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Breaking Through The Empathy Barrier

Sat, 01/23/2016

By Narendra Nag , Regional Director, Integrated Planning & Digital, MSLGROUP Asia

A great story makes an audience empathize with the protagonist, makes them feel what the hero is feeling, makes them suffer and makes them cry, and ideally leaves them elevated. You walk out of a great movie wanting to be the smooth-talking, gun-toting James Bond, or the witty, whip-bearing Indiana Jones, or the swashbuckling, lightsaber-wielding Rey from Star Wars.

Empathy is hard. It requires an audience to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the world that the story is creating.

Now imagine being able to do that with the flick of a switch.

This is the great promise that virtual reality holds to storytellers and communicators.

The 2015 BFI London Film Festival showcased 16 documentary, fiction, animation and art projects all designed to be experienced in virtual reality. One of the best examples at the show: the David Attenborough, Natural History Museum and Alchemy VR app First Life that utilizes Samsung’s Gear VR system to bring ancient sea creatures to life.

Over at vrse.com filmmaker Chris Milk and technologist Aaron Koblin are telling “extraordinary stories in virtual reality.” These stories include a 360-degree Saturday Night Live show featuring comic great Jerry Seinfeld and one by the New York Times Magazine that has the year’s best actors — as chosen by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott — lift off in a series of tributes to the ultimate Hollywood magic trick.

And this is just the beginning.

As communicators and storytellers we have always tried to connect with our audiences, but have had to do so in an environment we do not control — a 500 word story in a magazine on a rack with a hundred other periodicals, a television screen in the middle of a busy household, or a 320×600 ad on a page filled with animated gifs.

With VR we have something that breaks down every barrier that existed between the storyteller and the audience.

To quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. Audiences who place themselves in our hands, who immerse themselves in our world, will expect us to craft stories and not just sell to them or take advantage of their trust. A VR world doesn’t let them turn away, pay attention to something else, or be distracted when they see a blatant attempt at a sell instead of a story.

It will require all of us — clients and their agencies — to set the bar higher than we have ever before. It will require a commitment from us to think of our brands as experiences and not just logos on the products we want to sell. It will force us to empathize with every member of our “target audience” as a human being who will feel what we want them to feel.

We will not be able to be glib, or take shortcuts, or be anything but sincere and caring about the stories that we craft.

We are entering a brave new world of communication that has little place for the cynicism of the present.

Narendra Nag At MSLGROUP, Narendra has developed content-centric, data-based and story-driven strategies within social and digital media for large corporations as well as innovative tech start-ups. He is adding the role of Asia Practice Leader for Social Media and Digital to his current position as Regional Director, Integrated Planning & Digital of MSLGROUP in Asia. Connect with him on Twitter @narendranag

Originally posted on holmesreport.com .

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