Using traditional methods like print media or even AR and VR to boost your company’s marketing strategy is passé. Because if holograms can bring Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur back from the dead, there’s no limit to what it can do for your brand
The apparition of Princess Leia only lasted long enough for her to say, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Still, R2-D2’s 3D hologram not only inspired millions of sci-fi fans back in 1977 but today the technology has become a reality and is quickly opening up a whole new world for marketeers. “It’s not just sci-fi anymore — holograms augment marketeers’ abilities to tell stories and foster more engagement with consumers,” says Jack Barmby, CEO and founder of Gnatta, the customer communication firm. “And great stories make for great campaigns.”
Looking back, not too long ago augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) were touted as breakthrough technologies. In fact, according to a survey by Innovate UK, 60% of companies who used immersive technologies including VR, AR or mixed reality saw an increased turnover in 12 months. However, with every brand vying for people’s attention, messages or visuals through a screen or glasses no longer stand out. And that’s where the new hologram technology comes in. “Now, you can create a Hollywood-esque effect, make your product look like magic and create something people haven’t seen before without the need to wear anything as in the case of VR,” says James Rock, founder of The Rock Group, the hologram creation company. And in that respect, he believes leveraging the new tech will enable businesses to move beyond VR and AR. “When people walk into a room and go ‘wow’ that’s when you know you’re onto something huge,” Rock adds.
But what exactly is a hologram? Simply speaking, it’s a way of using projectors to display seemingly real objects. Unlike a conventional film on a standard screen, a 3D hologram is visible from all sides. “While the holographic technology widely used today – also known as Pepper’s Ghost – emerged many decades ago, the ease with which it’s being used has vastly escalated over the past few years,” Rock adds.
The advancement of digital cameras and the ability to implement algorithms which can render holograms in real time have indeed opened new business vistas to tech-driven marketing. Unsurprisingly then that the holographic industry is predicted to be worth $5.5bn by 2020, according to MarketsandMarkets, a B2B research firm.
And some brands can’t wait to jump on the opportunity to leverage this futuristic technology. From Louis Vuitton and Tiffany to Ralph Lauren and Burberry, it’s fair to say the fashion industry has proven especially eager to experiment with the new innovation. And it’s no secret why they’re doing so. “It completely changes the dynamics of anything being sold to the public,” Rock declares. “Without this tech there simply isn’t a way of doing that.” It seems as if holographic images arouse more interest from people by engaging them unlike the traditional television ads or billboards.
And there’s no industry where these realistic illusionary images can’t be used. Looking at the doom and gloom surrounding the high street, it’s worth considering whether holograms will be the saving grace for brick and mortar stores. “In a world of bricks vs clicks there’s a big move for consumers from experience over to convenience,” Barmby says. But to gain increased physical interaction, businesses should take notes from the $1tn company Apple which is the perfect example of how to nail marketing. Not only did the tech titan use holograms in its stores but the overall experience it offers is what tech enthusiasts seek when walking through the doors. “Holograms are the perfect fit and I think it’s the red pill for offline stores,” Barmby adds. It would also save the resources involved in transporting the products to every location when displaying them – particularly for car companies.
For bigger brands, the go-to strategy is celebrity figures. But their inaccessibility and packed schedules are known to all. Again, this is where holograms can help. “Imagine meeting Lewis Hamilton when you stroll into a mall or The Beatles playing at a pub near you – that’s what businesses can do with celebs,” Rock says. It isn’t limited to malls but also music concerts. Remember when Tupac Shakur came back from the dead for the Coachella festival in 2012 and when Michael Jackson did his signature moonwalk at the Billboard Awards in 2014. “A person, dead or alive, can be in six or seven places at once,” Rock continues. “Imagine how much traction a company can get from that.”
But the hologram buzz expands beyond just entertainment and consumer-centric industries and is becoming a breakthrough solution in many other spaces too. It can save B2B companies a lot when it comes to trading internationally – especially now that Vodafone has made holographic calls a reality, albeit only in a limited way to demonstrate what the tech can do. “You can create the illusion of being in a place where you aren’t but you can still communicate with them,” Rock says. “Like attend meetings or give presentations and save your company the travel cost.” Think about Emperor Palpatine’s projection tellling Darth Vader there is a great disturbance in the Force and you get the idea. In fact, real and hopefully less malevolent world leaders like New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Prince Charles have already used this tech to appear in front of mass audiences at big events, as has the late Stephen Hawking.
Moreover, keeping up with the technology as it matures will reap major benefits. Given how skills shortages are plaguing various countries, holograms seem to be a solution there too. “The best use I’ve seen is remote assistance – where the people with the expert skills are in short supply but can support people on the coalface or on the ground as holograms,” says Russell Hall, technical director at Imagination, the global brand experience agency. Indeed, NASA has been training astronauts in space through holographic scientists with the help of Microsoft’s HoloLens through which you even interact with the hologram.
Clearly, holograms come with loads of advantages. However, no disruption comes sans challenges. In this case financial constraints might be one. “As an entrepreneur if you’re looking for something revenue generative, it might be a challenge at first,” says Barmby.
Consequently, what could be the future of holograms? Hall believes a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and holograms will be the gamechanger. “Fiction blended with reality driven by a large dose of AI to bring to life through machine intelligence is the future,” he adds. The saucy hologram seen in Blade Runner 2049 might be a reality soon enough given how holographic concierges are operating already. “However, this approach needs some more years of technological development to be used successfully as a customer engagement tool at scale,” Hall says.
There is no doubt the technology is increasingly becoming ubiquitous and companies are racing to win market domination. “What makes holography alluring is the ability to mix drama with usability which pushes the boundaries of experience,” Rock concludes. “I guarantee even in a hundred years time people will still be using holograms.”