Rob

The opportunity in interactive video

Originally featured in the August 27th 2017 issue of Campaign Middle East

It’s hardly a revelation to say that video content has never been as popular as it is right now. Whether it be on Facebook, YouTube, Display, or increasingly, Snapchat & Instagram, more and more of users’ time online is spent consuming video in some form. By the end of this year, KPCB estimates that video content will account for 74% of all online traffic, and Mark Zuckerberg has even said that he expects Facebook to be almost entirely video within the next five years. But while the digital video format itself has never been more accessible, many of the digital video ads that tend to make it out into the wild don’t truly take advantage of the opportunities that digital channels allow. Most still ape TV spots that have been adapted to digital – a new format but an old mindset. While television is a passive channel, digital is not, and its potential is currently not being fully utilized. Consequently, we seem to have reached a point where viewers have become numb to video on digital channels – not surprising when you consider the slew of formats that seem to have gotten increasingly aggressive in recent years such as un-skippable pre-rolls, auto-playing sound-on ads, and now the particularly jarring mid-roll videos that burst into your viewing experience half-way through.

Viewers are fed up of video ads taking over their digital experiences and forcing them to passively bear witness to their marketing message. In 2017, most consumers are used to interacting with content on digital channels, especially on mobile. Many expect a certain level of interactivity. Users are familiar with gamified experiences and tend to tune-out at the first sign of a countdown to skip an ad. As attention spans seemingly decrease, passive content just isn’t grabbing users’ attention as it once did.

Things are looking up though as the range of functionality open to digital video is getting broader and broader all the time. Interactive videos have been around in some form for a few years now, but this trend is starting to become more prevalent of late, especially outside of advertising. Just this summer Netflix introduced a series of interactive shows for children that allow them to make choices throughout each episode that dictate the journey the episode takes. This all seems like quite a novel idea for kid’s TV shows, but imagine being able to control what happens to your favourite characters, or reveal alternative scenes in shows like House of Cards or Game of Thrones. What better way to keep viewers engaged than by getting them involved and letting them influence the the content itself, right? The same goes for advertising too.

Choice-driven videos have been shown to work especially well in a story-telling and educational capacity. The UK Resuscitation Council used such an approach in a campaign to teach viewers the basics of giving CPR by presenting them with an emergency scenario where they have to make a set of choices to save someone’s life. The thinking behind it is that involving the viewer in the process in this way provides for a much more visceral experience, and by getting viewers to interact with the content, they are much more likely to absorb the information.

We are also starting to see more examples of mobile video utilizing the particular features of the smartphone itself to enable the viewer to interact with the content in a more intuitive way. AdColony’s new Aurora HD mobile video ad format lets users manipulate video content by tapping, tilting or swiping during a video. A recent treasure hunt style video to promote the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie showcased the impressive graphical elements that can be used to immerse the viewer in the video while adding a gamified element to the experience. Similarly, a recent campaign from Visit Britain let viewers use their mobile device’s gyroscope to switch between visual tours of several different parts of the country by pointing their mobile either North, South, East or West to see what each part of the country has to offer.

These features can be used in a host of ways to let viewers define their own journey, answer questions, buy products, access exclusive content, complete forms and much more, all from within the video itself. There’s still a great deal of potential left to explore with interactive video, and with Facebook trying to muscle in on TV-style programming with its new ‘Watch’ platform and Snapchat et al yet to truly take advantage of this format either, advertisers better start thinking about how they might adapt their current approach to video for a more interactive future.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Campaign Magazine, Mobile

Two of the best AR implementations I’ve seen yet

I absolutely love this implementation of Apple’s AR kit! Imagine sitting down in a restaurant and being able to physically see your food on your plate before you order? I’ve being thinking of this as a really practical AR use case for a while but I’m seriously impressed at how well this prototype looks.

In the automotive industry, Chevrolet have rolled-out an impressive AR virtual showroom in Korea that let’s users check-out the latest models wherever they are.

Posted by Rob in Apple, Augmented Reality

BBC research on consumer attitudes to VR

Virtual Reality has been a hot topic for the last couple of years, but for many general consumers the jury is still very much out on how useful the platform is on a day-to-day basis outside the sphere of gaming. That’s why it’s interesting to dive into the BBC’s latest research on how the average consumer feels about VR.

The general consensus is that for VR to be successful it needs simple, intuitive and consistent interfaces, better curation and content discovery, and a higher supply of quality content which is ‘worth the effort’, i.e. not something that they can simply watch on TV instead. Below is a very broad recap:

