Simon Richings is the Executive Creative Director at London-based creative agency AnalogFolk. We asked him to use his experience working with tech-savvy brands to take a look at what technology we'll be using for clients in the not-too-distant future. Simon demonstrates that brands are already innovating with Oculus Rift, and explores the potential for creativity with Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap.
There’s an inevitable agency gold rush (Pencil rush?) when a new technology captures the popular imagination. It’s a race to do something cool for a client, and ride the Mashable/Techcrunch/etc-led wave of initial astonishment.
Occasionally something good happens at this point – something relevant, useful or genuinely exciting – but in the main it’s just ‘hey we used that new thing!’. Then there’s the lull as ‘that new thing’ becomes a marketing cliché. The phenomenon is brilliantly parodied in a promotional video for the Creative Fuel conference in Australia. Drones are hovering in this space right now, along with 3D printing and projection mapping.
But after this (assuming the tech is going to go the distance), things get interesting again. Without the wings of novelty to artificially lift them, the ideas have to be really good. They have to deliver some actual value – to people, as well as brands.
Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap are three technologies at the start of this journey.
They’re superficially similar: each has hardware that delivers digital content straight to your eyes, but there’s one big difference between Oculus and the others. Oculus Rift puts you in an alternate, virtual reality. Your actual surroundings are completely shut off by its chunky headset. HoloLens and Magic Leap don’t obscure your vision. Instead they augment your surrounding with digital objects. Magic Leap may well do other magical things too. There’s no public footage of it being used yet, but given that Google has invested $542m in the company, the feeling is that something special is coming.
So beyond the race to be first, and the making of cool videos showing cool new tech, what are the real opportunities for brands with these devices?
Oculus Rift can transport you to another place, or let you see through another’s eyes. So, imagine immersive product experiences that allow you to see more than would otherwise be possible. Hiking shoe brand Merrell and Framestore created a stand at the Sundance Film Festival that transported visitors to the side of a mountain. With Oculus on (and Merrell shoes, of course) film fans got a break from the sit-down cinema, edging along a small, ground–level ledge that felt like it was a few 1,000 feet up.
Inition put Oculus headsets in Topshop’s flagship London store, and let competition winners virtually sit in the front row of their Tate Modern, London Fashion Week show. Although it would have perhaps been nicer for the winners to attend the show for real - just a short tube ride away - it allowed Topshop to give their show an arguably more talk-worthy presence in their highest footfall location.
The concept video for Microsoft’s HoloLens concentrates very much on personal use, whether that’s entertainment or utility. Some marketeer commentators have suggested it offers the prospect of virtual billboards, miraculous mapped onto the user’s environment. I can’t imagine a cruder or more annoying way to use HoloLens or Magic Leap.
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The real opportunity, once again, is to provide some real value. What if I could stand in a room in my home (or more likely in a room set at a trade show or retailer) and instantly see what the place would look like if I changed the wallpaper. Or repainted that door. Or placed that designer chair. Or put another window in that wall.
Enhancing a real experience with relevant information is another fertile space. Expect lots of digital ‘Buy now’ buttons, hovering over real objects, but also more sophisticated ideas. Will brands be letting people attach a layer of perfectly contextual stats to the athletes at live sporting events? The potential to make anywhere a location for immersive theatre is there too. I’m excited about the prospect of being taken on a fantastical journey in a familiar place.
For the short to medium term, one thing is certain: owned spaces matter. If a brand has shops, or an exhibition stand or another physical location that they can invite people into, then all this sexy stuff becomes possible. Oculus Rift isn’t going to be everywhere straightaway. And if HoloLens becomes ‘the next PC’ (as one hype-bite suggested), it’s not going to be remotely ubiquitous for some time. Therefore brands will need to bring their own hardware if these experiences are going to be meaningful and valuable. Unless, of course, they just want to make videos of somebody else having all the fun.
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