About ten years ago, my creative director was judging the Cannes Cyber Lions. He was frustrated with the way the panel was evaluatin...

Advertising needs a (virtual) reality check on Oculus Rift


About ten years ago, my creative director was judging the Cannes Cyber Lions.
He was frustrated with the way the panel was evaluating the work.
It was around this time that Flash banners were the main output of digital agencies.
The projects submitted to awards were all doing new, gimmicky things.
In particular - you could have two banners on either side of a web page and a product could move from one banner to the other.
Think about that now - looking back a decade - how gimmicky that seems.
Whereas the criteria for winning the D&ADs was whether it would stand up decades later. Fads didn't win.
You see, we do like to get excited about new things in the agency world.
And new does get attention, technology can wow people  - but it doesn't sustain.
So let's look at the latest buzz - Virtual Reality.
Ever since it was first on Kick Starter, agencies have been touting the Oculus Rift. The most prominent of many VR goggles coming out this year.
As of yesterday the consumer edition is available to pre-order. The technology is going mainstream.
But where is the compelling content?
Good work is out there. Such as Clouds Over Sidra - from director Chris Milk and his studio VRSE.
The film follows a Syrian refugee in a holding camp. It affected policy change in the UN by connecting politicians to the realities of war.
Story telling is still story telling. And this is why the documentary makers are the ones doing the interesting work right now.
But agencies have got so excited about being the first to produce VR content that they have forgotten about the rules of successful film making.
We need to take off the rose-tinted (VR) glasses.
And remind ourselves about how to make content for brands.
As one of the few who have both experienced the consumer Rift and also shot with a VR camera rig - These are a couple of thoughts for people setting foot into this world:
1. Device agnostic VR
1% of PCs can run a full 3D VR experience - that limits its use to experiential.
And the problem we will also have with this approach is that the experience is not shareable.
We are going to see a lot of photos of people with the goggles on, but the experience the user gets will not be easily translated.
Throughput it also a major problem. Even a two minute film means the number of people who can experience your content is limited.
However, YouTube and Facebook provide 360 video natively in their platforms.
Google Cardboard - the cheap, portable VR viewer that uses your mobile phone - can play these too.
For now VR content should be shot to be experienced at scale - made available across these platforms and viewers.
2. Shoot film
For deep emotional engagement at a palatable budget, film is the way to go for now. 
Bespoke 3D environments are costly and they're limited to high end devices and so lack scale.
Place a cost per engagement metric against that and you'll soon see marketing directors running for the hills.
A VR rig is cheap, and easy to shoot on once you've understood the stitching software.
But as with all content, creating rich, powerful stories is far easier when shot for real, than when faked.
I've spent years on automotive accounts and I hate computer generated cars in films - they never look real and burn up all the budget.
Let me point a lens at them any day.
Same applies for VR content.
So let's go forward into this brave new virtual world with these thoughts in mind.
But remember:
Bad content, in any medium, on any platform is still… bad content

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