Marketers go 3-D -- no glasses required
Technology helps auto brands lure younger buyers
In December, when Hyundai wanted to make a big splash during an unveiling of its Veloster coupe near Los Angeles, the company had two options: Buy a 30-second commercial or rent the side of a building.
The building won.
It was Hyundai's first use in North America of a technology called 3-D projection mapping. Projection mapping turns a building facade into a canvas on which motion graphics can be shown. To viewers on the street, it appears as if the building is moving.
Chevrolet and Lexus also are using 3-D projection mapping in their North American marketing for the first time.
What's the appeal? Hyundai says the L.A. event was better than a TV commercial because it helped build awareness for the Veloster among Gen Y buyers -- generally those born between the early 1980s and early 1990s and a group typically "skeptical of marketers and ads in general," says Monique Kumpis, senior manager of advertising for Hyundai Motor America.
Three-D projection mapping has been used for years in Europe and Asia -- but it is new to automakers in North America looking for fresh ways to grab the attention of social media users and Gen Y buyers who increasingly use their digital video recorders to fast-forward through TV commercials.
The idea is that creative projections can generate a buzz on the street, which leads to viral marketing, or consumers sharing the images with friends. Projection mapping appeals to automakers looking to make their brands stand out, says Rick Mathieson, a brand consultant and author of The On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World.
It's "able to stop consumers in their tracks with spectacle unmatched in any other medium today," Mathieson says. "It's a serious buzz builder -- both in real time and for the attention it receives after the fact in online videos and commentary."
Teri Hill, media manager for Lexus, says it is "an effective way of reaching people with a younger mind-set."
Automakers spent less than $100 million on outdoor advertising last year, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. While the portion of outdoor advertising spent on 3-D projection mapping is too small to quantify, it is part of a fast-growing digital segment that is expected to increase to 30 percent of the out-of-home market this year, from 20 percent in 2011, according to MAGNAGLOBAL's advertising forecast report.
In essence, 3-D mapping is billboard advertising on steroids -- a cheaper way than multiple TV commercials of generating buzz and publicity. For roughly the price of a 30-second, prime-time TV spot, marketers can create an event that generates online postings and views long after it ends.
During Hyundai's event in December, the company projected video images onto the landmark clock tower in Santa Monica, Calif., timed to music played by a live disc jockey. The Veloster could be seen spinning on a turntable, then moving vertically down the side of the building. The event, which drew 15,000 visitors, was recorded by audience members and posted on YouTube, where it attracted 37,000 views.
For the Hyundai project, Pearl Media, a Fairfield, N.J., company that specializes in nontraditional out-of-home media, used 12 projectors with lights, shadows and animation to create the live 3-D show on the building -- and viewers didn't even need 3-D glasses.
The goal was to drive online views and social discussion among a young audience that is wary of marketing and advertising, Hyundai's Kumpis says.
"For this particular kind of audience, it made a lot of sense," she says.
Projection technology has been around for about 10 years, but high-resolution projections were only possible with very expensive computers and advanced media servers, says Rob Delfgaauw, managing director of NuFormer, a Zierikzee, Netherlands, company that has been developing video mapping since 2008 and designed 3-D projection mapping events for BMW in Singapore and Spain and for Volvo in Germany.
Delfgaauw says recent improvements in processor speed and computer memory have improved dramatically, lowering costs and making 3-D technology more accessible. Faster computers also make it possible to render high-resolution video artwork for projection on large screens with precise image clarity.
Still, each event is costly, especially in large markets such as Los Angeles and New York.
"It's like putting on a concert," says Joshua Cohen, CEO of Pearl Media, which designed the Hyundai program. He says each minute of animation takes about two weeks to complete.
Some marketers also are creating events around projection mapping.
During a December launch of the Chevrolet Sonic in Hollywood, Calif., General Motors teamed with Pearl Media to show the Sonic appearing to emerge from the exterior of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. People on the street could participate in a giant carnival-style claw game to win a car and other prizes, using a large joystick set up in front of the hotel to control the claw.
Andrew Bancroft, associate creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Chevrolet's ad agency, says 3-D projection mapping fit the attitude for the campaign about making the Sonic a younger, hipper car.
The event drew 65,500 YouTube views, a Chevrolet spokeswoman says.
Lexus' goal in using 3-D projection mapping was to reach new consumers for the CT 200h -- a car meant to attract a younger audience for the brand.
The marketing strategy was intended to use an unconventional media placement, Lexus' Hill says. Lexus also used the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in an Earth Night celebration in April 2011. The CT 200h was shown zooming on roads projected onto the building, sometimes seeming to spring forth from the building.
The event led to 1.3 million paid media impressions, or coverage from purchased media such as newspapers, TV stations and other outlets, as well as 3 million earned media impressions -- mentions by bloggers or postings on enthusiast Web sites. Hill says the cost for the mapping was just under $2 million -- or equal to running a 30-second commercial twice on the ABC show "Modern Family."
Goodby's Bancroft says 3-D mapping still has major limitations. It can only be shown at night when it's dark enough for the projections to work. He says it's unlikely to take the place of traditional media, such as billboard advertising, but that will depend on how it advances.
"Who knows?" Bancroft says. "There may be a way to project holograms in the open air and move toward our idea of what a future city looks like."