There’s a funny thing I realised at Cannes this week. For an industry built on broadcasting mass media (yes, even in 2016), the whole week is actually a testament to what we at Jack Morton, and the wider experiential industry, have known for years: the power of a live experience. The value of face-to-face conversations. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Everything about it - from the keynotes and workshops to activations, demos and beanbag-filled beachside branded bars - uses the typical tools ’n' touchpoints of brand experience to create deeper engagement, more focus, and more powerful memories. It’s like the whole advertising/marcomms industry knows, deep down, that when you want people to connect, communicate and share, a live experience is hard to beat.
And what’s really interesting is that the hottest tech topic at this year’s festival - VR and ‘Presence’ - is also all about the power of experience. As Marc Mathieu, Samsung USA’s CMO, said: "We used to say ‘seeing is believing’, now we can say ‘experiencing is believing.’". Chris Milk, creative tech artist extraordinaire, looks at it another way. He sees VR as the first manifestation of a completely new form of communication: "This represents the democratisation of human experience, just like the Internet was the democratisation of information".
Samsung, Facebook, YouTube plus several others... You can’t move for VR demos at Cannes (pro-tip: actually don’t move when you’ve got the headset on - the effect is so powerful that you’ll believe your eyes, not your inner ear. Several people have gone sprawling out of their chairs in the Samsung VR zone as a result.) If you haven’t tried it with high-end kit, do. When it’s good, its extraordinary. The feeling of ‘being there’ is why organisations like the UN and UCL are finding ways to harness its uncanny power to create emotion and empathy.
But as Milk says, VR is just one way of doing it. Wearable Experiments' Billie Whitehouse showed off the ‘Football Fan’ shirt, an amazing piece of wearable technology that uses haptic feedback (buzzing, basically) to connect you, the fan, to a player on the field. Racing heart rate, a tackle, the buzz of a goal - the peaks and troughs of the player’s match is experienced by the wearer in a visceral, unmissable way, wherever you’re watching. And a different kind of buzz powers another of their projects: Durex’s ‘Fundawear’ - app-controlled undergarments (aka The Internet of Thongs) that uses the same vibrating technology to let long-distance couples…well, I think you can see where this is going.
Samsung used this understanding of sensory cues in a slightly more SFW setting at Maison du Samsung, the centrepiece of which was an immersive experience around surfing in Tahiti, including stand-on vibrating (oh come on, grow up) surfboard, air jets and water spray, all to trick and transport the ‘viewer’ (if we can still use that term). It’s all in the service of creating that profound feeling of "presence" that NYT Magazine’s editor Jake Silverstein described as the creative benchmark of their VR content offering, NYTVR.
All this means great things for how we approach content marketing around live events. We already create 360 experiences. They are (or at least should be) multi-sensory and immersive. And we now have an amazing avenue to rethink and reimagine how we turn the magic of a live moment into content… something that, let’s face it, doesn’t always survive the journey onto the 2D screen. The platforms, technology and public understanding that will help us do this are just starting to enter the mainstream. The language and norms of this type of content are still to be written. So we, as experts in creating experiences, have an opportunity to beautifully blur the lines between digital and live, audience and participant. Let’s take it.
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