Virtual reality is the industry’s latest inescapable buzzword. The immersive, next-generation technology has quickly risen from futuristic foresight to increasingly adopted add-on, and it's only growing in popularity.
“We have scratched the surface and we can see what it will,
and it will be pretty amazing. It will be a huge medium that is used everywhere
in different forms.”
Bo Gustafsson, MediaMonks
(Key to the future: Lions Innovation delegates take part in a mass VR experience)
The virtual world isn’t just about enhancing education or upping the entertainment levels though. It’s also become the latest platform for content absorption, and a key tool in the modern arsenal of the creative industries.
From bringing brands and consumers closer together, to generating more engaged audiences and expanding a campaign’s reach, VR has, in just a few short years, quickly transitioned from the realms of novelty and gimmick to the latest must-add element for any creative pitch that’s going to gain global traction.
It’s upward trajectory looks set to continue too, with agencies and media houses who’ve already worked on creative VR projects, predicting it holds the key to the creative future. By being more engaging than traditional media, VR isn’t just another element of a creative pitch, it’s becoming the ultimate element, the hook and headline grabber.
“VR is trendy right now,” explained Bo Gustafsson, VR Director & Cinematographer at MediaMonks. “We have scratched the surface and we can see what it will, and it will be pretty amazing. It will be a huge medium that is used everywhere in different forms.”
Gustafsson isn’t alone in predicting big things for VR in the creating industries. Oksana Valentelis, Freelance Creative at The Brooklyn Brothers, who’s worked on VR campaigns including the award winning Samsung Bedtime Stories project, also expects an increasingly VR-focussed future to emerge.
“VR is obviously going to be the next big thing,” she said. “When you put a brand next to it, it becomes a case of how am I going to experience this brand and why should I experience this brand in the first place?”
A rapid rise to necessity Although VR is still be the new kid on the block, creative agencies yet to dip their virtual toes into the virtual water, might already have missed the boat.
“There are definitely benefits of being in early at this stage, as there are so many different things to learn while working in VR,” Framestore’s Global Technical Director, Michael Cable, explained. “There’s definitely a benefit for companies to be involved and building these things now rather than when it’s a must have to have a VR experience alongside your marketing campaign.”
Getting aboard the VR bandwagon early is essential, primarily because there are still a lot of challenges surrounding the technology. Given its infancy, each new VR campaign creates its own problems and predicaments previously unseen within the industry.
“The problems you encounter can come from so many different directions that it is very hard to predict what you will have to handle in a project.”
Yates Buckley, Unit9
“So far no communication technology has proven to be as challenging as work in VR,” said Yates Buckley, Technical Partner at UNIT9 and another early adopter of VR as a media tool. “The problems you encounter can come from so many different directions that it is very hard to predict what you will have to handle in a project.”
According to Valentelis: “These creative partnerships are a great way to push the VR technology forward. That’s the most important thing. How else would you know what’s needed?”
Lion winners with VR elements
Timeline of VR Lions
2012: Wieden+Kennedy score a Bronze Film Lion (Interactive Film) with 'Polar Bowl' for Coca-Cola. Produced by Framestore's VR Studio
2013: Barbarian Group claims the first Innovation Grand Prix for Cinder, an open-source programming language which revolutionises CGI visuals and immersive displays.
2015: Google takes a Grand Prix Mobile Lion (Creative Use of Technology) for Google Cardboard.
2016: A total of 44 Lions are awarded to 17 VR-related campaigns. Brands include GSK Consumer Healthcare, New York Times, The Dali Museum, Google, Jaguar Land Rover, The United Nations, Expedia and AT&T.
(Edge of their seats: Cannes LIons delegates enjoy a VR rollercoaster.)
A reduced audience with bigger reach
It’s not just the unknown entities that make VR a challenging tool. There are downsides to working with the emerging technology too, most notably the cost and the relatively small audience with the VR headsets needed to absorb this content.
A limited direct audience isn’t necessarily a barrier to success though. Instead, it’s been argued that although these campaigns are hitting smaller audiences, they’re actually generating a more engaged one. There’s also the added benefit of the hype and publicity a decent VR project can generate.
“People who come away from a VR experience will remember it and talk about it way more than they would watching a 30 second commercial,” Cable revealed.
The Brooklyn Brothers’ Valentelis added: “Obviously it’s not widely available and you have to have a VR headset to view these experiences, and not many people have VR headsets yet. “If you’re talking PR stories and media interest that these VR projects generate, they probably reach more people than traditional advertising. Audiences really engage with it, and VR has a more engaged audience in general.”
Audiences are already becoming more discerning though, and as VR becomes more established in both the consumer market and creative industries, the type of content being produced is changing. Instead of simple ideas looking to turn heads, it now has to wow.
“At first it was about the novelty. Everybody wanted to do something in VR or 360 video,” Gustafsson said. “We got a lot of requests from agencies that were more about the hype and the novelty of the whole thing. There was a lot of ‘we want to be the first company of this kind to do VR’, or ‘we want to do this thing for the first time’. It was a lot about the firsts. I’m really happy that we’ve evolved beyond that. You can’t just do it because it’s new anymore, you really have to create something good.”
This need for added thought processes shouldn’t be feared though. Instead, given the new creative freedoms offered by generating content in virtual 3D spaces that aren’t constrained by the same limitations and physical barriers as our own physical world, endless possibilities are available.
“The most exciting aspect of this technology is that the creative avenues are uncharted. The list of new innovative experiments we could do is endless,” UNIT9’s Buckley added. “What seems to be key right now though is to find the correct context for the technology because it has this strange social dimension of creating a split in the world, inside vs. outside.”
“VR is going to go in two directions. For consumer use and entertainment use, it’s not going to replace other mediums and it’s not going to replace film or TV or anything like that."
Michael Cable, Framestore
The future of VR
Despite the potential impact and reach enabled by a strong VR campaign, one thing that everyone’s agreed on, is that although VR’s the future, it’s not going to be the only future. No matter what tech brands and futurologists would have you believe, we’re not all about to run off to live exclusively in the virtual world.
Traditional media will live on, just maybe not in the exact same way that it does now.
“I think VR will be more an additional means of communication,” Valentelis said. “The TV’s not dead, we’ve all still got one and it works as a communication platform to some degree, but the way we consume stuff right now is changing. VR has to be something that adapts natural and becomes a part of your life. Once VR becomes just a thing we use, it will be a natural way in for communications.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Framestore’s Cable who added: “VR is going to go in two directions. For consumer use and entertainment use, it’s not going to replace other mediums and it’s not going to replace film or TV or anything like that. It’s going to be an additional thing alongside that people will enjoy. Just like radio and TV, this will be another medium alongside that.”
Looking to the next phase of VR and it’s growing impact, Valentelis concluded: “Last year, VR was all about motion sensors and the haptic feedback. The next level of VR will be about what else can you do with it, what can you touch, how you can smell, how you can feel the motions when you move around.
“With the upcoming adaptations of that, it will become much more real. We are working on that already.”
Lions Innovation (19-20 June) examines how data and technology can act as catalysts and enablers for creativity. It is where start-ups with revolutionary ideas meet major technology providers with game-changing products. Where brand marketers who need to stay ahead meet creatives who bring ideas to life, and products to market.
Lions Innovation is a field-trip to the future. Lions Innovation is open to Festival delegates. Specialist Lions Innovation-only passes are also available. Visit the Pass Picker for more details.