Immersive Promotion Bible
A sector-development Bible, by Matthew Freeman, Catherine Allen, Dinah Lammiman, Alison Norrington and Naomi Smyth, funded by StoryFutures Academy, 2021.
Developing an Immersive Promotion Strategy
If the immersive sector is to move beyond engaging early tech adoptors and is to capture broader audiences from across the cultural landscape, then a reimagined promotional language is needed - that's to say, marketing that engages those new to immersive technologies. How, though, can the magic of immersive 3D worlds be communicated via 2D media? Addressing this current industry challenge, and based on substantial audience and cultural insight, interviews, industry advisory panels and creative practice research, the Immersive Promotion Bible identifies a range of new promotional strategies for how VR and AR experiences can be better marketed to today's diverse audiences.
Specifically, the Immersive Promotion Bible addresses the following research questions:
Given the cultural and technological hybridity of VR/AR, how can the immersive sector develop promotional strategies that reflect this hybridity? What can be learnt from transmedia, film, video games and theatre?
How can the immersive sector broaden the audience for VR/AR experiences through new visual, linguistic and experiences approaches to promotion that guides its audiences towards and into the immersive environment?
How can the immersive sector produce promotion that communicates both the magic of VR/AR and the unique sense of liminality, presence and embodiment at the heart of all good immersive experiences?
Immersive is an emerging cultural form, and so its marketing must also recognise that many audiences unfamiliar with it will need more of a runway – a trail of breadcrumbs unique to what immersive is and what immersive does best – before taking that unfamiliar leap into the whole new world(s) of VR/AR experiences. Rather than thinking of immersive promotion as a single-site engagement strategy based on imagery of headsets or phones – imagery that often fails to capture the imagination or do justice to what VR/AR do best – immersive promotion is itself a journey into immersion.
Providing a road-map for how to create gateway promotional content for VR/AR experiences, this Bible emphasises not the newness of the technology but the transformation of audience state of mind. The Bible identifies a set of immersive categories and dimensions, complete with a range of audience-tested imagery and language that can be adapted by creators everywhere to suit the needs of their own VR/AR experience. The Bible also provides a range of exemplar imagery and language for how to communicate an audience’s role or level of participation within a VR/AR experience, as well as how to harness the unique emotional after-effect of immersion as new forms of post-experience promotion.
Our immersive categories and dimensions (presented in the image below) are the result of our extensive audience research: we wanted to know what audiences truly valued about VR/AR experiences; what it was, specifically, that they remembered and would drive them back to these technologies again. The logic here is that while VR/AR experiences may be difficult to communicate to new audiences, but if we can understand the specific characteristics that make up a VR/AR experiences in the eyes of audiences, then we can develop ways of communicating those characteristics.
Immersive Categories & Dimensions
The first phase of the immersive promotion strategy map, Awareness, centres on the principle that immersion brings new connections with the world, and asks creators to form a magical realism message, one that hints at VR/AR’s ability to reveal something new in the world that you otherwise cannot see. This first phase is about 'World', and should focus on one of the things that audiences’ value most about immersive: that it feels real, and so communicating proximity, scale & space, and multidirectional sound through accessible media that captures attention visually.
Borrowing visual metaphors and grammar from magical realism – a genre that indeed goes to the heart of what VR/AR experiences are – VR's multiple worlds based on movement can be effectively communicated via imagery of windows, doors and other gateways. AR’s forming of a magical element on top of the real world can be communicated by animating a single part of an otherwise static image/video, or layering blended elements on top of each other.
Immersive Audience Principles
The second phase, Consideration, centres on the principle that immersion brings new kinds of connection with other people, and asks creators to form promotional opportunities for story-living, as well as communicating the level of participation required (see image above). This second phase is about 'Audience', and should create promotion that communicates immersive’s unique sense of audience engagement, such as its embodied sense of freedom.
The third phase, Decision, centres on the principle that immersion brings unique kinds of personal experiences, and asks creators to consider how best to reassure audiences as they take a leap of faith into an unknown immersive world. This third phase is about 'Safety', and should create totems, i.e. personal objects that feel familiar but potentially closer in form to what VR or AR will actually be like, that work to guide audiences into the VR or AR experience.
The fourth phase, Immersion, is when the audience actually experiences the VR or AR content itself. Finally, the fifth phase, Satisfaction & Loyalty, centres on the after-effect principles and should aim to keep people feeling immersed long after the VR or AR experience has ended. This final phase is about immersion as a state of mind, with the power to impact mood and memory, and therefore asks creators to design post-experience mementos that bottle mood change and rekindle the memory of feeling immersed (as per the image below). With an eye firmly on the growth and development of the immersive sector, this final phase conceives of immersive promotion as a mobius strip of extended, blended realities, using the memory of one immersive experience to guide audiences to the next.
The Immersive After-Effect Principles
All of the Bible's principles underpin the Immersive Promotion Strategy Map (below), which aims to provide a roadmap for marketing VR/AR experiences that can be used and adapted for different kinds of content.
Immersive Promotion Strategy Map
StoryFutures Academy is the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling run by the National Film and Television School and Royal Holloway, University of London. Funded by UKRI's Audience of the Future fund, StoryFutures develops training and research to ensure the UK workforce is the most skilled in the world in the use of VR/AR/MR. This Bible was funded by StoryFutures Academy through the Train the Trainer programme (Grant Ref: AH/S003622/1).