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  • Matthew Freeman

We are Immersive Promotion Design

It's been one hell of a year (for lots of reasons). But in-between the chaos and challenges of Covid-19 I've been building up what I truly believe is a much-needed and exciting new area of research for industry and academia alike: Immersive Promotion. It all hangs on one very simple question: how do we communicate XR to people who haven't experienced it before?

It all started back in 2019 when I sat in an Executive Committee meeting for Bristol+Bath Creative R+D, a £6.8 million collaboration between all four Bath and Bristol universities that connects university research and creative businesses to develop the future of the south west’s creative industries. The continued growth of the immersive sector came up in discussions, as did the challenge of promoting the likes of VR, AR and MR via traditional or even digital media. "Only once you've experienced it do you truly get it", I'd often hear VR enthusiasts say. Which is all well and good, but why would you experience it in the first place? If the history of media has taught us anything, it's that audiences don't run to new technologies easily; the new can be scary, off-putting, and initially difficult to understand.

The reality is that XR is difficult to communicate to audiences who haven't experienced it before. Pre-pandemic, this used to take place at exhibitions, gaming festivals and in stores. And it was hard enough then to engage more diverse audiences. Now, the immersive sector needs to develop much more creative and imaginative ways to sell XR experiences. There's no doubt that the time for immersive technology has finally come - many of you will have read about sales of VR headsets going up 350% over the past year due to lockdowns. But how can you engage new audiences for your 3D XR product when digital media channels are still 2D? How can you compete with tech giants like Oculus and Snapchat?

It doesn't help that so much of the marketing imagery out there to showcase what is brilliant about XR is of people standing around in headsets or holding mobile phones, looking - let's face it - a bit silly. Not only is this kind of image not engaging, it’s often gendered too, and tends to give the impression that XR is simply for gamers. Put simply, guys in headsets is not good enough: if the immersive sector is to truly reach mass audiences and become an equal to streaming Netflix, then more gateway promotional content is needed - that's to say, marketing that goes beyond the early adopters and engages those new to XR technologies.

This is where StoryFutures Academy comes in. 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. Last year they kindly funded me, plus an amazing team of people - Prof Dinah Lammiman from UCL and BBC, Alison Norrington from StoryCentral, Naomi Smyth from Bath Spa University and Catherine Allen from Limina Immersive - to lead a research-led production project examining the current industry challenge of producing innovative promotional content for today’s immersive experiences, specifically VR and AR. By using real immersive R&D prototypes and commercial industry projects as case studies, we sought to identify and create new promotional strategies, prototypes and teaching course materials for how VR and AR experiences can be better marketed to audiences. Some of our research and key learnings are captured in our Immersive Promotion Bible.

Parallel to that project I was also involved in activity through Bristol+Bath Creative R+D, specifically though the Narrative and Emerging Technology Lab based in the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries at Bath Spa University. Here, I was lucky enough to be able to shape funding to support new research into innovative promotional and audience engagement practices for the world of Expanded Performance across theatre and music. Research Fellows were hired to create toolkits for how immersive and participatory creators can communicate with audiences about what they can expect from such an experience, as well as to build innovative prototypes based on using AR in traditional marketing materials.

All the while, I've been extra busy gathering as many amazing people as I can working in this emerging area of XR marketing. I've been lucky enough to meet incredible tech-based arts marketeers like Claire Skelcey at Raucous, super talented creative technologists like Coral Manton, and digital artists like Tess Baxter, who produces dazzling videos based on immersive worlds. Never have I been so sure about an initiative in my whole life: the immersive sector is a pipeline of talented creators, designers, technologists and world-builders. But the promotional strategies in place across the immersive sector to engage audiences, particularly new audiences, is still something of an Old-West. Until now.

Immersive Promotion Design Ltd. is our new marketing consultancy for the world of XR, supporting VR, AR and MR creatives and businesses to better communicate with their audiences about the magic of immersive content. Building on the sector-development research funded by StoryFutures Academy and Bristol+Bath Creative R+D outlined previously, I am genuinely proud to bring together expertise from the BBC VR Hub, Limina Immersive, StoryCentral, Raucous, PastPorte, Bath Spa University and beyond. Together, we are a group of immersive thought leaders, made up of Arts & Cultural Marketeers, Creative Producers, Researchers & Academics, Brand & Story Strategists, Creative Technologists, Artists and Theatre Makers. Members of our collective were behind the BBC VR Hub's Virtual Reality Libraries Pop-Up Tour, Limina Immersive's industry-leading VR Theatre, the international VR+Kids track at the Children's Media Conference, are industry and research experts for BBC Today, The Guardian, The Economist and Wired, and have produced and consulted on XR experiences for film, TV, theatre, games and museums.

Whatever the XR project, we now work with clients to provide a clear route to a wider audience through promotion that truly understands what XR does best. So why not get in touch at and let's see how we can help to grow your audience. But much, much more than that, let's change the perceptions of what XR is.

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