Horse’s Mouth: Aliesha Staples, CEO of Staples VR and TVNZ future director

There’s no denying the pace at which the industry is moving and the technology available to help create engaging stories that cut through the clutter is evolving just as fast. We sit down with Aliesha Staples, CEO of Staples VR and TVNZ’s new future director, to hear about how her company is educating marketers about the potentials of immersive technologies and how they can embrace it.

On How Staples VR and made its mark in the market

I started in advertising – I worked at Colenso back in the day straight out of film school. I was working as a TV editor and realised I wanted to have a bit more creative freedom. So I went overseas and learned things like drone and gimbal operating, which at the time didn’t exist in New Zealand. When I moved back no one was doing it so I founded Staples Rentals, which was an emerging technology rental company.

It was using new equipment that moves the camera differently or enables different types of storytelling and that’s kind of where we set up. Crews really wanted to learn it, but couldn’t afford to buy like these individual pieces of kit. Whereas if we bought it and all the other people used it, it made more financial sense.

And it kind of just spiralled out of control, because after the people started realising we were kind of working 18 months ahead of everyone else, every time there was a crazy pitch or a crazy job, people would come to us and be like, hey, can you build the world’s first fireproof camera? Or can you put this under water? Or can you fly this? It kind of went off on a tangent where we actually became a production company.

And then we started developing new ways of putting the content together, and without realising it, we became a game studio.

But the easiest way to explain Staples is when it comes to an emerging creative technology, we’re probably playing with it in some way, shape or form.

On who she works with

We use futuristic technology to tell stories and it’s so broad when looking at the industries that fits into.

An example of what we’re doing at the moment is using a virtual reality simulator to see if we can build a game that teaches blood splatter scientists to learn how to analyse blood splatters. So a forensic science lab pitched to us asking if we could use this technology to train the scientists accurately and with less costs? And we can.

There’s a lot of stuff in health and safety training, or training people in expensive or high-risk environments like construction, working at heights, working underground, driving and all of that stuff.

Then there’s our work in film and TV – we have a big entertainment kind of branch as well.

For example, we built the virtual reality experience for Shortland Street using the 360-camera technology, which is just a new way to tell the Shortland Street story to make viewers feel like they are a character in the story.

On what immersive technology is

Immersive technology comes in a few different formats.

One of the things that is quite immersive is wearing a virtual reality headset – it essentially means you’re immersed in the story – it’s next level storytelling. You’re not just watching it on a flat screen and then being told by the director what to look at and from which angle, you’re actually choosing that yourself. You can be watching a 360 video and you can actually choose where you look at any given time.

There’s also augmented reality, which is immersive, but a different type of immersion. AR is an overlay on your world – so you still see everything, you’re still in the same place, it’s just adding extra elements like augmenting your face or putting a cat on your head.

So it’s overlaying a piece of information on your world and it’s an immersive technology because it gets you to engage with the story or with the content.

On telling a story when the audience has control

Immersive stories it’s a completely different way of telling a story. You can’t expect your viewer to look at where you want them to look without giving them some really engaging reason why. And you’ll still lose a few people. So then you also need to tell your story in a way that if you do lose someone and you get them back again, that they can still understand what’s going on. It’s an interesting challenge.

In the early days of 360 video, there was a lot of R&D around what you can do and how far you can push it. Things like audio become more important than ever.

If you hear a sound behind you, you’re more often than not going to turn around and so that’s how a director or a storyteller would know that at that point in time, say 90 percent of the audience would look at this. So that’s how they can lead their stories.

There’s also the ability as well to do like non-linear storytelling where there are decision trees. It’s very much like those books used to have when you were a kid where it said: “If you go into the cave, turn to page six.” Everyone’s reading the same book, but they’re getting different experiences.

On the potential of immersive technologies for brands

It’s really interesting because what you’re not doing anymore is asking someone to watch something without engaging with it.

So, using this technology, your customers are engaging with your brand, so they are selecting something or they’re getting a reward – and the reward is generally an exciting experience or something new they haven’t done before.

We get a lot of briefs around how can we get customers to not just see an ad, but actually interact with it and get a reward. It’s no longer just seeing a billboard or seeing a print ad.

And you can track the ad’s performance because people engaged with it and got something in return.

On not everyone having a headset

Everybody has a phone.

VR came first and I think everyone thought it was going to change the way that we view content overnight – like change the way that we go to the movies – and that’s not at all what happened. And the barrier to entry is that there are really expensive headsets and even the best ones are still quite limiting in quality.
And I think where AR has caught up and overtaken VR is the fact that there is no barrier to entry.

Phones with a camera are immediately like usable for AR – you just needed to download the app. If you think of things like a Pokémon Go, that was probably the most successful augmented reality app ever.

On what’s holding marketers back

I think the misconception is how expensive it is, because it’s high tech, it’s new and it’s innovative. If it’s got all those keywords, then people think it must be expensive, but that’s not the case.

A lot of brands in New Zealand don’t realise how amazing our local emerging technology companies are – we’re world-leading. There are people and companies around the world coming to New Zealand to get us to make their experiences. Whereas quite a few times we’ve come across local brands, who just haven’t realised that and they’ve gone overseas.

On educating marketers about the potential of immersive technologies

There’s a lot of people that are tasked with going out and finding out about this technology and reporting it back to whoever they need to within that company and that generally does sit in kind of the marketing or innovation kind of space.

But we’ve found that people really don’t know where to go to get the information so we do workshops with whole companies where we go in, we set everything up, we talk to them about where the technology was, where it is now, where it’ll be tomorrow and what that timeline looks like, because it’s really scary. It’s really fast.

Those workshops have been really successful in just helping people grasp what they need to be doing. But I think a large majority of people aren’t ready for it because they don’t quite understand just how fast it’s moving.

And if you don’t know what’s possible, you can’t come up with the idea for it. And that’s something we’ve really noticed. So it’s really hard for creatives to actually push an idea to its full potential without having a technologist helping them out. We now kind of insert ourselves into the creative process – we’re not the creatives, we don’t come up with the idea, but we can help guide what is and isn’t possible so that you can get the best out of an experience.

On a good example of blending advertising with immersive technology

I saw a really good campaign called ‘Burn That Ad’ – it was a genius use of AR. It was using a Burger King app to leverage McDonald’s print advertising.

They used the McDonald’s logo as the image trigger for the Burger King app – every time you pointed the Burger King app at a McDonald’s ad, [the McDonald’s logo]caught on fire and gave you a free Burger King burger. And I think as much as that’s hilarious, it’s also a nice simple concept.

And think about the deeper understanding of what that ad means. Print advertising can now be leveraged in an augmented space so you can now sell AR advertising as a whole new channel.

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