A new, out-of-the-box, approach to impactful 'live' storytelling.
When I was 8, my parents bought a new refrigerator. It wouldn’t be anything special to remember really, except, I got to keep the box.
When you’re 8, a box can be anything. In the span of a few weekends, I transformed the box into a spaceship, a tank, and the Batmobile from Adam West’s “Batman.” With nothing but that enormous box’s four walls and the boundless imagination, I was able to completely lose myself in any story I could cook up.
It might sound crazy, but by leveraging immersive storytelling techniques, companies can effectively create their own box to amplify their brand’s story. In this post, we’ll break down what exactly immersive storytelling is, how companies can use it, and look at some examples of how successful immersive storytelling allows companies to completely engage their audience and drive results.
What is immersive storytelling?
Immersive storytelling uses the latest technology to create an unparalleled sense of presence for your audience. This not only encourages your audience to actively engage in your company’s or client’s story, but also ensures no member of your audience remains a passive observer. But what does this look like in practice?
One of the best examples of what exactly an enterprise can do with immersive storytelling is Google’s 2019 CES booth: “Google Assistant The Ride.” The booth was effectively Google’s riff on a Disney style track ride. CES goers waited in a queue, climbed into carts on a motorized track, and were whisked through a series of rooms showcasing a different function of Google Assistant.
Simple enough right? Here’s the kicker: for about three minutes Google had its audience's undivided attention. In a world where consumers can entertain themselves with any number of apps and platforms of their choosing, Google got to tell its story without having to worry about being disrupted by a pop-up ad or news alerts or any other reason people might scroll on to the next thing.
Plus, CNBC’s deputy tech editor called it “the most impressive booth” he’s ever seen at any trade show.
How to use it
Obviously, every company isn’t going to start turning their trade show booths into rollercoasters. It would turn trade shows into amusement parks. However, there’s more than one way to hand your audience their own refrigerator box. Companies should look to success with public facing immersive experiences for their own inspirations.
Think of the Van Gogh experience that’s been traveling to cities and surrounding guests in the artist’s work. A series of projectors and the works of a master turned museums and warehouses into hot ticket destinations in cities from Chicago to DC to San Diego to Boston.
Another great snapshot of what’s possible with immersive storytelling is Las Vegas’ Area 15. The 200,000 square foot entertainment, retail, and dining complex offers a never-ending series of show stopping activations for immersive storytelling.
The tools of the emerging trade
In fact, a complex like Area 15 is so compelling for entertainment purposes that in 2021, Panasonic announced a five-year partnership with the company. As part of their deal together, “the company will provide software development, engineering, projection design, show-quality support, projectors and more to help the venue build 360-degree visual experiences” (per BizBash).
The pair’s first outing together was, you guessed it, Van Gogh, The Immersive Experience. Our agency, Velocity XD, produced Panasonic’s 2022 CES booth and we brought Area 15’s consumer experience to the trade show floor. The booth not only displayed the awesome power of Panasonic’s new laser projectors, but also gave visitors a hint at the infinite possibilities immersive technology provides. Our partnership with Panasonic has given us great insight into combining storytelling with the technology required to create compelling immersive experiences for brands.
Immersive storytelling goes beyond tech
Immersive storytelling isn’t constrained to tech marketing stunts and public events. For example, in January of this year we helped produce the launch of VW’s all-new battery electric vehicle ID.7.
The idea was simple: drum up excitement for the launch of VW’s newest sedan with a brief and completely immersive experience. So instead of building another booth inside CES’s conference center, VW built a multi-colored display ‘box’ in the parking lot. This way, attendees on their way into the conference couldn’t miss it.
Once they entered the box, people were greeted by an all-consuming display with the ID.7 decked out in QR codes and luminescent paint. This way, anyone looking for a picture would instantly receive information about the car. With some tricky engineering, pumping music, and complex programming of Roe LED, lights, and the ID.7’s luminescent body panels we were able to help VW capture their audience’s undivided attention. Better yet, we were able to create an environment that warranted VW’s audience’s complete attention.
Immersive experiences like VW’s and Panasonic’s CES activations have a way of stirring curiosity, and even causing FOMO in attendees. Inherent in this is also sense of exclusivity which we know is a big driver for trade show audiences. The combination of emotions like; what is happening in there; or did you see the VW activation; or did you get to attend Panasonic or Google’s immersive experiences; provide strong evidence that reserving spend to create immersive experiences to communicate your brand’s message or story is well worth the investment.
Companies, however, should be worried about the biggest pitfall of immersive storytelling: underwhelming their audience. No enterprise should invest in creating its own curated environment only for it not to warrant its desired audience’s attention.
Avoiding this outcome should be easy enough for marketing executives, all they need to do is lean into their creatives. Imagination and (ironically for the purposes of this piece) out-of-the-box-thinking are the keys to immersive storytelling. Whatever booth, projected display, or theme your company winds up designing, the goal should be the same — give your audience their own refrigerator box experience while serving up your brand message or story.
Going forward, the opportunities are infinite
Currently, the MSG Entertainment group is constructing 516 feet wide and 366 feet tall sphere on the Strip in Las Vegas. It houses 16,000 LED screens and its exterior will be visible from space when fully lit.
Once inside guests will be entirely engulfed in whatever event they’re attending. Naturally, it’ll be a must-use venue for touring musicians, performers, and all other various attractions that roll through Vegas. But it’ll also be available to be rented for commercial use.
That means, at the next CES your company’s proverbial refrigerator box could potentially be seen from the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. Get ready for a new age of immersive storytelling because it’s coming and it’s here to stay. And storytellers like us, are loving the power of this medium while brands are loving the results.
By John Newcomb EVP Creative Strategy Velocity XD