New Campaign: Imaginary Friend Society

Interview with RPA's SVP, Chief Creative Development, Jason Sperling about the campaign for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.


Tell us about who you are and your role in this campaign

I’m Chief, Creative Development at RPA. I oversaw the development of all the campaign elements and helped locate pro-bono partners across the globe.


Where did you find the inspiration behind the original idea for IFS?

The inspiration for the campaign came after meeting the kids at Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation events. Even though these kids are in the midst of dealing with this brutal disease, their enthusiasm and fighting spirit are unbelievable. They inspired us to go above and beyond what was being asked of us and look for other ways to help. We noticed that while there were folks at the hospital who could speak to all the facets of the cancer-treatment experience, there was little beyond that. And even less that spoke to a kid like a kid. So we stepped in.

In terms of imaginary friends, we thought it was a great way to make these films fun, but as we spoke to pediatric cancer patients, we found out that they were actually creating imaginary friends for themselves to help them cope while they were in the hospital. They had names. They came in all shapes and sizes. And some even had drawings of them.


What was the most difficult part of turning this idea into a fully realized experience?

I guess there were two types of difficulty. The first was the more literal definition. We had to find animation companies that would be willing to donate the time, energy and resources to the project for free. And we had to find enough to cover off on all the topics we thought were important to the project. Once we did get enough partners to get this off the ground (we ended up with many more than anticipated, btw) we had to juggle 22 productions, which means 22 rough-cut reviews, voice-recording sessions and music tracks. Across several time zones.

The other difficult part was trying to balance this incredible enthusiasm for these films, which were blowing us away, with the unfortunate mission of them, which was trying to provide much-needed information to really sick kids.


How has the reaction been to the AR aspect so far? Was AR always planned to be part of the evolution of the campaign?

It’s still a little too early to gauge the broader reaction to the AR tool, but we have high hopes for it. Giving kids access to the characters from the films and allowing them to be there in the hospital with them when they need them most, with words of encouragement, is so huge.


Are there any future plans for this campaign?

We have another incredible AR app on the way. This one utilizes motion capture so that nurses, doctors and parents will be able to have conversations with pediatric cancer patients as a character from one of the films. One of the big goals of this campaign has been to reduce the fear and anxiety associated with pediatric cancer issues, and this is yet another great tool for that.


Who is your favorite character from the IFS? Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?

It’s a three-way tie for me. I love Charlie the mossy, flowery glob in “What’s an MRI,” Mr. Spikes from “Blood Transfusions” and Shelly the Turtle from “Returning to School.” But it’s so hard to choose. There are so many wonderful characters.

I didn’t have an imaginary friend. Maybe when I’m old I’ll get one. It’s never too late, right?