Ah, the TV spot. The flagship weapon in the marketer's arsenal, glorified in Mad Men and on Super Bowl Sunday, has already made its way onto Internet streaming services and is now poised to jump into virtual reality thanks in part to two other mainstays of American culture: SUVs and Star Wars.
The vehicle for the TV spot's transformation is the Nissan Rogue, a crossover SUV that is now Nissan's best-selling car in the US. Its success, to hear Nissan's marketing executives tell it, is partially a happy accident: the SUV happens to share its name with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which was released in December to enormous box office success.
Ever since it learned the movie's title, Nissan did everything it could to associate itself with the reboot, from selling 5,000 limited-edition Star WarsRogues to convincing Lucasfilm to work its magic on a two-minute 360-degree video ad that highlights the Rogue's safety features, available now on Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and HTC Vive.
It took some convincing for Lucasfilm's iconic Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound subsidiaries to lend their expertise to the project, since neither one produces TV commercials much any more, instead preferring to focus on high-budget Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars and Marvel's Avengersfranchise. Lucasfilm was "healthily skeptical" about the partnership, Nissan marketing manager Jeremy Meadows said during a press demonstration at Lucasfilm's San Francisco headquarters last week.
Eventually, though, a contract was signed (key links between the executive suites of Nissan and Lucasfilm's parent company Disney probably helped—current Nissan marketing VP Jeremy Tucker had a similar role at Disney when it acquired Lucasfilm in 2012). Approximately 9,000 frames and billions of pixels later, the first Star Wars-themed car ad designed for VR was born.
If you're a hardcore VR gamer, you'll be disappointed: this is simply a 360-degree video, so there's not much interactivity other than the ability to look around as your Nissan Rogue is attacked by Imperial forces. You'll be much more satisfied if you're, say, a prospective Nissan customer who's considering driving your new Rogue into battle and want to know how it will protect you from AT-AT fire. The battle sequence is designed to show off the Rogue's safety features, including blind spot warnings, pedestrian detection, and several exterior cameras that detect motion around the vehicle.
A disembodied female voice narrates what's going on as you watch the battle from the Rogue's driver seat: the blind spot warning system detects Stormtroopers on the left and right of the SUV, and you eventually arrive at an airstrip where Rogue One's sassy K-2SO trips the pedestrian detection. "Congratulations," he says mockingly, peering through the windshield.
Gimmicky? Sure. But Nissan could still be on to something: Americans have a love-hate relationship with their ads, and YouTube has fueled the love side of that relationship, with iconic Super Bowl TV spots racking up millions of views online. And if anything can help achieve the same viral success in VR (other than more people buying VR headsets), it's probably Star Wars.