How Fifa turned up the ‘weird dial’ in mockumentary celebrating its online mode
The bonkers ad campaign celebrates the 14th anniversary of Fifa’s Ultimate Team (or FUT to fans).
It’s one of the most popular game modes of the franchise, enabling football fanatics to build their dream squad and pit it against other teams online.
To celebrate the 14th anniversary of FUT, production studio Kode and creative agency 20something collaborated with the team at EA Sports on a unique ad campaign. It’s a playful mockumentary-style film that combines humor, sport and plenty of Easter eggs for hardcore gamers.
“This is a unique relationship in some ways,” 20something co-founder Will Thacker says. “It’s a super collaborative and sort of hybrid creative process.” Right from the start, his team and the production company Kode worked extremely closely alongside EA Sport’s in-house creatives, who came up with the initial idea of marking the birthday.
The film is somewhat weird and wonderful, adopting the style of a company orientation video. It’s hard to pinpoint which era it's from, but there’s a vintage feel to it. The opening credits state that the following is “confidential and utterly secretive” before an awkward-looking guy says to the camera: “you’ve just started working for the Bureau of Independent Revelry and Gatherings for Ultimate Team” or 'BIRGFUT' as it was, intentionally, clumsily coined.
“This is quite unique for Fifa, I don’t think they’ve done anything quite like this before,” continues Thacker. “They had a weird dial, basically, and on their presentation to us, it was sitting near the top end of it alongside Skittles, and work like that.”
EA Sports had the idea of creating a fake birthday department and the initial brief was quite wide: celebrate the 14th anniversary of this game mode by using the 1% of hardcore Fifa players to engage the other 99%, which is when 20something’s head of copy Elliot Starr began working his magic on fleshing out the idea.
“The conversation around a birthday department, that in itself is absurd,” laughs Starr. “You know, that there would be a department in EA Sports that’s sole responsibility is celebrating the birthday of a modality within the game and there’s this team of salaried employees.” He knew they had to push it to a bizarre place for it to work. Working alongside director Harry Cauty was key to unlocking this type of humor.
“We’ve had so many passing conversations in the kitchen and I know his humor and he knows mine,” he goes on to explain. “Really quickly, we spoke about various references and talking about things like Look Around You which is a proper weird British TV show.” First shown in 2002, the short series parodies British science television shows and satirically riffs educational videos of the 1980s.
The creative goes on to state that they weren’t intentionally trying to make a bad film, but that the more awkward and clunky it was, the better. “You cut away but you want this one, lead presenter to take you through this world of Birgfut,“ continues Starr. “I just love the idea that they are the last person that should have been put in front of the camera.” For fans of The Office, the protagonist almost has a David Brent-like quality to him. “We love the idea that this is a film that the scientists made themselves and intentionally trying to make a bad film is obviously quite an art form.”
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Inspiration also came from the dystopian Apple TV show Severance in terms of aesthetics. “You can’t place it in a particular era, it is in this weird black hole of time,” confirms Starr. “There’s a vintage look to it but I don’t know when this is supposed to be happening.”
Part of the fun was questioning exactly what these “birthday scientists” would spend their days doing. “We liked the idea that it was not actually that scientific, which is why we put the line in about rigorous science, it is not.” Once the idea was set casting was paramount, but getting the character spot on was difficult. A lot of actors played it “too big” and it took a while to narrow it down to the right person for the job.
“FUT is really hardcore,” adds Thacker. “This film is a celebration of those committed fans and that inside knowledge. There are little touches throughout that really feed that community and for us, that’s exciting. Especially when looking at the gaming industry. Feeding and supporting the community that’s already there is such an important part.”
Luckily, there were plenty of people working on the project that were huge fans of the gameplay mode. WhatsApp conversations between friends became a kind of focus group for “thought starters” as Starr puts it. To that point, he states that there are many easter eggs within the ad for people to try and spot. He doesn’t give too much away but confirms the amount is in “double digits” and that viewers should look at the building, not just the people in the film.
This ad really is one for the super fans. “Obviously, they release Fifa every year and that’s a different job. It’s mass awareness, anyone that’s going to buy and play it,” continues the copywriter.
As of this year, fans will be met with a new franchise after negotiations between Fifa and EA Sports broke down. It’s been reported that EA Sports FC will be the new title of the series with this year’s Fifa 23 game being the last in the 30-year partnership. During the interview, Starr highlights the importance of almost separating this piece of content from the annual campaign to launch the latest Fifa game.
“The FUT fans, they are living and breathing football. It bleeds into every area of their life, from fashion, music, culture and memes, to gags. We really tried to get as much into the film as we could in a way that didn’t feel shoehorned in, there was genuine space for it.”
This needed to be entirely its own thing for it to work. “We really went hard on painting the visual world,” he adds. “Making the visual world undeniably clear from the very beginning. We had really robust decks just full of references. We were interested in midjourney and AI image generation and that has been amazing. You’ve got the vision clear in your head, you can now go: it’s going to look like this. It’s so much better than something you’ve had to Photoshop together.”
From the offset, the whole team was aligned on this which means nothing was a surprise on the shoot day. On the use of Ai within the creative concept, Thacker takes a really positive stance and believes it is a good tool at the storyboard stage.
“It’s not unique, other creatives will be doing this, but for us, it was about creating that rich visual world,” says Starr. He used the image generator to get ideas for what the scientist might look like, for example. “It was good for referencing as well.”
It also meant that EA Sports wasn’t surprised by anything they saw when they came to shoot, and the director’s treatment doesn’t catch anyone off guard. “It’s such an interesting shift for us when we’re selling in ideas and concepts because the gap between the static deck and when you start to shoot is decreased,” concludes Starr
“There’s a lot more confidence in the process between the client, creative studio and production company because you can create more alignment on the aesthetic.”