Through New Year's, we'll be counting down the best work of the year in TV/Film/Branded Content, Print/Outdoor/Design and Interactive/Integrated (IX) as our picks of the day.
At #10 in interactive/integrated, Expedia demonstrated the healing power of travel, leveraging 360 degree technology to help sick kids at a children's hospital experience the world. The "St. Jude Dream Adventures" project is one of the best examples we've seen from trend noticeable in 2016, that of advertisers beginning to use cutting-edge technologies like VR, augmented reality and 360 degree video for good.
Children with serious illnesses and confined to their hospital beds might think that swimming with tropical fish or running with wild horses is the stuff of dreams. But Expedia, along with its agency 180LA, has made such dreams come true for kids battling cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
The "St. Jude Dream Adventures" campaign consisted of a temporary 360-degree installation at the hospital that "transported" the children to Cordoba and Talampaya Park in Argentina, Monkey Jungle in Florida and the Great Maya Reef in Mexico. In it, they experienced the locations' natural wonders -- from fossils to colorful sea-life to wily monkeys -- in real time. Expedia employees whose own lives had been affected by serious illneses were on location as personal tour guides to show the kids the sites.
In one "adventure," a girl in love with horses watches them speed across Argentine plains with Expedia employee Sara L., a brain tumor survivor. Chera, whose family members have been diagnosed with cancer, leads a boy on a monkey adventure and Expedia employee Reenie, who also has family affected by cancer, goes Scuba diving in Mexico to lead the under-water tour for Hannah, who has since passed away. Since it's all occurring in real-time, the patients were able to ask questions, "touch" and explore the locations with the help of their guides.
The campaign has been a "dream" idea at the agency and was more than a year in development, according to 180 L.A. Chief Creative Officer William Gelner In coming up with the idea, "We hit on this insight that travel actually does have healing power, and when we were talking to the kids at St. Jude's, one of the things we found out was that a lot of them had dreams of places and adventures they wanted to go on. But sadly, they wouldn't be able to because of their illnesses."
Expedia and 180 worked hand-in-hand with St. Jude's to cast the children for the film. After presenting the idea to the hospital, the team then turned it over to St. Jude's to find the patients who would be a good fit, said Expedia Senior Brand Marketing Manager Jessica Eichner. "One of the great things about St. Jude's is that they're very conscious of how the handle their patients. They're very protective in a good way and helped us to find who would enjoy it, who was feeling well enough and whose families would be on board."
The campaign team then asked each kid about their "dream adventure," and made a customized, bespoke trip for each one. The agency tapped All 360 Media for the surround video capture and then created the project-mapped installation, a six-sided experiential space, with a company called Pixel Rain. The "real-time" aspect of the experience proved especially tricky, and the production team went through several tests and trials to ensure that there was no lag time and projections were as clear as possible, according to Mr. Gelner.
The idea seems to lend itself perfectly to favorite tech of the moment, VR, which the agency considered. "That was our first thought," said Mr. Gelner. "But these kids are really sick and VR can be pretty intrusive. We didn't want to make them more sick by sticking headsets on them. We opted for something that felt much more organic and more pleasurable."
While the "Dream Adventures" installation brought joy to the kids in the film, the brand is committed to making it an experience for more children. "While it's a beautiful spot, it affects four kids," said Mr. Walia. "We are in active discussion with St. Jude about building a permanent installation so that more kids can experience adventures. St. Jude is very receptive to the idea, and while I don't have any details to share, we are in deep discussions. This is not just a passing fancy."
Read the full Behind the Work Story on Expedia's "St. Jude Dream Adventures" on Adage.com.