Within that trend of inventing fashionable terms, tools and other philosophical stones that we believe necessary for the self-survival of marketing and advertising, the future seems to be recently in the immersive experiences.
There are many online articles, LinkedIn mentions and so on, that point out to immersive experiences as the marketing must for 2020, and for the future. The ‘latest trend to build customer loyalty […]is to generate experiences that surround the user in a captivating, pleasant environment that allows them to enjoy and interact while also bearing a favourable impression of the brand,’ an article by Technology for business of the Valencia Chamber relates.
We refer to an immersive experience when digitality is brought into a physical space, when the immersive experience itself is actually to go into the physical space instead to the digital one. Going to a museum to actually see a work: its texture, the volumes, how the light affects it, how it dialogues with other works, with the space, with the visitors … it is already an immersive experience in itself, because all that is not achieved digitally.
Needless to say that the term is itself redundant because what is an experience if not immersive? Can one be out of the experience? Does not the ability to immerse depend on the attention of the receiver rather than on the experience itself? Metaphysics aside… there is an even more relevant fact and that is that immersive experiences, as a concept, are far from being a novelty.
As a construction of a story whose objective is to intensely capture the attention of its receiver or to build a particular reality within a physical environment or to transmit intangibles, immersive experiences are as old as the origins of humanity, when culture began to be created together with its artistic manifestations: approximately 800,000 years ago.
The first cultural manifestations, such as the Atapuerca site, were not mere drawings on stone with a ritual intention to ‘attract’ hunting; They were part of a staging, for this reason they were at the bottom of deep caves where light does not enter. The figures were drawn following the relief of the rock and, as part of that scenery and ritual, lighting them with fire created shadows on the rock that produced an effect of movement on them.
‘If as spectators we stop to imagine – and examine – that scene, we could attribute some magical effect to the projection of the light of the lamp on the figures, standing out and mixing together in the walls turned into screens, generating the illusory belief of movement and life. Thus we would see that the front legs touch and separate with the hind legs of the bison ramming, with the tail that seems to rise more and more while the horns prepare themselves when lowering its head, allowing us to glimpse the relief ’ (E. GIUSTI C. y BARBAGELATA, N; ‘Psicoanálisis y cine. Un dispositivo en extensión’).
The constructions of our culture have continuously recreated experiences throughout history: the Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Byzantine cathedrals… all reflecting specific intentions, all thought and created so once we stepped on them would be wrapped in certain atmosphere and certain emotions.
The idea of using reliefs to create an effect of movement is also found in the colossal constructions of the Ancient Egypt, whose figurative representations are also cleft in the rock so that when illuminated they created a feeling of movement. In the same way his funeral constructions are designed so that all the power of the pharaoh both in this life and in that of the hereafter was made present and dominated everything. Perhaps there are no more pharaohs, but their presence endures in the experience of these constructions that, as inheritance, left us the term “pharaonic” to attest it.
Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals are particularly striking examples of how we have historically modulated experiences in spaces and constructed stories through them.
‘[…] The sculptor had to work on a characterization that took into account such a function. In order to awaken an emotional performance of fright in the face of punishment and hell, and of abhorrence of sin, he should, therefore, try to communicate to these fabulous animals and beings a kind of verisimilitude, which would make it possible for the spectator to produce such an emotional reaction.’ (W. Weisbach, 1945)
The Romanesque seeks a spiritualization of space, in our contemporary language an immersion in divinity, since ‘it pursues a symbolism that is not so much intended to represent as it is to conjure and spiritually present the holy being that it is about representing’ to ‘be moved to a intimate to live and feel religious deeds and ecclesiastical commandments. The sublimity and majesty of the divine in its transcendence, or the bliss of paradise will be placed before us […] and thus will provoke soul reactions’
Let’s think of a Romanesque cathedral: thick walls, barely illuminated, when you step in you have a feeling of isolation, works and carvings that have a primitive appearance, monsters that judge the one who enters, austerity, lack of ornament. God is everywhere and we, ignorant sinners who cannot read; we must know the divine strength and the word of God through his house and the representations inside.
On the contrary, the Gothic cathedrals build an aesthetic experience that reflects a new way of relating to divinity, and in the construction of that immersive space that is the cathedral and that reflects a return to the representation of the beautiful that is a reflection of God. , they ascend towards heaven as a sign of connection, ordering the world, remembering that heaven is on earth. You are full of light because you go from a punishing God to a god who illuminates everything because he is present in everything beautiful. Hence the rose windows, the windows that bathe everything and that, when entering, also bathe the faithful, touched by divine light, who feels enveloped by it in that ascending construction.
‘In Paris, the elevated parts of the Sainte Chapelle are nothing more than an aerial trap set to catch all the rays. The walls disappear. Everywhere, light penetrates an interior space that has become perfectly homogeneous […] In Reims, Jean de Orbais conceives completely suspended windows, of which Villard de Honnecourt designs and which are then diffused throughout parts; later, the master Gaucher deletes all the eardrums from the portal of the façade and replaces them with stained glass. The rosettes bloom everywhere, spreading until they reach the framework of the buttresses. Circles of perfection, symbols of cosmic rotation, these represent the creative flow, the procession of light and its return, that universe of radiant emanations and reflections that the theology of Dionysus describes’.
