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How creativity and storytelling drive success in extended reality experiences

The first thing you notice is the rubber ducks. This is on purpose.

Carlson Bull makes that clear as he’s explaining the augmented reality (AR) experience his firm created for Deloitte. Bull is Founder and Executive Creative Director of Bully! Entertainment, where he leads a team spread across four different countries who create storytelling experiences for brands and audiences using emerging tech platforms.

The rubber ducks are part of the storytelling approach to immerse users in the world of manufacturing and help them experience and understand the Internet of Things (IoT).

The rubber ducks move along a conveyor belt in an AR factory that mobile users see by pointing their phone or tablet at the floor. In the AR factory, robot arms lift the rubber ducks up into the air, and then place them on an assembly line where they are scanned and analyzed, before splashing down into a bubble-sensing bathtub.

Image courtesy Bully! Entertainment

Bull’s team could have easily created a standard manufacturing floor experience to showcase the power of the IoT, but creative storytelling and immersive experiences demand much more than conventional approaches.

Bully! specializes in what is called Extended Reality (XR) — an umbrella term used to describe the merger of physical and virtual worlds, and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables. Simply put: XR is all of the related acronyms you’ve probably already heard of — AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and MR (mixed reality) — combined into one.

Technology, mixed with great storytelling, is where Bully! looks to push the envelope.

“We felt that there needed to be some sort of hook, some sort of fun factor,” says Bull of the Deloitte factory. “And so, we built this whole experience around a factory that made rubber ducks. And anyone engaging with the experience could walk around and learn about things like predictive maintenance and see the robotic arms and augmented workers. But it was all done with an engaging narrative that made it so much more interesting for the user.”

Deloitte – Virtual Factory 3 Cross Platform Campaign from bully! entertainment on Vimeo.

For Bully!, XR offers companies a chance to bring audiences into immersive experiences where storytelling — and the odd rubber duck — can deliver a unique, memorable and engaging takeaway. These XR experiences are often supported by supplementary brand and marketing elements to create a holistic, often multi-channel experience.

The Deloitte experience extended to other platforms and media including a comic book starring “Dub Dub” the rubber duck, duck-themed internal sales tools, and branded content for social channels.

The growth of XR across industries

XR is rapidly becoming a prevalent technology across multiple industries. While the gaming application may be the most obvious, it’s also being used in construction, retail, education, automotive, entertainment, and sports.

And we aren’t talking small numbers — research from PwC says VR and AR have the potential to boost GDP globally by up to $1.5 trillion by 2030.

Remote work is also changing how companies use XR. As human resources professionals have to meet employee needs across distributed workforces, XR can be used to create multidimensional collaboration.

In the automotive industry, XR is being used for training and vehicle maintenance. According to some reports, Porsche has reduced service resolution times by 40% with the use of AR glasses.

In healthcare, XR is being used to improve patient outcomes. “Being in a hospital room is not really a place of rest and healing. XR allows patients the opportunity to ‘escape’ the four walls of a hospital,” Dr. Brennan Spiegel of Cedars-Sinai Health System said recently.

Finally, it’s also where many tech companies are hiring and investing; Meta (formerly Facebook) said it will hire up to 2,500 people in Toronto where the majority will be focused on building XR experiences for the company.

XR is no longer science fiction, or an early-adopter playground — it’s everywhere.

Tracking the performance and success of XR

Extended reality creates new opportunities for creativity, but it also comes with new challenges.

“Users aren’t just clicking on a website in extended reality experiences,” Bull says. “They aren’t just looking at a phone. Now they can use their hand or a controller and walk up and touch something in the environment we create for them. There’s a kinesthetic dimension you have to account for in order to make the experience memorable.”

Bully! recently completed a Super Bowl-related project for Microsoft and a large consulting firm focused on how data-driven insight can help business operations. The creative storytelling approach was to use a sports stadium where users could walk around in an extended reality experience and access data and insights by pushing a holographic button with their fingertips. It became a deeply engaging experience for users and very successful for their clients. 

“The challenge is to engage that sense of motion for users and create movement in a way that’s not forced,” Bull says.

With the shift in experience design and new forms of creativity for audiences to engage with comes a shift in how brands and agencies answer the question ‘is this successful?’

“Tracking what people do in the experience has become more of a necessity,” says Bull. “How long do people look at objects in the experience? Where do they go? Do they walk over to the moon rover, or do they go to the robot?” he asks, referencing a project his firm recently completed for NASA. “It’s somewhat similar to what you would measure on a website except you now have multiple dimensions to track.”

When Bull thinks about the advice he’d give to an organization contemplating the creation of an emerging technology experience, he doesn’t have to think too long before he answers.

“Extended reality and emerging technologies are a great way to drive engagement and get attention. But if the messaging isn’t there, or if the story isn’t there, it won’t hold anyone’s attention.”

 

Bull is a creative, and his advice for anyone developing an XR experience is short, and to the point: “Story is still king, queen, and royalty. If your story doesn’t resonate, then the experience won’t resonate either.”