by The National Gallery / Focal Point VR
Virtual Veronese is a research and development (R&D) prototype funded by StoryFutures Academy for The National Gallery in 2019. Produced by Focal Point VR, the project aimed to enable StoryFutures Academy to better understand how immersive technologies can add depth of information, meaning and emotion to Gallery visitors’ experiences of paintings. For two weeks in the National Gallery, through a combination of VR and AR headsets (Oculus Quest and Magic Leap/Prism Mira), visitors were invited to experience Paolo Veronese’s painting The Consecration of Saint Nicholas as it would have been seen in its original chapel setting in 1562. Virtual Veronese is a prototype, allowing StoryFutures to collect audience feedback that informed future project development. Best categorised as a Wonder in Education in terms of immersive format, Virtual Veronese is a site-specific experience. The audience role is that of a passive observer, transforming visitors into a version of you during the chapel-set historical elements.
Research shows that VR and AR are not markedly different in terms of current sites of audience engagement: both technologies are most popular in the home amongst younger audiences, and both see a decline in this popularity at home with audiences over the age of 25. Both VR and AR are often most commonly consumed outside of the home amongst audiences over the age of 25. As of 2020, for example, between only 6% and 10% of VR consumption in the UK is said to take place in museums or galleries, at least amongst the 16-29 demographic. The fact that approximately 86% of all immersive activity across the various demographics is believed to be undertaken as a largely social activity is also not especially welcome news when attempting to promote an experience like Virtual Veronese.
As such, our campaign aimed to engage younger audiences through relevant digital channels, doing so by repositioning the Virtual Veronese experience’s use of VR and AR technologies in terms of 'context effect'. Context effect is an aspect of cognitive psychology that describes the influence of environmental factors on one's perception of a stimulus. Context affect is known to alter the perception of an artwork: for example, a piece of art presented in a museum setting is far more likely to be liked more and rated as more interesting than if it were presented in, say, a laboratory setting. Could this approach to context motivate non-art enthusiasts aged between 16-29 to attend an art exhibition at The National Gallery?
This case study was informed by the Immersive Promotion Bible, funded by StoryFutures Academy, 2021.
Aim: To explore if promoting VR/AR as a form of ‘context effect' can encourage audiences with varying levels of familiarity and engagement with immersive technologies to attend an art exhibition at The National Gallery.
Title of campaign: ‘See for Yourself’.
Strategy summary: Taping into our understanding of immersion as that which brings a stronger connection with the world around you, the campaign is a demonstration of the ‘Mary the Colour-blind Neuroscientist’ thought experiment, otherwise known as the 'knowledge argument', in this case using the topic of Paolo Veronese and his paintings to communicate the philosophical idea that we may not truly understand our own lives if we choose not to acquire our knowledge through first-hand experience. The ‘everyday miracle’ of the campaign is rooted in how we can all gain more transcendent knowledge through engaging with more personal experiences - in this case, through VR and AR.
Platforms: Animated posters; teaser video; social media videos (Instagram); digital booklet.
Central promotional image (below):
For the Awareness phase, we created a teaser trailer and three animated poster videos. The teaser guides the viewer into the VR chapel of Virtual Veronese, playing with the magical illusion of portals, transparency and water, as well as depth of field and jarring sound transitions. The animated posters cross between images of the Gallery, the 16th century chapel and The Consecration of Saint Nicholas painting, all brought to life through magical realism aesthetics based on juxtaposition, hinting at the possibility that the painting is only part of a bigger world.
For the Consideration phase, we created social media posts for Instagram based on animated videos/GIFs that take the user on a journey that plays out like a modern-day recreation of the ‘knowledge argument’ thought-experiment, in this case by recreating different ways of seeing The Consecration of Saint Nicholas. These ways of seeing include the painting in a noisy modern-day supermarket, or in the dark inside your home, or outside in the rain. We also recreate the magic of the AR aspect of the experience via magical realism-inspired moving paintings, as well as representing the VR aspects via imagery of water, spiralling walls and magical skies.
For the Decision phase, we created a digital booklet that aims to reassure the reader through evocative language explaining what will happen during the experience itself, specifying the use of VR and AR explictly for the first time in the promotional campaign. Visually, the booklet communicates a journey of immersion through imagery of mirroring, waterfalls and portals. Writing style is used to communicate the clash between present-day Gallery and 16th century chapel, with the voices of different people writing the prose throughout. This shift in perspective and knowledge aims to encourage readers to reflect on how their own understanding of the art is innately limited because of the impossibility – or so it seems – of ever experiencing it themselves in its original historical setting.
audience evaluation: What we did
In order to evaluate what worked about our promotion and what was less effective, we tested it out on 750 people.
Respondents were all based across the UK, of various ages (16-50+), a mix of male (45%) and female (55%), and with very different levels of familiarity with immersive technologies. This evaluation was completed via an online survey.
In addition to more general findings, our evaluation focused on the following four questions in particular:
What is the relationship between response to our overall promotion and the age and gender of respondents?
What is the relationship between current familiarity or engagement with VR/AR technologies and which individual piece of promotion our respondents found to be the most emotionally engaging?
What is the relationship between where respondents currently experience VR/AR (e.g. VR films, AR games) and what they anticipated Virtual Veronese's intended audience role and level of interactivity to be, based on our promotion?
What is the relationship between what respondents generally find to be most appealing about VR/AR technologies and which immersive characteristics they believed had been communicated most effectively in our promotion?
audience evaluation: What we found
Overall, 64% of respondents stated that they would experience Virtual Veronese based on the promotion created, with 24% replying 'maybe' and the remaining 12% saying no. The response from male respondents was generally more enthusiastic compared to female respondents, with 74% of men compared to 57% of women stating that our promotional content had encouraged them to experience Virtual Veronese.
However, breaking down the responses according to different demographics reveals various insights. Firstly, the 16-24 age group were most likely to respond favourably to our promotion, with 75% saying these materials would convince them to experience Virtual Veronese. Secondly, the 50+ age group responded least well to our promotion, with 50% stating that they would not experience Virtual Veronese based on our promotion despite being explicitly clear about how they value VR/AR: "These innovations may become the norm in the pandemic world."
Meanwhile, response was almost identical across the 25-39 and the 40-49 age groups: 65% of the former and 67% of the latter said they would experience Virtual Veronese based on our promotion. Notably, it was these two demographics that also expressed the most interest in VR as an education tool and the most uncertainty about what the experience would entail (26% and 25% answering 'maybe', respectively).