McDonald's succeeds at SXSW with a simple but captivating virtual reality experience.
This year at South by Southwest Interactive, the chain restaurant that turned an Irish prefix into shorthand for global sameness descended on Austin, the city of “keep it weird,” for a second year in a row.
Like many brands at SXSW 2016, McDonald’s bet on VR as a draw. It rented out a demonstration space across from the Austin Convention Center, dubbed the McLoft, where consumers could try out virtual reality for themselves.
The installation, V-Artist, succeeded where many other VR experiences have failed. Created in partnership with Dallas-based studio Groove Jones, the experience allowed visitors to paint inside a virtual Happy Meal using three tools: a paintball shooter, a laser-guided color etcher and a paintbrush that allows visitors to paint in 3D space.
“A lot of our technology here is going to be focused on, what’s the new definition of convenience and fun?” said DeLu Jackson, corporate vice president, global digital engagement at McDonald’s. “It could be a very generic experience where we said let’s do an experience in VR that’s just VR. But we’ve tried to make it unique to McDonald’s, with a very specific application to the Happy Meal, which is something that’s core to the brand.”
While many virtual reality users feel a sense of disconnection with the physical world when they begin their experience, the handheld controllers at V-Artist make the user’s entire body feel present in the virtual space. Users can walk through 3D ribbons of paint, giving V-Artist the feel of a true immersive space, not just a 360-degree image or film that happens to be displayed on a VR device.
When they’re finished painting, users can take a photo using a virtual camera that appears within the application. And once they take the headset off, they can print off a copy of the image, which features McDonald’s branding. While this seems like a small addition, it helps to smooth the transition into and out of virtual reality, a sensation that users who are new to VR often find jarring.
The VR experience at McLoft isn’t just a one-off for the company. A press release notes that “McDonald’s is already testing virtual experiences in some markets, like in Sweden, where customers can create their own Google cardboard VR headsets from recycled McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes.”
While the company’s attempts to reach out to younger consumers who value authenticity often feel strained, with its virtual reality experience, at least, McDonald’s is ahead of the curve.