Howard Goldkrand bids brands to connect with VR

SapientNitro's virtual reality evangelist goes looking for new technology's Spielberg

SapientNitro’s director of innovation and unofficial virtual reality evangelist Howard Goldkrand thinks brands have a very good reason to get on the VR bandwagon: experiencing VR for the first time can be life changing, and whichever brand provides that experience will be remembered for a lifetime.

Howard-Goldkrand_250x250“We have the opportunity to be part of the origin story, at the beginning of this century — with our users, our clients, our families, our communities,” he told his audience at the ICA’s FFWD Ad Week 2016 in Toronto. “These people are all going to say, ‘The first time I tried VR was when The New York Times sent me a Google Cardboard.'”

Marketers should get into VR any way they can, he said. Leaps of imagination that might seem like a bad fit in established media like TV are perfectly acceptable in VR. He is a big fan of California creative workshop WeVR (pronounced “weaver”), whose tagline is “Make brave VR.”

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One such “brave” brand experiment Goldkrand cited came from tequila-maker Patrón: the company created a 360-degree simulation that allowed people to experience flying over its agave fields as a bee (like the bee on its bottle).

In his work with clients, Goldkrand said he’s constantly pushing for the magic, not the KPIs — to rise above trying to sell a sweatshirt and create an experience that transports the user.

“If you go back and look at some of the early explorations and ideas in the internet, they didn’t have the bandwidth, they didn’t have the opportunity, but they also didn’t have any of the rules,” he said. “To have that now, with VR, is awesome. There’s no Spielberg in VR… It’s gonna be some other person from China, Ethiopia or the Philippines, that starts breaking new ways for us to think about interaction with it.”

During his talk, Goldkrand strove to put VR in a historical context. The first modern VR technology goes back farther than a lot of us realize — 3D headsets and gloves were being designed as far back as the 80s. What’s different today, Goldkrand said, is the ubiquitous computing power available at our fingertips, which can generate realistic, physical environments.

There are more than 1,000 products related to VR on Amazon, he said, rattling off names like Facebook’s Oculus, Valve and HTC’s Vive, Sony’s Morpheus. But Goldkrand believes brands shouldn’t get bogged down in the guessing game of which platform will dominate.

“It’s okay to shoot [3D video] with anything. It’s the wizard, not the wand,” he said. “It’s what you do with things, not what [platform] you do it with.”

The VR revolution calls for a whole new generation of creators, he said. People who have excelled at filmmaking may not necessarily do well with VR because of how inherently different the two experiences are. A filmmaker is used to controlling the narrative — they take the viewer on a journey, rather than creating a space where the viewer can take their own journey. Film decides where the viewer will and will not look, but in VR, there’s no “wrong place” to look, he said.

What a lot of brands don’t get about VR is that it’s about emotion, Goldkrand said, adding that VR doesn’t carry people away because of what they see, but because of how it makes them feel. He points to the work of Nonny de la Peña, a journalist who uses VR and 3D video to recreate news events, and give people the sense of being there and how they would have reacted.

To end his talk, Goldkrand quoted Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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