Firstly, as I have made clear several times before, it is my opinion that VR, AR, and MR are all labels of relevant technology which lie under a bigger technological revolution. This revolution falls under the umbrella of ‘immersive reality’ – the application of immersive technology in any of its forms for entertainment, medical practices, advertising, and almost anything besides. The terms can be broken down into smaller deviations and labels, but it is clear that the technology has transcended its simple boundaries of ‘just’ being VR, or ‘just’ being AR. It’s much more substantial than that, and labelling it as ‘immersive reality’ makes more sense from now.
With that out of the way, the first aspect to consider is how distinctly different it is from TV and YouTube. Both mediums can convey the core messages of a brand quite clearly with proper positioning, select scenes, and the proper use of music. The cut is vital – everything seen in a precisely edited video was made precisely to entertain and direct a call to action of some sort, whether it be to donate to a charity or purchase a product.
The Nintendo Switch’s reveal is a fantastic example of this, with a clear demographic re-orientation of sorts for its audience. The trailer shows young, somewhat affluent people using the Switch on the go, with friends, and eventually at home after a day of travelling. This is a departure from the Wii and Wii U which focused on friends and family coming together to play games, or directing itself to young children directly – the Switch’s reveal focused primarily on people above the age of 16 who can make their own purchasing decisions, with hints that families can play the device as well. The video’s content and editing was telling – it shows that Nintendo is aware that a large part of its audience have grown up.
Because of this, immersive reality provides a new perspective which doesn’t take a small step – it’s a leap into a whole new place in another galaxy. The added complexity of having a layer of interactivity provides a new level of empathy – and empathy is the best way to describe how to best use the technology. It allows the viewer to slip into another person’s skin, get a feel of their situation, and much more intensely than with a simple video.
One excellent of this was made by Visualise – the company helped Jane Gauntlett bring to life the idea of empathy VR with In My Shoes: Dancing with Myself. The 360° video gave the viewer an intimate first-person perspective of what it’s like to have a neurological condition, with the intention of driving donations and creating a new level of exposure. It is immersive reality with a direct purpose, and its successful application gives me hope it will be used more in the future. There are many more besides, and Mbryonic provides a lovely list of examples if you wished to take a further look.
Another case of empathy VR with We Wait, by Aardman. A collaboration with BBC Connected Studios, it transports you to a beach in Turkey as you travel across the sea alongside a Syrian family, sharing their hopes and fears.
Because of this, brands are experimenting with the technology, notably on Facebook and YouTube. “The future of VR advertising will be a mesh between Product Placements and Interactive Call-to-Action Campaigns,” says Michael Rapoport of Get Virtual. “Furniture will be placed in VR real estate tours, consumer brands will be integrated in gaming which give the user benefits in the game, and so forth. The ads will be non-intrusive to the VR experience, but effective for the advertiser.”
However, what I fear is its misuse. VR is already a hot topic, and many websites are using it as a trend to hop onto – a hype train where they can farm a few more clicks or views. The number of articles making half-researched views on the topic and making inflammatory titles like ‘Why VR is dead’ is staggering. And indeed, there are companies misusing the tech, the worst case I have seen being a stand up comedy routine in VR. (Seriously, what is even the point?)
In a way its to be expected: with any new medium, there is a small part of experimentation before its successful application. Originally with The Jazz Singer (1927), continued by All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), and parodied in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) audio began to transform film. It was a time of rudimentary transition, restricted camera movements, live dialogue, and minimal editing. The earliest talkies were primitive, and often designed to capitalise on the novelty of sound. Talkies eventually dominated the filmmaking landscape, but it took time.
Francisco Lima, Visual Effects Technology Supervisor at Gramercy Park Studios, echoes the same thoughts: “There will be a transition period where content creators will develop multiple experiments while defining the ‘rule book’ for immersive filmmaking. The ‘rule book’ on coverage and camera moves to tell a narrative will need to be revisited and new techniques will need to be learnt. This is a far more complex medium to work in. A new grammar will evolve as the viewer also learns to watch VR, conventions will form and a new language will evolve.”
Immersive reality is an exciting tool for brands, as they think of ways to use the technology further. The question is one of application, and how these experiments in VR storytelling shall develop. My outlook is ultimately hopeful – I fully expect the technology to go beyond its more practical B2B applications and hit mainstream use in a few years time. My concerns until then are how it can be improperly used by companies up to this point.