Captivating Event Audiences through Immersive Experiences
by Michael Mascione
Immersive experiences bring stories to life in a holistic way – stories that surround you, engage you. Stories that you can directly participate in using technology to do so. So says Susan Bonds, CEO of 42 Entertainment.
Indeed, immersive experiences can have a unique place event marketing. They can foster greater attendee engagement with brands and products, transform, expand, and revitalize brand and product images, and offer more dynamic and deeper experiences.
In the past, the rudimentary nature and high cost of many immersive technologies, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and 3D mapping, hindered their viability in events. Now, a number of key elements more compelling and realistic experiences only immersive technology can deliver.
Originally, immersive technologies were largely driven by more shallow and less dynamic 2D and 3D experiences, such as earlier versions of virtual worlds like Second Life or WarcraftThat has changed significantly with the rise of 3D mapping projections, 4D (3D with physical effects), and augmented reality, which offer deeper, more realistic, and more dynamic experiences.
Immersive marketing has become less of a novelty and is playing a more integral role in broader brand marketing campaigns, offering itself as a powerful tool for event marketers.
3D Mapping Projections Rivet Event Audiences
3D mapping projections use different surfaces for illumination and projection of 3D images. Savvy marketers are projecting 3D images on the facades of buildings, while projections of 3D images on water have also wowed spectators. Due to their size and scope, they provide the ability to create a large-scale, dramatic impact at lower costs than ever before.
4d Projection – Introducing Michael Jordan ‘Melo M8' – Amazing Water Projection
“Until recently, 3D mapping projection campaigns typically ran no longer than 5-10 minutes. Now, some 3D mapping campaigns now are running for an entire day or week, like animated wallpaper,”, according to Rob Delfgaauw, CEO of NuFormer, a leading developer of 3D mapping projections.
But it hasn’t taken off yet and Delfgaauw has a major theory about it. One of the main barriers has been a lack of general understanding by event planners and marketers of the technology.
“Many people aren’t even aware of its existence, and only a relatively very small number of people have actually seen them in person,”Delfgaauw says.
As a result, many event planners and marketers have been unable or unwilling to convey the benefits and value of the technology to decision-makers.
Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and the Event Reality
Jason Latta, founder of Amazing Robot & Sons, an event marketing firm specializing in virtual reality and augmented reality, sees strong potential for immersive event experiences because of their ability to generate great “excitement and passion about brands,” and because of the greater “realism and memorability of in-person” immersive experiences.
Immersive technologies are being increasingly used in combination with each other, building off of each other’s capabilities. Gestural technology and augmented realities are more commonly blended than in the past, offering greater versatility in user interfaces. Latta, in fact, characterizes Nintendo's Wii system and Microsoft's Kinect as essentially “extensions of VR and AR,” noting that “Kinect is built into Microsoft's HoloLens headset.”
Editor's note: HoloLens is a computer headset designed to project images in midair and on surrounding objects. An example is NASA's Mars Holoens.
These newer forms of immersive technologies provide rich and multilayered experiences. This has expanded the kinds of content offered and has made them more interactive, generating greater brand engagement.
Augmented Reality: “Be the Tire” at the Detroit Auto Show
To give visitors at the Detroit Auto Show a real sense of the value of Michelin tires in different weather and road conditions, MC2 developed a tire simulator called “Be the Tire.”
Using augmented reality, attendees got a real feeling of the tire’s performance and value on the road. Visitors to the Michelin's exhibit stood on a platform in front of screens showing images of the tire, which MC2 shot from cameras mounted on the fenders of a car in all kinds of weather and road conditions. Through the use of tactile transducers embedded in the platform and within a hand-level dashboard, the simulator conveyed the road’s vibrations to the visitor’s body, enabling attendees to feel the texture of the tire on the road.
“In essence, it helped them feel, not just see how the tire could enhance their safety and comfort,” said Russell Reich, VP of Strategy at MC2.
The simulator experience proved highly successful from a number of perspectives. It not only drove significant social media exposure from attendees, but it also helped generate great press attention.
Simulator experience — Michelin at the Detroit Auto Show
Mixing the Physical with the Digital for an Immersive Experience
Immersive technologies are increasingly a blend of physical and digital experiences, called ambient interactivity.
Ambient interactivity typically refers to interactive forms built into or embedded in physical environments, such as interactive tables, windows, and walls. These forms afford a more natural, user-friendly interactivity that is well suited to event marketing.
In 2015, MC2 developed a 360-degree “immersive room” called “The Anomaly” for Nokia Bell Labs. The room’s interactive capability is an example of ambient interactivity, especially by showing how technology can transparently and automatically deliver content and experiences without the need for direct human activation.
The 24-foot by 18-foot room incorporated a 4K video wall and three other smart glass walls with opaque to transparent capabilities. Iconic moving images of Alexander Graham Bell and multiple Nobel Prize winners were programmed into the smart walls of the room’s exterior. A translucent onyx touchstone functioned as a unique trackpad to facilitate interaction on the 24-foot 4K video wall, which also had touchscreen capability. The room was designed primarily as a research and future concept presentation platform to enable information sharing within the organization. Reich notes that these experiences aren’t truly “replicable on the small screens of tablets and iPhones.”
Ambient interactivity — Nokia Bell Labs Anomaly
The Appeal of the Immersive
Immersive media has gained ground because of its strong appeal to younger audiences, especially millennials, who’ve been acclimated to interactivity and immersion by their experiences with next-generation video game systems and smartphones. These audiences expect interactivity in all environments, including out-of-home environments.
But the potential audience for immersive event marketing is broader than might be evident at first glance. Gestural technology offers a more organic and less threatening form of immersiveness that has demonstrated appeal to less technologically-sophisticated audiences and a tech-savvy crowd. Gestural technology uses “our natural “language” to operate these devices, which is much more intuitive and effortless when compared to touching a screen, manipulating a mouse or remote control, tweaking a knob, or pressing a switch,” according to EE Times.
The Role of Mobile and Social
From Latta’s perspective, VR equipment isn’t really necessary to access VR event experiences — users can “gain a window into” those experiences simply using their smartphones.
The pervasiveness of mobile has also helped fuel greater use of immersive media in events, especially augmented reality. In fact, mobile has emerged as a key bridge linking physical and digital experiences.
As Reich points out, pressure is mounting for event marketers and planners to develop event experiences, including immersive experiences, that attendees “can’t get anywhere else,” which has made the “amplification effect of events on social media” critical.
In his view, exhibitor success depends increasingly on significant numbers of attendees communicating their experiences via social media to their contacts. Attendees convey the uniqueness of the event experiences to a larger external audience and thereby “increase their social media currency.”
The impact of 3D mapping projections in social media is undeniable. NuFormer’s 2010 campaign launching Samsung’s 3D TV model in Amsterdam, showed the viral nature of 3D mapping projections. According to Delfgaauw the campaign generated over 50,000,000 views on the web from 2010 to 2013.
3D video mapping – Samsung, Amsterdam, the Netherlands – May 2010
The company also developed a logo reveal 3D mapping campaign in 2013 for Philips aimed at highlighting the relocation of the company’s headquarters to Amsterdam. The campaign incorporated an interactive element using Kinect, which allowed dance scenes from street goers to be overlayed onto the façade of Philips’ new headquarters.
3D video mapping – Philips, Amsterdam, the Netherlands – November 2013
5 Challenges Facing Immersive Media
Clearly, further technological, creative, and strategy development will be needed for immersive event marketing to truly reach its potential. There are five major challenges immersive media technologies need to figure out in order to bring it to the event marketing mainstream.
- Comfort: Safe equipment and more comfortable user interfaces are needed for such technologies as virtual reality.
- Cost: Lower the high cost for some of these technologies like VR.
- Measurement: Development of accurate and robust measurement techniques for gauging effectiveness in events and other contexts. Some efforts have been made to apply techniques of ROE (return on experience) to better gauge user response, but these haven’t been completely accepted or satisfactory.
- Awareness: Raise the level of awareness of immersive media’s capabilities among event marketers.
- Education: Greater education and training on technologies are paramount to seeing them implemented moving forward.
“The event industry is plagued by a bias toward the familiar,” Reich said. “There’s a great divide between old-school analog and new-school digital thinking. While there’s great effort and money invested in tangible elements, such as walls and floors in trade show booths, insufficient attention is devoted to creating compelling visitor experiences visitors within those booths, which is more valuable, and connects visitors with exhibiting brands.”
What the Future Holds
- Social Immersive Gaming. The rise of social immersive media, such as social immersive gaming, could spawn greater and wider engagement opportunities for immersive event marketing, given the inherent social nature of events.
- Popup Events. Another great advantage of immersive media in events is their suitability for pop-up events, which have become increasingly common and effective.
- Immersive Documentaries. Newer applications of immersive media, such as immersive documentaries, and socially immersive gaming, also offer greater creative and promotional possibilities for event marketers.
- Multi-sensory Experiences. Immersive event marketing is increasingly employing more diverse multi-sensory experiences. Live marketing events commonly exploit some senses to the detriment of others, according to Russell Reich. He emphasizes the need for immersive event marketing to “exploit other senses, such as touch,” which afford key opportunities for driving “actions that benefit brands” in events and other contexts.
In this regard, 4D technology offers special opportunities to broaden multisensory experiences for event marketers.
Trendy Now, Necessity Later.
Immersive event marketing is growing in importance and scope, but many untapped opportunities exist. The field is becoming more economically viable, compelling, and versatile.
For example, attendees may have increasing opportunities to interact with live actors using immersive media at trade shows and other events. These experiences will increasingly allow attendees to have shared experiences with other attendees at the same location or anywhere else watching in the world.
The question isn’t if you should start understanding the role immersive media plays into your strategy. It’s when.
Michael Mascioni is a market research consultant, writer, and conference planner in digital media and clean energy. He's written extensively on the role of interactive and immersive media in events, including writing a white paper on social media in events for Echelon Design. Mr Mascioni is co-author of “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier,” which discussed immersive experiences in leisure facilities. He also wrote a chapter on the future of ambient interactivity in public places for “FutureScapes- the Future of Business.”
Mr. Mascioni was program director and project manager for the 2012 DNA/US digital out-of-home interactive conference, and planned a conference on mobile and gestural digital signage, which preceded the Digital Signage Expo in 2009. He also was program director of the Intertainment conferences on interactive entertainment, and worked as an analyst in the broadband entertainment group at Strategy Analytics.