VR is here. Are we content with the content?


We have come a long way from the Lumière brothers, who, once they patented the cinematograph in 1892, transfigured reality for us.

What was once confined to a 46-second shot of workers leaving a factory in Lyon (1895), eventually unleashed itself through overpowering moving images combined with staggering soundtracks strung together by stellar screenplays. The somewhat mild invention, which clumsily approximated the illusion of movement, eventually spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry that has held the entire world in thrall for more than a century now.

However, remember this: the first cohesive dramatic feature-length film was canned a full decade after Auguste and Louis Jean Lumière’s weary workers plodded out of their factory. The world’s first television commercial (for Bulova Watches) wouldn’t show up until 1941. What’s worse, nothing moved in it — nothing at all.

Why this delay? The answer is worth a thought: It took time for our imagination to rein in the numerous possibilities of the fresh invention. Creative content, in other words, is not necessarily synchronous with a medium through which it seeks its expression; certainly not if the medium is fresh out of the oven.

More than 110 years after the Lumière brothers’ rather modest effort, we are standing in the brink of yet another sense-shuffling experience: the Virtual Reality, or VR, is here.

Not very long ago, VR was looked upon as a futuristic and somewhat esoteric concept better suited to air-terminal paperbacks. Typical for our times though, future catches up with us sooner than we can possibly suspect. This trend has once again been exemplified by the rapidly escalating influence of Virtual Reality in our daily lives.

Innovative behemoths have already latched themselves onto this epochal medium: Google through its cheap cardboard VR sets and Facebook through Oculus Rift. A multitude of other players — some with a hefty price tag, like Samsung Gear VR and others much kinder to the wallet, like VR Box — are vying for the attention of the ever-enthusiastic, ever-evolving consumer. You can now look through the binocular lenses of your own VR set and gape at a T-Rex charging at you, or hurtle down a roller coaster, if you so wish, if you carry in your pocket a touchscreen smartphone. As simple as that.

It’s all very fun and gay, except for one thing. The “immersive” (a word that keeps popping up whenever VR is mentioned) quality of the medium is yet to entrance us with suitable content, which can translate into a holistic sensorial experience that lasts for more than a few minutes and sucks us into a parallel life, or an alternative world, through magnificent storytelling.

This, of course, makes us wonder what will be in store for brands once we have begun to master this overwhelming medium that has all of a sudden, ironically, become a reality.

We have already seen first-movers reaping the benefits of VR. Apart from leading carmakers, who have jumped on the VR bandwagon, AT&T has launched a somewhat disturbing VR film on the ills of texting-and-driving and Coca-Cola has pondered on how it feels like to ride on Santa’s sleigh. Even Michelle Obama has her own 360° interview that combines breathtaking all-around-you infographics.

But is that what we should contain ourselves with? Most certainly not.

While spine-tingling, these examples smack of an early-day-tawdriness. They correspond to first-thoughts, awkward obsession with the spectacular features of the medium and a general confusion about how to use it to the best of a brand’s advantage. While it is fine to immerse yourself into experiencing a car, or taking a ride on Santa’s sleigh — there is a whole massive continent left to be explored here, for which we need to realign our ideas to its unique landscape.

As Jessica Brillhart, the principal filmmaker for Google VR, says, “The story is everywhere. So, rather than telling a story frame by frame… (we) need to build entire worlds.”

However God-like it may sound, Ms. Brillhart is probably not indulging in hyperbole. The grammar of VR storytelling and as a result, consumer engagement, may call for an entirely new kind of syntax, which will have less to do with conventional filmmaking techniques and more with the smooth, free-flowing, transgressive and transformative nature of life itself.

It is unlike anything we have ever done before, because it gives the favourite numeric of the marketing department, 360°, a whole new dimension. No pun intended.

To create an immersive brand experience, we need to assimilate the promises of VR infinitely faster than the early filmmakers during the turn of the century; only then would we be able to create real magic real soon.

Let’s get back to the drawing board, shall we?


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