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Why marketers need to take VR more seriously

Features

Published by:

20 April 2018

Author: Rachael Stott

Image: Department of New Realities by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam

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We spoke with Anita Fontaine and Geoffrey Lillemon, creative directors of Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam’s Department of New Realities, who are blending speculative fiction with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to create a new medium.

 

Could you explain what the Department of New Realities is and the type of work that you do?

The Department of New Realities is a future-forward creative entity at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam. We’re driven by new technologies, but led by art, to create innovative experiences that people have never had before. VR, theatre, AR and installations are some of the practical outcomes of our future-forward speculative fiction machine, which aims to bring together clients and consumers.

At present, VR is primarily used for entertainment purposes, such as gaming, brand activations and social networks. Looking ahead, do you think VR will be a viable platform for retailers?

Soon it will be easier to tap into these dimensions. Already, major communication platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are starting to seriously consider how to integrate spatial design and dimensional layers into our realities. VR and AR installations in retail will become the norm – as soon as we solve where to put your handbag and the hygiene issue. But, seriously, we could be on the cusp of building a new kind of enlightened retail environment for consumers, one where you offer people more than just a product or passive media, but the chance to explore and play inside a new kind of playground.

Department of New Realities by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam
Brands, more than ever, have a responsibility to be at the leading edge in the creation of inspiring destinations. We’d be terrified of a future where brands used VR to create pop-up ads in a world of infinite possibilities.

How would you advise brands to genuinely engage with consumers through VR without resorting to gimmicks or one-off experiences?

VR can be used to create genuine experiences and emotional reactions so we are taking the power of the medium seriously. To some extent, something new can have a gimmicky feel, but as the expression evolves and the landscape becomes more saturated, the expectations of consumers will also expand. We will have more meaningful and more premium choices for the kinds of VR we want to experience.

Critics argue that VR can be an isolating and antisocial platform. What ethical issues do brands need to consider when creating VR experiences?

We have found that certain environments lend themselves more to VR and others to AR, so we should be sensitive to the audience and scenario. VR could be more successful in mundane settings that you might want to escape from such as air travel, for example, whereas AR might be more suited to enhancing a social situation you are enjoying. There are many different solutions to making VR more social, and virtual societies are popping up everywhere, allowing for social networking, but with the added advantage of identity and gender augmentation of self- and avatar expression, which is fantastic.

We often add physical layers to enhance our technology projects, such as theatre and set design to support a kind of spectacle. In our Bitmap Banshees project – a VR thriller game installation set in a future dystopian Amsterdam – participants ride a modified Mad-Max-style bike that acts as the game’s interface, while spectators can follow their journey on a connected screen. We had a lot of positive feedback on this set-up, as the audience was brought into the experience by being able to see what each player was seeing, which ultimately made it a more social experience.

In terms of ethics, we’re not scientists, but we are aware that a lot of research is happening with regard to issues such as desensitisation, privacy and sensory vulnerability, so we hope we’ll know more soon. In our work we like to focus on the positive effects, like the fact that you can trick the brain into thinking it’s really in nature using VR, which we did with our project for Corona, Paraíso Secreto. Like any other medium, VR can, of course, be exploited to create some nasty new realities. Brands, more than ever, have a responsibility to be at the leading edge in the creation of uplifting and inspiring destinations. We’d be terrified of a future where brands used VR to create pop-up ads in a world of infinite possibilities.

Department of New Realities by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam
Brands should be working more to enable artists to build universes in these spaces.

As new virtual spaces are created, and individuals create avatars and digital identities to use in VR, who is responsible for policing behaviour in these spaces?

The media platforms that support the avatars and virtual spaces will have control over identity in open or repressive ways. Recently we have been uploading 3D content to a social medium platform only to find out there is a size limit on the assets – one of our avatars had to become bald in 3D instead of having long flowing hair, just to meet the megabyte requirement. So you can see how limitations as small as this create issues of who we can be in virtual space.

Our process of creating new realities comes from intuition, not from overthinking the logic of strategy. We like to work in an environment where there are no limitations and a production process that is conducive to experimentation, allowing for something new. Our background in classical art techniques and exploration of technology has allowed us to speak the language of science and art to help define the futures landscape, while also addressing a client’s brief or brand need.

 
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