Virtual Reality Storytelling: 5 Questions with MINI USA’s Lee Nadler

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MINI virtual reality film - Real Memories VR 2015

MINI is going back to the virtual reality well in a new global marketing campaign that uses two short films in VR to start conversations with creative thinkers to deepen the context of the BMW-owned small car brand (and its MINI Connected platform) as an innovator.

Earlier this year, MINI launched Augmented Vision glasses that project directions and other information on the driver’s field of view. Now it’s elevating virtual reality as a storytelling vehicle with a pair of short films—watch below—that recall the days of parent BMW’s iconic BMW Films series with Clive Owen, which continues to set the bar for branded entertainment.

The two films, Backwater (plot: “Watch a heist take an unexpected turn”) and Real Memories (plot: “Follow Max down a mysterious road to uncover his past”), are meant to invite the target “to join the exploration of how this new technology changes the way we tell stories and view content,” as the brand puts it. (Scroll down for a behind-the-scenes look at the production.)

According to a press release, “The films were shot in Barcelona using a custom stereo rig with nine RED Dragon cameras offering a combined resolution of 14k. A custom 7 GoPro camera rig was developed specially for scenes inside the car. The films can be viewed directly online in a browser or on any smartphone with an installed YouTube app. They will also be available shortly for Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift virtual reality viewers.”

MINI virtual reality Backwater VR film

In addition to being distributed through MINI’s channels, the short films are being promoted as part of the New York Times campaign that’s giving away one million Google Cardboard VR viewers to home delivery subscribers with their copy of The New York Times the weekend of Nov. 7-8.

While a MINI vehicle appears in both films, they are narratives, not product demos. MINI is hoping to engage viewers through storytelling and explore VR in new ways by weaving the product into the drama in an immersive virtual reality environment.

We spoke with MINI USA marketing manager Lee Nadler about the brand’s latest VR investment.

bc: How does VR fit the big picture for MINI’s marketing?

Lee Nadler: We’re always about being innovative in our cars and marketing and seeking deeper engagement. And VR is a platform that is starting to take hold now based on a technology that essentially is being distributed to more than just a few technophiles. This is a platform now that can reach many more people, not only on high-end head sets but with Google Cardboard.

bc: What have you learned about making the most effective use of this fledgling technology in marketing?

Lee Nadler - MINI USA marketing managerNadler: We recognize that while a few other marketers are doing things with VR, we wanted to do more than just a product demo. We wanted to look at the genre of storytelling in film and take a narrative approach. We tried not necessarily to lead with the technology but have the technology enhance the experience, and fundamentally go back to storytelling.

What we found is that VR in many ways allows you to engage with people on a much deeper level than many other media. The way you engage with VR—by putting on a head seat and earphones, or inserting your ear into Cardboard and focusing inside the experience—not only provides but requires of the viewer a singular focus. It’s absolutely not a passive experience.

One of the biggest challenges for marketers now is to fight through multiple messages, screens and mediums coming at you all at once, whereas with VR, you have a focus and level of engagement and interactivity because you’re moving your head around and looking at different locations and in some ways you’re part of the story being told.

bc: Were you inspired to innovate with VR-based films at all by BMW’s early work with short films on the web several years ago?

Nadler: That’s a good insight. We have learned a lot from storytelling and engaging people in interesting stories and and having product be part of that, instead of having a product demo first and foremost.

bc: What do you think of the explosion of VR marketing these days as a storytelling device being used not just by MINI but by other brands as well?

Nadler: Marketers are starting to recognize the power of the focus and the engagement, but I think we’re just exploring right now the possibilities, and the technology is going to be advanced so this becomes more affordable for the production side and more accessible on the consumer side.

bc: With brands so excited by VR nowadays, are we in danger of consumer VR fatigue?

Nadler: I don’t think we’ve reached fatigue levels, not even close. First of all, in terms of masses of people, most of them haven’t even experienced it yet.

Below, a look at how MINI made the VR films:


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