I went down to the pub last weekend. I was sitting outside in the fading summer light under bursting, dying hanging baskets of pink and white when my friend showed up in a beautiful jumper. I saw it a mile off. It was made of a complex blue yarn knit that picked up light and cast tiny shadows and was processed by my brain faster than I could articulate a simple "hello". We largely take these rich, textural moments for granted in the real world; and their digital replication has thus far been reserved for Hollywood studios and CGI experts.
However, in the past two weeks, consumer 3D digital experiences got a massive boost in the key areas that serve to drive the maturation of an emerging technology. The potential for 3D assets to add a new dimension to brand campaigns is exciting, because they’re an opportunity to show consumers physical products on screens in entirely new ways, tightening the loop between real and digital worlds, and shortening path to purchase.
Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 13, powers the most sophisticated augmented-reality engine on the planet, meaning the technology is closer than ever to the everywoman. Snapchat’s new "3D Snaps" can build a 3D you out of a 2D selfie. Its monumental reach of 203 million daily active users means it will massively increase expectation of deeper digital content on phones. Finally, the 3D Google results promised back in May have finally dropped, bringing mass distribution to the world’s favourite search engine.
With this new 3D world extending across search, social and immersive experiences, we can’t afford to ignore their design. Now is the time to think about 3D strategy. If you should have one, that is.
First thing’s first – what do we mean by 3D?
When it comes to products, these are 3D models of them. Instead of only shooting them in 2D on set, we’ll be capturing every angle and stitching imagery together to make a 3D model of those shoes or speakers that can be "spun", "lifted" and examined from every angle by our audiences on their favourite screen. It isn’t hard to see that having a digital 3D strategy is best reserved for brands with physical products.
Google is already partnering New Balance, Samsung and Volvo on the launch of its search engine offering. 3D assets should be used in the context of connected consumer experiences for two reasons. First, they help customers understand products better and, as such, are a supplementary tool for enticement.
Second, like voice apps on Alexa or Google Assistant, discoverability is terrible. Consumers need to know 3D content is available in the first place, and this can be signposted at other touchpoints along the brand/consumer interface.
With the tech, user appetite and distribution puzzle pieces falling into place this autumn, 3D assets on social media will start appearing in 2020; most probably starting with the Instagram shopping tab, helping brands bring their products to life in the hyper-visual worlds of the Instagram elite.
If you’re already capturing product imagery, going 3D might not be as hard as you think. Talk with production partners about their capabilities and be sure to factor in a set-up that includes green screen and neutral lighting to make your assets go beyond your next campaign. Remember that, depending on your needs and channels, eye-watering definition – which comes with costs and timeframes traditionally associated with the movie industry – might not be necessary. New player 3dctrl runs a cloud-based platform that’s able to render 3D models in minutes, with an agency dashboard to boot, meaning design teams can take control and be charged out for the pleasure.
The keys to successful 3D asset integration are just that: integration.
If you put 3D at the heart of the experience, and you do it very well, you might end up with a creative tech campaign that hits some juicy PR spots. But if you aim for 3D to be woven into the wider vision, it will be a tool that takes you above and beyond your competition, making you the bar-setter of what your audience comes to expect.
The era of 3D brand content is now, and in 2020 we’ll only see user expectations surge, as AR experiences become the norm – not least due to the launch of Google Stadia and Apple Arcade. Start today by building out a suite of 3D assets to delight your audience tomorrow. You’ll be the envy of your industry.
Gracie Page is innovation lead at VMLY&R