Barack Obama the tour guide mixes tech with good old fashioned storytelling for US National Parks

Video ad tech company Unruly reviews "Through the ages", the latest video from The US National Park Service and National Geographic to go viral.

Barack Obama the tour guide mixes tech with good old fashioned storytelling for US National Parks

"Obama gets to seem in touch with both nature and the tech frontier. It’s a genius marketing move."

7 / 10

360 video has been taking the social video landscape by storm in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a novel format that stretches the capabilities of our phones, tablets and laptops, gesturing towards the dream of totally immersive, science fiction virtual reality.

Besides, it’s incredibly flexible as a medium, showing any number of possible scenarios or locales while allowing brands to broaden their marketing horizons (pun intended). It’s no coincidence that a recent study revealed that 71% of consumers feel VR videos make a brand appear "forward-thinking and modern".

Despite the possibilities presented by 360 video, the earliest ads to make waves have been predictably high octane. Following the mould of GoPro’s limit-pushing campaigns, Coors has used the technology to take viewers big wave surfing, while Kia has raced sports cars. But viewers looking for a more sedate brand of VR should rest assured; after all, what’s more relaxing than a walk in the park?

This particular walk in the park is brought to us by the US National Park Service and none other than outgoing president Barack Obama. Promoting his administration’s latest attempt to get youngsters to visit the country’s many national parks, the video follows Obama on a guided tour of Yosemite, home to centuries-old redwoods and more than its fair share of screensaver-worthy vistas.

Spanning ten minutes and with a hefty chunk of its narration devoted to Theodore Roosevelt’s founding of the National Parks Service, the spot is certainly a leap from the kind of adrenaline-pumping thrills that have tended to dominate 360 ads. But "Through the ages" taps into a completely different tone, gesturing more towards a guided museum tour than a bungee jump – that is, if your museum tour guide is the leader of the free world.

This step isn’t hugely out of character for Obama, having a built an administration on winning cameo appearances. While performing his political victory lap over the past couple of years, he’s appeared on podcasts and comedy web series and so, in that context, a 360 video seems the logical step.

By filming VR video in a stunning landscape, Obama gets to seem in touch with both nature and the tech frontier. It’s a genius marketing move.

But star power aside, the real attraction in this spot is obviously the surroundings. The ad was co-produced with National Geographic, who has already established a cottage industry in sumptuous 360 videos of waterfalls, rivers and cascading plains. It’s an undeniably stunning 10 minutes.

Of course, there is the inherent irony of trying to convince children to go outside via Facebook, but then again, a few minutes watching "Through the ages" would convince anyone that the Great Outdoors are worth a shot.

A much slower offering than your traditional online video ad, this spot will not be for everyone. But the National Parks Service should be commended for taking 360 video in a new direction. "Through the ages" is serene, contemplative and all the better for it.


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