The creative team at BBH China told LBB’s Zoe Antonov about launching the newest brand identity of Free Fire – Battle in Style, and how it became an entirely immersive experience for gamers and non-gamers alike
Earlier this year, Free Fire (Garena), one of the world’s most popular mobile games, hitting a record 150 million daily active users in August 2021, established its new brand identity - Battle in Style. They teamed up with BBH as their strategic creative brand partner and after almost a year of hard work, a holistic campaign extending from an integrated brand activation to a virtual concert and a Free Fire Anthem have came into fruition. Battle in Style started as a breath of fresh air and a completely new identity for Free Fire aiming to speak to gamers and non-gamers alike, telling them that you can live every battle in style, no matter if you’re on or off the screen.
Keeping the habits and lifestyle of a Gen Z audience in mind, Free Fire started the campaign with the ambition to translate a purpose and belief that resonates with their gamers. The drastically changing political scene worldwide, Covid-19 and an array of social issues to be fought, have all turned the daily lives of Gen Z into a constant battle. The new brand identity of Free Fire wanted to inspire them to adopt an authentic and positive spirit and outlook in life, while still keeping the meaningful voice behind the brand that sets it apart from other mobile games.
The kickstarter of the campaign, a film called ‘Life is a battle, battle in style,’ shows the life an ordinary teenager jumping between the game world and the real world, and doing it in impeccable style! Following this, BBH launched a teaser campaign on social channels with a live performance featuring T.R.A.P – Free Fire’s virtual brand. T.R.A.P’s interactive performance was live-streamed on YouTube, blending gameplay, 3D animation and responsive emojis. Elaborate, completely immersive and existing withing its own developed universe, the campaign undoubtedly drew in audiences from all across the world.
Kelly Pon, chief creative officer, Louis Li, creative director and Siying Goh, head of business development at BBH told LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the art of combining gaming, music and storytelling, the nuances of character design and the difficulty behind immersing people in gaming worlds.
LBB> What was the brief for this campaign and how did the idea for it come about?
BBH> We had a great brief from the get-go: to bring ‘Battle in Style’, a newly developed brand proposition and identity to life. We immediately bought into the philosophy and spirit behind it, that is, if you can take on Free Fire battles in style, you can take on all of life’s battles in style. This really elevated Free Fire from being just a game, to a spirit that you can embody in your everyday life.
We came across a GIF showing a person flipping across two different worlds. This set us off thinking - perhaps we can show how one character battles in style in real life as well as in game life. This became the simple visual thread for the film. And because the idea is so simple, it allowed us to spend the rest of the time on crafting and refining to ensure that the output does the idea justice.
LBB> What was the process of turning Free Fire from a game to its own brand and how did this advance the campaign?
BBH> We are very grateful for our client, who was very clear and sharp on what we would need to achieve - everything we do will be in service of bringing ‘Battle in Style’ to life. With this clear objective in mind, all we needed to do was to make sure that every communication and interaction builds on the brand proposition.
LBB> The scope of the campaign is tremendous! How does one write an intricate narrative that manages to combine gaming, music and storytelling as well as Free Fire has?
BBH> These three elements are integral parts of the gaming experience and we knew we had to somehow bring them all together. Free Fire has so many great assets and stories to pull from. And the philosophy behind Battle In Style is so relevant and inspiring to the youth in our key markets. All we needed to do was to convey that spirit and tell that story.
Obviously, teamwork is key. We had teams and collaborators across the globe – Shanghai, Sydney, London, Scotland, Italy – working tirelessly to pull off the music performance within three months. The clients were equally invested in the entire process and committed to making the first global Battle in Style campaign count.
We also leaned into what Free Fire was already doing very well on their own – music, storytelling, gaming – for guidance because it was critical that we keep to the integrity of the Free Fire universe, the characters, the weapons and dynamics.
We had great material to start with – T.R.A.P., a virtual band formed from four of Free Fire characters with diverse styles and personalities. Being able to mould their characters through such content was a great opportunity. Our partner specialists in VFX and user interaction design then enhanced the show experience further.
LBB> Tell us more about the animation process of both the music video and the short film!
BBH> It was an amazing experience working with some of the best talents around the world. For the film, we had daily WIP calls with the director Ernest Desumbila to comb through details like the motion effects, the camera angles, the visual effects etc. Being fans of anime, we referred to anime references to elevate the visuals and we were pleasantly surprised to find out that gamers noticed these details. It was very flattering to learn how attentive the Free Fire gamers are to the details in the film.
Likewise, for the music performance, our intention was for it to be an audio-visual feast that is as exciting if not more than real-life concerts, especially with the interactive elements. Our production partners were integral in making this happen. Obviously, we could have done so much more with more production time. That said, it was a very rewarding experience when creatives with different backgrounds and disciplines came together to make something happen.
The choreography was also created in such a way that allows for interaction windows where viewers could vote for a change in the concert – such as different outfits and vehicles. The winning choice would then seamlessly appear in real-time. Our partner, UNIT9, created a comment scraping app to count the numbers of keywords published in specific voting windows, which instructed the playout director to mix between different video channels. Live graphical overlays also injected user activity into the onscreen experience for both the animated music performance and a one-hour pre-show, which acted as a community tutorial for the main event.
LBB> From the music video, to every second of the short film, the audiences can't help but get attached to the characters! What was designing these characters like?
BBH> We couldn’t be happier to see the response from the audiences. That’s half the battle won. The characters originated from Free Fire – we merely worked to shape their narratives and personalities further through out-of-game content.
With the virtual live performance, everything had to be written in a way that is true to the personality traits of the characters. This includes the concept and storyline right down to the details of each transition between each act. We would ask ourselves: would this be something Antonio would do? How would he perform? Where in the Free Fire world would we see Moco performing? What would be the most suitable interaction for that particular act?
LBB> What were the main messages that the campaign wanted to convey to both gamers and non-gamers?
BBH> If you can take on Free Fire battles in style, you can take on all of life’s battles in style.
LBB> Tell us more about the tracks of the campaign - their production and the ideas behind them?
BBH> The intent was to create a Battle in Style anthem, blending four different musical genres that each T.R.A.P. member represents. We shared this idea with the Garena audio team who was equally excited about the concept. They then worked with Unisonar, a music production studio, to bring the tracks to life. Each of the tracks is created in line with the individual styles of each of the T.R.A.P. members. The main consideration and challenge was creating four tracks using four musical genres, which could then be stacked together to create an anthem that is still a cool, listenable track.
LBB> How long did this campaign take from beginning to end and what were the biggest hurdles that you faced during production?
BBH> The campaign was seven to eight months in the making. Conceptualising started in March, pre-production for the short film in June, and the virtual live performance was initiated in late August. Working across time zones was a blessing and a curse at the same time. That said, we wouldn’t do it any other way as that really allowed us to tap into some of the best talents. We hit the ground running almost immediately. It was a pretty intensive and constant race to the end – this required our team to be resilient and quickly learn as much as possible. Whatever we learnt during the film production process was passed onto the music performance production. It was an iterative approach.
LBB> Tell us more about the choreography of the music video!
BBH> The dance moves were choreographed by Del Mak. We gave guidance as to how each character would behave, move and perform, but it was Del Mak that really brought our vision to life. He worked very closely with the VFX director to ensure that choreography was not designed and executed in isolation, but would fit into the entire show direction.
LBB> Any final thoughts?
BBH> We couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to work on Free Fire with their team. We believe the spirit and philosophy of Battle In Style is an inspiring and relevant one to the youth and gamers today. Watch this space for more Battle in Style action from the Free Fire and BBH team!