SXSW: Blending realities to create new ways to tell deeper stories

This year’s SXSW was about discovering a sense of impossibilities and new forms of storytelling. This included the ‘Impossible Burger’ from Google-backed venture Impossible Foods, which manufactures meat substitutes that taste just like real meat, and predictions that artificial intelligence will be injected into our bodies and govern our self-conscious decision making in 20 years’ time. These seemingly impossible examples show how realities are now being blended to achieve an unexpected, new and extended reality.

At this year’s event new activations for storytelling with user-controlled content such as 360, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) made clear headway. Brands and technology companies alike showed how to create real-world fictional environments and blend them with virtual world experiences to create ever more immersive experiences for consumers.

My favourite experience was the Ready Player One VR campaign, which incorporated both real-world and virtual world experiences.

The soon to be launched Ready Player One film is directed by Steven Spielberg and set in the year 2045 in a dystopian world where inhabitants take refuge in a VR game called the OASIS. Warner Bros. launched an immersive VR experience in partnership with HTC Vive to promote the film at SXSW.

To do this, the entertainment giant took over the corner of an Austin street to house several elements of the film set, which provided the perfect context for some VR demos. Visitors could sit in the DeLorean from Back to the Future and play arcade games from the 80’s. Visitors were also able to use a VR headset to step inside the world of OASIS and explore eight scenes inspired by the film to delve even deeper into the narrative.

This mixing of different realities to deepen storytelling was echoed in other similar experiences at SXSW. For example, HBO’s interactive ‘real-world’ experience that allowed visitors to be transported into an Austin ghost town to promote the Westworld TV series launch next year.

These experiences allude to the future shape of user-controlled content experiences. AR in particular, has the potential to deepen storytelling and take consumers into a VR experience, much like the Ready Player One and Westworld SXSW campaigns do.

With Google and Spotify APIs all supporting spatial audio, here at Blend Media we are already experimenting with this to create more immersive 360 experiences that complement visuals with sound that brings consumers even deeper into an experience.

SXSW shows that 360, AR and VR experiences are evolving to enable advertisers and publishers to tell more transformative stories. Today, when brands are fighting for screen space and the micro-attention of users, using a mix of VR and AR provides a way to take consumers on a more immersive journey where they are given a choice of where to look and when to explore further.

If SXSW is anything to go by, the impossible might just be possible. There’s no doubt that we are going to see more campaigns that blend realities in the year ahead to deliver some out of this world immersive experiences.