  1. What did audiences think about VR before they’d actually tried it?
    • Most participants were broadly excited about the prospect, but mainly associated VR with gaming.
    • Some were worried about getting nauseous or looking silly in front of friends and family.
  2. How did participants react to their first experience?
    • Participants were ‘equally enthralled and delighted’.
    • Their initial – fairly low – expectations were far outstripped in terms of the quality of the experience.
  3. What content resonated?
    • Generally participants wanted to get straight to experiences designed to get your blood pumping, things like horror, rollercoasters and other extreme experiences that they wouldn’t normally do and which had some novelty value.
    • Leading the audience on a journey is crucial; experiences without a narrative or goal tended to fall flat – experiences with good story-telling or clear objectives worked well.
    • Presence and embodiment were also important as the viewer must feel ‘there’ to be immersed (e.g. a Cirque du Soleil experience where the characters made plenty of eye contact with the viewer).
    • Audiences need time to process and understand what is happening around them before being able to follow a narrative. When and where to draw their attention is also fundamentally important.
  4. What are the key challenges to overcome for VR to become mainstream?
    1. Many of the participants found the user interface to be tricky.
    2. Often the way to navigate around various VR environments differs from app to app.
    3. Difficulty discovering new content was a huge issue.
    4. Some users were concerned about being shut-off from what’s happening around them.
    5. Social norming – some were anxious about feeling stupid in front of friends.
    6. Physical space – often audiences weren’t in the right physical situation – sitting down on a sofa after a long day or lying in bed is not conducive to an experience which necessitates turning around and looking behind you.
    7. Proximity of headset – the headset needs to be conveniently available.
    8. Social interaction – for some audiences the insular / individual nature of the experience was off-putting.
    9. Often the headsets or the screens of the phone will be dirty, blurring or obscuring the images.
    10. The phone must be charged.
    11. If you haven’t used your headset for a while, you might forget how to use it.
    12. Many handsets overheated after 30 or so minutes of usage.
    13. Variable Wi-Fi quality leading to poor content resolutions and slow download speeds.

Check it out for yourself here.

Posted by Rob in Virtual Reality

Apple finally flexes its AR muscles

At last week’s Worldwide Developer Conference we finally got to see what Apple has up its sleeve when it comes to Augmented Reality. This is huge for the AR space as this basically lets developers create AR tools for any app, not just a walled garden like Facebook which we heard from in this regard recently.

This breakdown from Benedict Evans explains it better than I can:

“As was entirely predictable, Apple has added APIs for augmented reality. The phone uses the camera and motion sensors to do rock-solid positional reaching – you can tap on your screen to place a game on a table in front of you, walk around it, wave the phone around and all the action stays locked in place. This is hard for anyone without Apple’s integrated model to match. Facebook announced its own AR APIs in the spring, but they don’t have the hardware integration (nor a history of being a reliable development partner), and this is something that naturally belongs in the operating system. AR is the hot thing now, and the demos are cool, but this is also, of course, a natural building block for the mixed reality glasses that Apple is widely rumored to be working on for sale in a couple of years (equally, the Apple Watch and AirPods are probably hardware building blocks for this). When it comes, the first apps will already be there.”

Check out Venture Beat’s demo below:

Posted by Rob in Apple, Augmented Reality

Facebook & Snapchat are battling it out to change the way we visualize the world around us

Originally featured in the May 28th 2017 issue of Campaign Middle East

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s probably never been truer than it is today. It’s no surprise that people are communicating less and less through text these days – and more and more through visual means on mobile messaging apps and social media platforms in particular.

Instagram may have kick-started this trend a few years ago on social media, but Snapchat dragged it into the personal messaging space and other platforms have followed suit, so much so that now, rather than using digital imagery as a way of simply documenting and presenting our lives, we actively use visuals to communicate in the place of text. Snapchat has been the poster child of this movement over the last 3 years or so, tripling its daily active users to over 160 Million. Not content at being left behind, Facebook has copied pretty much every visual messaging feature that Snapchat has popularized on each of its four platforms – Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook itself.

While facial lenses and basic image editing have become a bit of a commodity on social messaging channels though, both platforms are trying to branch out from this to a more ‘augmented reality’-style future where users can actively overlay digital elements onto whatever they are looking at in real-time. Think Pokemon Go, although much more interactive and responsive to your actual surroundings. Snapchat describes it as “painting the world with 3D experiences”.

Snapchat may have been the catalyst for this trend, but it seems that Facebook are innovating at faster speed. At the company’s recent F8 event Mark Zuckerberg launched a host of new 3D camera effects, highlighting a renewed focus on creating a ‘camera platform’, an onus on the camera not simply being a tool used just to capture images, but to communicate too. He even went as far as to say that the camera needs to be more central than the text box in all of their apps.

This is a way for Facebook to fully insert itself into the real world, to become the link between your smartphone and everything you see around you. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Zuckerberg expanded on this approach, “Facebook is so much about marrying the physical world with online. When you can make it so that you can intermix digital and physical parts of the world, that’s going to make a lot of our experiences better and our lives richer”.

Demoing these new 3D camera effects, one Facebook engineer pointed his phone at a table and a 3D propeller plane appeared on the screen, flying around a water bottle on the table top. Another used his phone’s camera to turn the room into a planetarium, with planets and stars spread out across the ceiling. Another took a normal photo of a face, then manipulated the expressions into a smile and then a frown.

Facebook also showed off various 3D scenes created entirely from a handful of 2D photos. The scenes had real depth to them, allowing viewers to tilt their head to see behind a bed in a room, or peer around a tree in a forest. Users could dim the lights in the image of a room, flood it with water, or even leave a digital object in the room that would still be there for someone else to discover at a later time.

The ultimate idea here is to turn the real world into an extension of Facebook itself. While Zuckerberg highlights examples like using Facebook’s camera to view pieces of digital art affixed to a wall, or to play a digital game overlaid on a table-top, you can see the long game here – dragging elements that would normally appear in your feed, for example, into the real world. But as well as pieces of content from your friends and family, surely this means ads too. As the traditional Facebook Newsfeed takes a back seat to messaging apps, this could be one way of keeping this type of content relevant going into the future, as well as expanding their ad inventory in the process.

But what will this mean for brands when consumers are living in an augmented world, constantly interacting with and visually manipulating their surroundings? And what happens when we are all wearing AR glasses or contact lenses 24/7? Visions of a Minority Report-esque world where ads bombard us at every turn spring to mind, but surely there must be another way. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Facebook, Snapchat