It’s been a rough year for VR manufacturers. Consumer sales haven’t reached the numbers many consumer technology analysts had predicted. There has yet to be a runaway VR hit that has captured the public’s attention and driven headset demand. Despite slow sales and a small audience, we at BaM still believe in VR’s future. Those who invest in understanding it will be ready to capitalize when the cost and experiences align to take VR mainstream. We saw the dream in action again at this year’s BaM holiday party where we witnessed a handful of friends, family members and co-workers experience VR for the first time. Sure, there might have been a few cocktails involved, but the oooohs, aaaahhs and laughter we heard are proof of the magic a VR experience can bring. VR may not yet be a go-to channel for marketers like TV or digital advertising, but it’s worth exploring and learning because one day soon it will be the right channel. The trick at the moment is understanding how to use VR where it makes sense - where it’s more than a gimmick. One approach that has worked well for us is using VR to do something that the VR consumer technology analysts typically haven’t done well - peek into the future.
Take the customer to the product in its natural habitat
Formula Boats, a custom sport boat and yacht manufacturer, approached us when they were getting ready to show off their new 430 Super Sport Crossover boat, a vehicle set to lay the groundwork for their next generation of sport boats. The 430 SSC was more modular, customizable, and forward-looking than any product they’d built before. Formula designed a CAD model of the boat, but had yet to complete a physical concept - previously an important step before unveiling a new boat to the public. With the Miami International Boat Show coming up and neither a scale model nor a complete boat finished, they needed a way to give show attendees a sneak peek of their latest boat. Working with Formula’s engineers, BaM’s 3D artists and Creative Technology team set out to create an experience unlike any other available at the boat show. Targeting a Samsung Gear headset, BaM created a realistic model of the boat and a VR application so show-goers could experience the future of boating. The application put the viewer on the deck of the 430 SSC in the middle of the bright Bimini blue water of the Bahamas with nothing to distract them — just the viewer, the boat and sunshine. Using the same models and base application, BaM built out mobile and tablet versions of the experience so customers could come back and tour the boat any time they wanted.
Visualizing an architectural wonder
Creating experiences that showcase unreleased products isn’t the only way to use VR to peer into the future. VR can be as much an internal tool as an external one. BaM partners with Chase to create content for the huge screens throughout the World Trade Center Transit Hub. The largest of these screens is over 300 feet long. A 300-foot-long screen viewed by someone walking down a long, busy corridor has very different design considerations from the usual video designed for a mobile device or TV. The unique screens coupled with the space being public made designing and previewing content incredibly difficult for both BaM and Chase. To make BaM’s video concepts more effective and make previewing them more realistic, BaM modeled a 3D version of the World Trade Center Transit Hub and developed a VR application for the Oculus Rift that allows viewers to enter the Transit Hub and play a creative spot to visualize how the creative will work in the space. Most of the people involved in the day-to-day creation of the content have never stepped foot in the actual building. After putting on the headset and entering the virtual space for the first time, BaM’s creative team realized something important: You can’t see the whole screen at one time or even walk fast enough to catch an entire spot. That meant existing content was too short to last for the entire walk down the hall where the 300-foot screen sits. Immediately, this changed the way BaM designed WTC Transit Hub creative. Now BaM’s creative team can spend time in the space whenever they need to see how a new spot feels. The team can also export previews for the client that are much more meaningful than the elongated video previews they used to send. Chase can see the spot as if they were there and before any problems with the spot could be seen by the public.
Working with clients and new technology
One of our biggest takeaways from leaning into this kind of work was learning how to help our clients understand this set of technologies. We also teach them how to use VR experiences to great effect both internally and with their customers. There’s a certain level of education that needs to be done with each VR endeavor and that’s something on which we’ve focused a lot of our energy. To apply this at BaM, we host new technology presentations where we discuss where a trending or upcoming technology is in terms of what it’s capable of now, where it’s going, and how we might use it in creative execution. We always like to accompany these presentations with research projects we’ve taken on ourselves — so that rather than just learning what’s up from an article, we’ve gotten our hands dirty with the tech and found the limitations.
VR technology can be used to envision event set design, to test what billboards look like when cruising down the highway at 75mph, or even to sell future housing development. The examples discussed here are just a couple of ways we’ve used VR to peek into the future, but we’re excited to explore many more.