Bourne Identity director Doug Liman’s sci-fi 360 video series arrived on Jaunt this week, and while there are a number of innovative elements such as extensive camera movement, a 360 twist on the expository newscast montage, and some decent special effects, the entire series felt more like a long teaser for movie than a standalone series. There’s not enough time to build real characters, or more than a skeleton of a plot, it’s not interactive like Samsung’s GONE, so what exactly is the series trying to do?
If nothing else, it’s a chance to start satisfying Jaunt’s investors by seeing how much they can charge for an A-list sponsorship—in this case, Lexus. Jaunt, Condé Nast, and Lexus’s ad agency clearly went to great lengths to tie their product to the content: the Lexus serves as a getaway car in the story, and each ad ends with an ‘invisible’ character exiting the car. Liman is an expert at product placement; the Bourne series has dozens of fairly tasteful product placements, but if this is a proof of concept for VR branded content, it falls short in a few key ways.
As a viewer I was concerned to see that the first episode was almost eight minutes long—that’s a lot of time to risk on new 360 content, especially when it’s streaming, with no option to download a higher-quality video. However the pleasant surprise for viewers (and a problem for Lexus) is that each episode is nearly two minutes shorter than you think: if you skip the lengthy end credits and non-required Lexus ad, you can shave 12 minutes off your total ~35-minute viewing time for the series. While most viewers will lift their headset before the ad plays (the VR equivalent of exiting the movie theater), those who are interested in cars, like me, and decide to stick around aren’t rewarded for their time. In the spot, we view the Lexus from the outside and then the inside, with the car’s features listed in text overlays, much like a magazine ad. The spot is the same on all six episodes, definitely a lost opportunity for the advertiser to tell a unique story here—why not show us the features in action? I want to see what makes that engine “naturally aspirated.” Or show us what 389 lb-ft of torque can do!
The spend for a luxury brand like Lexus is an investment in the future. Their goal is to seem forward-thinking, even if the spend-per-view is higher than on other properties. The fact that I’m concentrating on problems with the ad is a sign that the content of the series itself didn’t stick with me, but if advertising is the not-so-secret goal, these companies need to work on taking advantage of the 360 medium and make it so the last place viewers want to look is away.