During the Star Wars celebration last month, Lucasfilm and Disney announced their latest project – a virtual reality film written by David Goyer, whose previous credits include The Dark Knight, Blade, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, alongside VR specialists ILMxLAB. This made headlines as the first film commissioned, produced and written with the express intention of being consumed in a VR context. Though an incredibly experimental process, the appointment of one of the greatest movie writers of the last decade shows that Disney means business, presenting VR as a viable, tangible and commercially justifiable option for entertainment. Though an exciting prospect for audiences, the film’s announcement is also an incredibly pivotal moment for marketers – if VR is indeed here to stay, what does it mean for relationships between creatives and consumers? Audiences can now be immersed in an entirely new art form, and modern advertising must adapt to stay ahead of the game.
The trend for VR and 360o video has been gaining momentum in the advertising world with considerable pace over the last year. With its much more immersive and interactive user experience, 360o has given creative agencies a new ease of life, albeit alongside a new set of challenges. To have a major film studio now adopting similar techniques adds an extra weight and validity to these endeavours, proving that VR is not just a gimmick but a popular way of engaging audiences.
Goyer has gone on record saying that his story about Darth Vader will ‘make you cry’. This is something that 360-degree video excels at - thrusting users into completely absorbing environments, circumstances and contexts that create emotional reactions and visceral connections between the user and the experience. Video is already a proven way of breaking through to audiences of different ages and demographics, and succeeds best when it depicts ideas, narratives or visual images that provide an empathetic and exciting link with consumers. VR is the next step of a running trend.
What virtual reality gives to audiences is a degree of control and interactivity. As Goyer and Lucasfilm have said about their project, ‘you are the visitor in this story, happening in and around you, which to a certain extent, you may have some effect on….it can make you lean in and feel for a character in a way you haven’t before. In a way you really can’t do in any other medium’. The emphasis here is on how the audience has the choice of what to react to, where to move their heads, what to watch and for how long for. Advertisers can learn a considerable amount from this approach when it comes to placing ads and providing content , given that users are now demanding greater control over what ads they see and where they see them. Granting consumers this freedom guarantees a smoother user flow and as a result, a more positive experience and appreciation for the brand.
Fundamentally, this move to make VR films reflects the transformation of the role of audiences in media. Quality content isn’t enough anymore – a quality experience for the user also has to be guaranteed. For advertisers, immersive experiences like 360o and VR video are instrumental in providing these experiences, and beyond this, providing consumers with control and interactive opportunities. Disney and Lucasfilm’s initiative is only the start of an innovative period for the entertainment industry and it will be exciting to see just how far this journey goes.