Consider also that to be experienced this space is complemented with candles that illuminate the interior and create games of light, songs, prayers and the ritualization of the Eucharist; Beyond its religious content, everything as a whole forms an experience that aims to abstract the one who lives it.
The most surprising thing is also that these experiences are still valid; their essence remains even if our reading is different.
This immersive will of art remains throughout the cultural creation of humanity; without going any further, artists of abstract expressionism such as Jackson Pollock gave very precise indications to the galleries and museums that were exhibiting their works so their paintings were placed at a certain distance from the floor so that the viewer felt immersed in them. Mark Rothko has a room explicitly conceptualized by him in the Tate Modern where the light, the temperature and the works themselves are arranged so that an enveloping atmosphere is created to awaken certain emotions in the visitor. They are not the only examples: the Rothko chapel in Houston, the Matisse chapel in Vence, France or the Tàpies chapel at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona are other examples.
With modern societies and their laicization, we continue to build experiences but with a more evident desire of providing an experience as understood in the contemporary context of consumption: museums, boulevards, shopping centers… places that transmit emotions or create atmospheres beyond architecture itself. Where there is a story behind. And also with consumption societies we build brands that make us (some, not all) live experiences, whether or not they are digital, because the experience is still a story, and what it is about is to build stories that appeal to emotions, that last in time; In advertising, and in communication in general, we should aspire to this and not to the banal effect of a Chinese shadow theatre.
Returning to immersive experiences as the future of marketing campaigns, it is true that someone can say here that we are talking about immersive ‘virtual’ experience, that this could be considered the pseudo-evolution of the above; It could be, although this does not exempt us from one of the primary objectives of any communication discipline – and unless we are wrong, advertising is one of them–: add to the discourse, create a story. The opposite is noise.
The Monet exhibition: the immersive experience was recently opened in Barcelona. The intention to bring Monet’s water lilies closer to the public that hasn’t had the opportunity to enjoy them live is highly commendable, but instead we find a great projection of disorganized and chaotic lights that use the beauty of the tones of the Monet oils as a commercial claim, but under which there is nothing that contributes with something new to what we could experience seeing the work live. In what context are the works created, what do they mean for the Impressionist school, what textures and dimensions do they have, how do they dialogue between them, what do they mean for later artistic creations are questions that are not slightly answered. However, there is a construction bridge that tries to reconstruct the painting itself, very suitable for taking selfies, and a souvenir shop at the end of the tour.
‘It happens to many works (and it is also the restricted object of certain arts) that they can give nothing but effects of first intention. If we stop at them, we find that they only exist at the price of some inconsistency […] There are architectural monuments that come exclusively from the desire to build an impressive decoration that can be seen from a certain point, and this temptation often leads the builder to sacrifice certain qualities, the presence and lack of which appear as soon as one departs a little from the propitious place planned.’
Perhaps the problem is not simply the fact that immersive experiences are as old as humanity rather than, in our context of technological development, we always run the risk that technology becomes an end in itself instead of providing an amplification of something that we want to tell. The story must be before the technology and not the other way around.
‘Modern man, just as he is exhausted by the enormity of his technical means, is equally impoverished by the excess of wealth’ as Paul Valéry would put it.
Technology has to be as a tool, be it a work of art, brand values or a new launch; technology has to help us as a support; Because technology as a pirouette of digital ability, apart of providing nothing, demands very little from its receiver and assumes that with an ephemeral spark of technological juggling we will captivate our audience. In all disciplines whose aim is to communicate, to offer more, to create more, to think more… to lose pride and trust more those with whom we want to communicate should be the ultimate goal.
- E. GIUSTI C. y BARBAGELATA, N; (2012) “Psicoanálisis y cine. Un dispositivo en extensión”. Ediciones UNL, Secretaría de Extensión, Universidad Nacional del Litoral. Santa Fe, Argentina.
- W. WEISBACH; (1945) “Reforma religiosa y arte medieval”. Citado en LABAD SASIAÍN, F. (2004) “Fundamentos de la estética idealista del Románico”. Codex aquilarensis: Cuadernos de investigación del Monasterio de Santa María la Real. Nº 20, pp. 152-172.
- A. HAUSER; (1962) “Historia social de la literatura y el arte”. Citado en LABAD SASIAÍN, F. (2004) “Fundamentos de la estética idealista del Románico”. Codex aquilarensis: Cuadernos de investigación del Monasterio de Santa María la Real. Nº 20, pp. 152-172.
- DUBY, G; (2005) “La época de las catedrales: arte y sociedad. 980 – 1420”. Cátedra.
- VALÉRY, P; (2018) “La invención estética”. Casimiro. Madrid.
On the author:
Sara Lucas is Publicist and Client Services Directos. She has over ten years in advertising agencies managing integrated communication projects for both national and international campaigns. She also has a degree in Humanities and a postgraduate degree in Contemporary Art Theory and Aesthetics.