VR charged into Cannes like a raging bull

The first review of the industry's VR work showcased a surprisingly mature medium, writes the co-founder of MediaMonks and inaugural president of Digital Craft at Cannes

With Cannes already a dim and slightly foggy memory, it’s time to put on my rosé-tinted glasses and talk about VR. Because one thing that became abundantly clear this year is that there has never been a new category in Cannes as evolved and extensive as VR.

Let me start by tipping my hat to the advertising industry as a whole. You kick-started what was literally a Kickstarter and added the three Cs: cash, creativity and cases. You ensured that the medium — that for all intents and purposes is still a niche, struggling for reach and results — has been on marketers’ minds and people’s heads. And it’s turned what should have been a baby calf into a raging bull in a china shop during this year’s festival.

We were able to judge, and award, work that doesn’t just hint at what is to come but defines it; Work that will stand the test of time and showcases the broad nature of VR (and in its wake Mixed Reality). From the amazing on-rails artistry of "Dreams  of Dali," to the interactive entertainment explosion offered by "The Martian VR Experience," VR has a depth and range that hints at (and some would say foreshadows) a future category of its own at Cannes.

Because how do you judge socially connected experiences like Samsung’s "Bedtime Stories" against the high-budget entertainment from Google ATAP’s "Help" project? One echoes a future of social VR, making a mockery of the dystopian predictions of isolation, while the other paves a production path for entertainment companies for years to come. And let’s not forget the Grand Prix from the mobile jury, awarded to the New York Times for making the jump from institution to innovator. It took on VR as a tool for empathy and journalism, delivering not just content but an ecosystem, and filling both the role of creator and evangelist.

As president of the Digital Craft jury, it was thrilling to see a category so fully formed, allowing our jury to immerse themselves into the nooks and crannies of the craft. The good news is that VR has hit the world as a medium ready for the masses. Born from technology, raised by advertising, VR is now ready for reach through channels as diverse as film, journalism, games, education and social platforms. I suspect that, in years to come, VR will become a hero category at Cannes. It combines the storytelling power of the big screen, the production prowess of both film and digital craft, it has interactivity and innovation at its core, and mobile will always be its most-used medium offering exceptional accessibility. Throw in the power it has to change minds and open hearts, and we’re counting down to our first Titanium.

I can’t wait to see what happens next, especially now that mixed reality is about to leave its virtual phase, and start filling our homes and heads. I trust that advertising, as always, will be front and center, giving new technology a chance and getting brands and consumers inspired and enthralled by its potential.

Wesley ter Haar is co-founder of MediaMonks.

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