
"The agency came to us with the great core idea of an imaginative journey inside a Coke machine, and we ran with it." says Executive Producer Justin Booth-Clibborn, who just might be the kind of producer that Willy Wonka would deploy during a particularly effective rebranding phase. "They really wanted to imbue the spot with an accessible sense of warmth and fun, without having it become too cutesy or childish. We ended up creating twelve completely original characters and a series of fantastical environments that everybody just fell in love with. It was a fantastic job to work on, our team was incredible and worked really hard to pull it off and make it great."
Working closely with Wieden creative directors Rick Condos and Hunter Hindeman, the spot was directed by Kylie Matulick and Todd Mueller: the dynamic duo behind two different teams: first, the motley assembly of characters at PSYOP who built the happiness factory, and secondly, those virtual critters who actually inhabit it. Each character within the vending machine lives for their one cola-related purpose; shepherding the Coke bottle like an Easter Island statue on the long, vertigo-inducing journey from the storage area to the chute. What the young man who has purchased this bottle doesn't know, is that it moves through several climatic zones and space-time co-ordinates in the process. All within a few human seconds.
Let's meet a couple of the more prominent characters whose raison d'être is the coke in the machine. First off there's the Chinoink, part of a three creature team who fly the bottle through a lush waterfall-dappled valley toward the biotechnical bottling plant. The Chinoink is not the most attractive worker I've ever interviewed, looking like a cross between a carp, an albino piglet, and a particularly grumpy yam. He also has a propeller jutting out of his head, and a rather high-pitched cockney accent. Despite all this, he turns out to be real sweetheart. "Well, I think it's a great honor to be the first one 'off the block,' as it were," he states, making air-quotes with his tiny arms. I mean, without us - without my team - flying the bottle into the giant metal vise . . . well . . . there'd be nothing; would there? No bottle. No Coke."
Less successful is an attempt to interview the Luv Puppies, who only travel in groups. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to get a coherent statement from these guys (or maybe gals), since they tend to giggle and chirp, obsessed with their only function in life, to kiss L-O-V-E into the bottle. If you can imagine Mick Jagger on Viagra, or Marilyn Monroe on ecstasy, fragmenting into a dozen pouting puff-balls, then you get an inkling of what the Luv Puppies look like and how they behave.
One candidate for the star of the show is the Capper, who looks like a cross between Evil Kenevil and a Prussian Officer. He is in charge of being catapulted onto the bottle-neck in order to successfully cap it. Obviously his teeth are no strangers to being capped themselves, since he tends to lose at least one each time. "No, I don't mind a bit," the Capper states, rearranging the feather on his shiny-helmet. "We have a great dental plan in here. What else do you expect from a happiness factory?"
Well-laid plans to interview one of the penguin-like creatures had to be postponed, unfortunately, since they were too busy chilling Coke bottles with a fan specially-designed to shred south-pole snowmen. However, we had a bit more luck getting a comment from the Majorette, who oversees the final celebration. "It's wonderful, really," she says. "We party like it's 2999 every time someone wants a Coke. Which is all the time. But I never get tired of watching the Poppers being shot like confetti over the parade . . . you know, the parade which carries the bottle to the customer. We never get to see them, of course. The customer. But the fact that the party never stops must mean they like The Coke Side of Life."
Back outside the vending machine, but inside PSYOP, we can get a better appreciation for the specific vision which designed and engineered the happiness factory. The Wieden creatives, Rick and Hunter, and Psyop's Mueller and Matulick spent the first week sketching out the wildest ideas they could come up with:
"That was a really enjoyable process," says Matulick. "Our visual premise was one of blending machinery and natural elements, within which we added all these exotic creatures performing their particular functions. What's great about this kind of intense creative collaboration is that you end up going in directions you'd never thought of before. From some initial ideas about a 'factory,' we moved on to this insanely epic fantasy landscape. We suspended all rules of objective reality and focused on getting this bottle delivered in the most ridiculously large and crazy way possible. It was something of a free-for-all, but it was incredibly valuable in the end, because we discovered that the spot was more about all the characters than the factory process, and that was the key to it's success."
Mueller adds: "At PSYOP, we really enjoy character development and storytelling and, on a job like this one, those skills are put to the test. Everything just comes out of people's heads, which can be pretty scary at times. It was an interesting challenge bringing some of those extremely weird ideas to the spot but keeping it "happy". We needed to endow the characters with an irreverent, adult quality while keeping them really fun and typical. We wanted things to be fun and crazy, but not too saccharine or cuddly. Luckily, we had a fantastic creative team to pull it off."
So while many will be smiling in immersive befuddlement, and hitting "repeat" on their Tivos to catch all the intricate action, one thing is for certain: after watching "Happiness Factory," people will never look at a vending machine the same way again.
The Coke Cola Company
Global Campaign :30, :45 :60, :90
Directors: Todd Mueller & Kylie Matulick
Executive Producer: Justin Booth Clibborn
Eben Mears (lead)
Lead 3D Artist:
Executive Producer: Mark Altshuler
Sound Design: Amber Music & Sound Design
Executive Producer: Michelle Curran
Sound Designer: Bill Chesley
Producer: Kate Gibson
Audio Post-Production: Audio Engine, NY
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam
Creative Directors: Hunter Hindman, Rick Condos
Account Team: Stephen Corlett
Producer: Darryl Hagans & Tom Dunlap
Assistant Producer: Matt Kendall
Executive Creative Directors: Al Moseley, John Norman
Agency Executive Producer: Tom Dunlap
New York City-based PSYOP is an inspiring culmination of creativity, collaboration and production focused on providing visual solutions in motion for the advertising & marketing, video gaming, broadcast and music video industries.
Founded in 2000 by five creative partners, the company continues its insurgence into these industries with its distinct conceptual approach, collaborative nature and dynamically fresh aesthetics. Seamlessly blending the disciplines of design, animation and live-action directing PSYOP approaches elaborate challenges with extraordinary creative and technical flexibility providing unique solutions and design with meaning.
PSYOP's appropriation of the identity of the United States government's division of psychological operations represents a critical awareness of the power that advertising has and the importance of accurate and targeted communications. Their motto is "Persuade, Change & Influence"
PSYOP's work has garnered award recognition at, amongst others, the AICP, the Clios, the Broadcast Design Awards (BDA), ID Magazine and British Design and Art Direction (D&AD), and is receiving wide attention in numerous publications around the World.