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Creative Foundations for VR

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Opinion by Tom Fenwick-Smith, Creative Director, REWIND

Back when I began my journey in advertising, digital advertising was pretty niche - above-the-line was still king; Facebook and Twitter were the new kids on the block. We knew they were going to be huge, but it wasn’t always an easy job convincing clients of this. At the start, it took a lot of education, and sometimes persuasion, to get social media into a strategy. Now, look where we are! Digital advertising has reached the tipping point and is set to command the lion's share of a client's investment.

Immersive technologies are sharing a similar path. We’ve had the early adopters jump on the technology with relish, while others are still reticent because of a fear of the unknown or a lack of understanding about the tech. However, any serious marketer needs to be aware of, and consider, these new immersive mediums - particularly if predictions from Goldman Sachs are anything to go by: the research team forecasts that by 2025, the VR and AR market will be the same size of the PC market today.

Right now, our industry is niche but growing at breakneck speed. Its potential is almost limitless. With VR delivering transportive memorable experiences and AR achieving moments of magic in the real world, brands should be looking to these immersive mediums as the next generation of audience engagement.

The methods that we are using in both VR and AR give our clients the ability to solve any problem they might have. As a creative, it can be quite daunting to have such an extensive toy box to play with and it can also pose some interesting challenges. These predicaments have led me to develop some cornerstones of creative development.

Managing Expectations

The process can be just as much about educating clients on the possibilities available as it is about defining the problem. It can also be about reigning ambition in! While we can create almost anything, we don’t have a magic wand, and certain things are just not going to work. It’s also important to state that VR doesn’t make a bad idea good. It doesn't strengthen an idea; it will just highlight any weaknesses. The idea should drive the project, rather than the desire to use the tech for tech’s sake.

Building a Strong Brief

Almost all great creativity stems from a solid brief and the definition of the problem. In immersive mediums, developing the brief is even more important than it can be for a traditional campaign. As you can create practically anything with VR and AR, it's crucial to narrow down exactly what the client's problem is and exactly how to solve it. In some cases, this might mean that VR or AR is not the answer.

Form Follows Function

The phrase ‘form follows function' has its roots in the world of modernist architecture and industrial design. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should primarily be based upon its intended function or purpose. This thinking can be applied to building VR or AR. What do we want people to do? What do we want them to feel? After the function of the experience is obtained, the form (or output) becomes a much more straightforward choice. Too often a client and creative will want to build something using shiny new tech because the thought of using it is exciting and fun. But unless the idea fulfills its function, the form will fall short.

Sweating the Assets

With VR, we can maximise assets by amplifying them across platforms. This helps to tackle the inevitable questions around reach. For example, if we build a real-time VR experience with the most powerful devices in mind, we can create a 360-degree video for distribution on Facebook and YouTube. We have recently built real-time VR experiences and translated them into AR for mobile to show what is possible. As a creative, it's important to be able to pick key moments from the experience to continue the story, while making sure the function of the campaign is still aligned. Again this falls under helping the client to understand the potential of what they have and how to fully utilise it.

Virtual Reality Still Needs

Some Reality People are not entirely comfortable in VR unless they have some reality references. For example, when creating driving and flying experiences, we have found that adding a virtual helmet or cockpit helps to prevent motion sickness. Spending time on R&D can make or break the immersion. Which brings me onto my next point...

Experimenting is not a Bad

Thing With large-scale, ambitious projects, we always build an R&D phase into the plan as there is often an element of the unknown. The industry and the technology are still in their infancy - we’ve come a long way quickly, but there is still so much to learn. While we might enter a project not knowing 100% how we will deliver it, importantly, we are always confident that we can. The R&D phase ensures that we can successfully sail through uncharted waters. Allowing the design, development and creative teams to sit down and communicate, and talk through each challenge and experiment, helps us to find new and exciting avenues to pursue and implement. Playing reaps the rewards.

Much of the above still stands true for a standard digital campaign. However, in recent years, the traditional digital campaigns have defined their language so well that now, rewards are found in breaking the rules and subverting the norm. In VR, the visual language and rule book are still being written. These guiding foundations can be used as a fixed jumping point to guide the creative and enhance its benefits for the client, the brand, and most importantly the user.

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