Nat Geo's VR Helmet Sent Users to Space While Keeping Their Feet on the Ground

McCann New York is Adweek's Gravity winner for creative innovation

Photography by Sasha Maslov for Adweek

Photography by Sasha Maslov for Adweek

Gravity Award

Marketing and Advertising: VR/AR Invention
Media: Product Development Invention

If you’re yearning to experience the awesome wonders of space and get a closer view of the solar system without leaving Planet Earth, Nat Geo Channel has the right stuff for you.

By “the right stuff,” we mean an immersive VR experience that takes place inside the network’s “Astronaut Reality Helmets.”

Developed by McCann New York to tout director Darren Aronofsky‘s science show One Strange Rock, these lids were tricked-out with internal film projection units and visors that provided a full field of vision. You could turn your head this way and that to fully admire breathtaking footage of the Earth, moon and sun, just as they appear from orbit.

“Though we knew existing virtual reality headsets provide a good visual space simulation, we felt those headsets didn’t provide the real experience of a person up in space, dressed in a space suit and looking on Earth for the first time,” says agency executive creative technology director Nir Refuah. McCann collaborated with Pepin Gelardi of Tomorrow Lab to design the helmet, and created the four-minute VR film, using footage from the series, with Framestore.

Twenty-five helmets were produced, and journalists who attended a launch event in New York donned the headgear for a virtual off-world adventure. “This not only created additional singular stories about this first-of-its-kind helmet experience, it also provided an intriguing layer to stories written about the series,” says Nat Geo marketing chief Jill Cress. After the screening—which helped generate 312 million media impressions in the run-up to the show’s March debut—the helmets blasted off for planetariums and science centers across the country.

Michael Solomon, a marketing professor at Saint Joseph’s University, praised the device as “an imaginative vehicle to ease everyday people into the VR domain.”

Refuah likens the initiative to another spacey project from McCann, “The Field Trip to Mars” for Lockheed Martin, in which the agency realistically simulated a journey to the Red Planet via VR technology installed on a school bus. (“Field Trip” won Adweek’s Gravity Award in 2016.)

“It’s no longer just about doing the best practice in existing technology platforms” for innovative campaigns, he says, “but about inventing the technology that truly delivers the creative idea and brand content.”

Space Force: (l-r) Christine Lane, Executive Producer, Innovation, McCann New York; Pepin Gelardi, Partner, Tomorrow Lab; Eric Silver, Chief Creative Officer, McCann, North America; Nir Refuah, Executive Creative Technology Director, McCann New York; Devika Bulchandani, President, McCann New York; Jill Cress, Chief Marketing Officer, National Geographic Partners; Rob Rawley, EVP, Global Account Director, McCann New York. Photo: Sasha Maslov for Adweek

Space Force: (l-r) Christine Lane, Executive Producer, Innovation, McCann New York; Pepin Gelardi, Partner, Tomorrow Lab; Eric Silver, Chief Creative Officer, McCann, North America; Nir Refuah, Executive Creative Technology Director, McCann New York; Devika Bulchandani, President, McCann New York; Jill Cress, Chief Marketing Officer, National Geographic Partners; Rob Rawley, EVP, Global Account Director, McCann New York. Photo: Sasha Maslov for Adweek

Publish date: August 19, 2018 https://dev.adweek.com/brand-marketing/nat-geos-vr-helmet-sent-users-into-space-while-keeping-their-feet-on-the-ground/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT