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Exploring new realities, with Lebo Lekoma & Jade Duckitt

Cape Town-based animation studio Sea Monster’s commercial head, Lebo Lekoma, and creative director, Jade Duckitt, talk about the potential of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), gaming and more for local brands.

Lebo Lekoma and Jade Duckitt

Q5: What are the key potential applications of AR for brands in South Africa?
Jade Duckitt: The potential for AR and brands lies in taking existing media and making it more engaging. So, for example, Pick n Pay’s Super Cards are fairly known [Sea Monster is involved with this PnP project — ed-at-large]. How do you add another level and get people to engage over time? You add an interactive AR game element that sustains their interest. The overriding idea is about how you create the link between physical marketing collateral and digital collateral and, by definition, that’s what AR is.

Augmented Reality development can be used as a gimmick, or you can design an experience that people engage with and spend time on. You can’t force that; it’s them inviting you into their free time. Take Super Cards again, where parents are trying to connect with kids and kids are glued to phones; this technology can help parents have a conversation — whether it’s on cricket, money, animals (like Super Animals), it’s something shared that customers really appreciate.

Something few brands have explored is the utility use of Augmented Reality. For example, if I’m browsing an interior-design catalogue, or décor spread in a magazine, and see a couch I like, why can’t I scan it, see it life-size in my living room, and, if it fits and looks good, orders it immediately online? In this way, AR also gives longevity to print, giving it more meaning and a sense of utility beyond paging through it once. AR allows brands to measure and report on engagement in print media, for example, being able to see which couches readers engaged with and for how long and what actions they took as a result.

Q5: How about VR — where do you see that going into advertising and marketing over the next few years?
JD: On the one side, VR is not fully utilised in the activation space. All we’re seeing is people doing static, seated Virtual Reality experiences where you look around as a passive observer in the VR space. There is a great opportunity for brands to be the first to bring room-scale VR to local consumers. It allows you to create a virtual, interactive space just using boxes and packing tape; add a VR element and that space becomes an interactive game, or virtual exhibition, or an immersive world where you can play games with other people. It will be a while before consumers own the devices that enable this, so brands have an opportunity to use them and introduce consumers to them.

Lebo Lekoma: If marketing is about the brand experience, this is a way to create a new experience at scale very cost-effectively. Activations aren’t really scalable; VR can take them to another world and allow consumers to live the brand/the intangibles and can take it down and build it everywhere.

Q5: How does the concept of gaming apply to brands and communication?
JD: Do you want people to be passively listening while you shout at them, or invite them into a conversation where you can involve them in a challenge, entertain them, and/or educate them? People are bored; they’re increasingly scrolling past/skipping content. We need to consider what kind of experiences are people trying to skip through to. Is it sponsored meaningful content? Gamification with a learning experience? We need to look at what people are engaging with and see how we can give it to them. Like YouTube sponsored content, for example, it needs to be more than an ad slapped on to each side of a piece of content; it should add content that is relevant and applicable to what the consumer is interested in and trying to do with their lives.

Q5: What current trends in animation should we know about?
JD: Bite-size, visual, cutting across cultures and literacy levels. If your brand is about story, how are you telling yours?

LL: We’re seeing animation starting to become reflective of the diversity in our society. If you look, everywhere [we’re] seeing gender fluidity, queerness, androgyny in animation. We think it’s exciting because it helps animation to have resonance and show a true reflection of reality in the stories people see.

We custom-design an animation style for each of our clients to reflect the brand and the society they’re talking to — their heritage and people — so the 2D animation becomes as recognisable a part of a brand as other visual CI elements.

JD: Anyone familiar with the Old Mutual brand who’s watched Moneyversity videos will agree it looks like Old Mutual’s branding without explicitly being able to go “green animation, watermark logo etc”. This is an advantage because the animation can be tailored to reflect the brand, its CI and its personality — serious, playful, and so on. It’s almost natural, now, for the animation to be part of a brand CI.

Q5: What advice would you give to young people keen on a career in gaming and or animation in South Africa?
JD: Be interested in everything — storytelling, science, mathematics, art, business — all of these will help you succeed. If like us, you are living in a developing country, you’ll need all the help you can get because it’s tough to make a living in emerging technology. But, if you succeed, you’ll be able to bring that technology to people around you who often need it the most.

LL: The career or journey in these disciplines requires one to have a craft approach to things. You need [to be] willing to devote time, effort and practice to become better. The other important thing is to find the time to practise while you are still a student. You need to have a diversity of experience to succeed; diversity exposes you to people, which exposes you to story. If art is about reflecting the human condition and human story, we’re not sure how you can do that very well without exposure to diversity.

Lastly, if you’re going to be a commercial artist, realise what you have can’t exist for its own sake — it has to have a purpose, so get comfortable with that.

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