This year at SXSW Virtual Reality was an unavoidable force, from experience stations and full brand immersive lofts, to tuk-tuks bringing us the technology on the streets.
Yet leading up to SXSW my scepticism to see how VR will be a ‘game-changer’ was rife, until two things happened. The first was even before I landed in Texas, and came in the form of a full preview of the HTC Vive here at the OMD EMEA office. I spent time exploring an underwater shipwreck and attempting to cook tomato soup, where I may have also let off some steam crashing my way through the kitchen (has anyone thought of using VR as a tool for stress relief?). The second occurred at SXSW as I noticed the themes and applications surrounding VR were not just being showcased and discussed by tech innovators, but every great film director that took to the podium. Their excitement was contagious and as my mind-set towards VR shifted, I am going to tell you why…
(Eden Smith Senior Digital Designer at Burberry experiences VR on the road.)
This integration of VR is seen as the biggest leap in technology since the invention of photography and film.
Stating VR is an invention to rival the dawn of photography or film may seem bold, but as every director that took to the floor at SXSW acknowledged, this technology has enabled a groundbreaking shift in how their content is consumed, how they can drive emotion through story-telling and how they can now build an entire world for their vision. Much in the same way that photography and the moving image is used as a tool to disrupt, immerse and emote audiences with images of other cultures, VR is set to do the same, but to a degree we’ve never experienced.
Great directors such as Chris Milk have pioneered great VR interactivity (for example his “Hello-Again” film of Beck recreating David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” in a surround sound live performance), but the doors are now wide open, as VR becomes an affordable pursuit for any brand to experiment with. VR gives brands and consumers the opportunity to not just be static in an environment but to walk around it, play with it and explore a co-created world.
And McDonald’s did just this at SXSW. In their V-Artist Loft, we were transported, via a HTC Vive, into a Happy Meal box where we could indulge our inner child with painting and arts. You could even send your friends a McNugget of enjoyment with a gif of your experience! Simultaneously, the UK launch of the first immersive VR Zombie experience hit London combining live action actors and tech in a seamless fright night to remember.
McDonald’s V-Artist, The Loft, SXSW
The opportunity and responsibility to give the masses their first, and most memorable, VR experience is a battle we will see realised in the later part of this year. Whilst early adopters and gamers already have opinions of which headset provides the best experience from a technical perspective, brands will now clamber to understand how, and what content, they need to be first to the podium. Winning not only the race for best headline-hitting experience, but also winning consumer’s hearts.
Before we can win ‘hearts’ we first need to understand the language and rules of creating non-linear storytelling. The next step is working with technology partners to understand how we navigate the functionality and worlds created by this ground-breaking tech.
It is important to question why this content is in VR and not traditional film? What are we creating that is of high enough value to ask an audience to download an App, or take the time to stop and step into a headset.
Leading discussions from a publishing perspective was Jenna Pirog, the first ever Editor of the New York Times VR. NYTVR is a free mobile app that can be used, along with headphones, to simulate richly immersive scenes from across the globe, a huge statement of intent from this giant of journalism. With bespoke platform content, NYTVR is immersing audiences with stories, for example ‘The Displaced’, which drops you into the lives of children displaced by war, placing you directly into family life from each child’s perspective.
(Source twitter – jennapirog)
“We are just figuring out the language of VR, it’s like the first days of film. Right now it’s wide open” Jenna Pirog, VR Editor, NYT- SXSW
Exposure to these experiences has been met with shock, tears and increased feelings of empathy for the subjects in the story, a connection that linear story-telling is constantly fighting to maintain as traditional channels battle for attention. With VR being such a powerful tool for creating heightened emotions, the critical question for brands and agencies we need to answer is, how can we use VR’s power to build emotive brand content and how does this contribute or change the content we currently create?
Content with directional sound, virtual textures and movement.
Will VR add the next dimension to content that has been, up to now, a 2D digital consumer experience?
The introduction of directional sound has meant we can now create experiences where we can pull users attention to a specific place through sound; drawing them to the moments we feel matter. We can now also use controllers to move and interact with the environment. This will revolutionise digital commerce, users will not only be able to see a product but also pick it up, see the movement of the material and touch the quality of the fabric replicating the emotion that embodies quality craftsmanship. An area which, luxury brands will be leading the way with, much as traditional video has been used to emote the virtual shelves replacing the still image.
It is our responsibility to create content excellence as we look to build experiences that not only do the technology justice, but also push the creative forward, reward the consumer and break the boundaries we do not yet know exist.
To find out more about the rules of VR and how OMD is uniquely placed to help you co-create ground-breaking experiences contact [email protected].