WRITTEN BY MediaMonks
First, you feel a thrilling sense of weightlessness as you dive through the city skyline, watching skyscrapers pass you by. But the exhilarating skydive takes a harrowing turn when you spot your target: the Scarecrow, who’s wreaking havoc throughout Gotham City by spreading his trademark toxic fear gas.
As you cut through a gas cloud, your vision becomes clouded: villains from the Batman universe begin to surround you as buildings come crashing down. As you glide through the increasingly abstract and crumbling city, can you catch the villain in time?
This isn’t your typical skydiving experience. It’s just one part of the Batman Experience, powered by AT&T at Comic-Con, celebrating the character’s 80th anniversary and induction into the Comic-Con Character Hall of Fame. The activation made such an impression that Wired said it “soars—while others fall flat,” while the New York Times called Batman and AT&T “a new dynamic duo.” But how exactly does such a heroic tale come to be?
In a recent SoDA Report On Trends in AR, VR and Mixed Reality, MediaMonks Creative Technologist Samuel Snider-Held writes: “[AR and VR are] no longer the shiny, new thing it once was, and brands can’t blame a subpar experience on experimentation, either.” Rather than chase the appearance of innovation, he says, brands must closely consider “how a given touchpoint impacts the broader customer experience” and design the offering around that. The VR segment of the Batman Experience achieves this by pairing the virtual scenario—gliding through the city to catch Scarecrow—with the weightlessness made possible by a skydiving wind tunnel.
We all know about Batman’s utility belt full of cutting-edge tools and equipment. This VR scenario lets everyday people experience what it’s really like to try out the kind of tech Bruce Wayne—Batman’s alter-ego—would use. But the immersion begins before participants put on the custom headset shaped like Batman’s iconic cowl, with an instructional safety video delivered by Lucius Fox, who supplies Batman with his equipment.
Contrasting the Batman Experience with other AR and VR activations that fell short of pushing the medium forward, Wired noted that AT&T’s stood out among others at Comic-Con this year: “At all of 77 seconds, it’s not long … But it’s also utterly unprecedented.” It didn’t take much time to make a powerful impact. The cinematic narrative thread throughout the experience, from onboarding to leaving, goes a long way in ensuring that participants are fully engrossed in the world of Gotham City.
The video briefing, for example, turns a boring safety regulation—required for these sorts of events—into an opportunity for storytelling. “We really wanted to immerse participants into the role of Batman in a full narrative sequence,” says Eric Shamlin, SVP Growth at MediaMonks, who collaborated with AT&T to bring the project to life. “Part of this idea was that Lucius would do the onboarding video to showcase a new adaptation of the bat suit, training them on how it’s used.”
The tech-infused experience showcases the strength of the telecom company’s network that powers many of the things that Comic-Con’s audience cares about: things like streaming movies or TV shows, online gaming experiences and more. By paying homage to 80 years of Batman in the opening of the Comic-Con Museum, AT&T pays respect to the franchises and characters that the corporation recently inherited in its acquisition of Time Warner.
The exhibit also gives attendees an idea of the partnership’s increased creative and production muscle. “The combination of the two companies was intended to create something new in the media industry,” writes the New York Times covering the exhibit. “A powerhouse that could reach millions of people through its vast distribution system of mobile devices and satellite networks, while also creating the content that will fill their screens.” Through an exhilarating cinematic activation, fans get a taste of the ways AT&T might bring its properties to life on and off the screen in the near future.
Following insights from this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity, Accenture Interactive highlighted the need for brands to “think small to launch big, going after enthusiasts in need. It’s a need for niche rather than mass.”
A dependable strategy, even with large-scale activations like this one, is to start small by first targeting niche audiences by delivering the experiences they crave. While superheroes aren’t necessarily a niche interest these days—they continue to dominate in box office sales, and Batman himself is one of DC’s most popular characters—it’s worth noting that San Diego Comic-Con’s audience makes up some of the most passionate fans of comic culture.
And while the superhero-loving audience may be growing, it’s also a skeptical one, highlighting the importance in delivering exceptional creative to those ends. “AT&T might be viewed by some as a heavy-handed corporate voice,” says Shamlin, “but they’re successfully navigating how to leverage the very significant pop culture icons they’ve come to control to make themselves more approachable to a very discerning audience.”
The team knew that not everyone attending the museum would have the chance to try out the VR experience that stole the show. “We didn’t want those who missed a chance to try the skydiving experience to feel they missed out, so we designed the entirety of the activation to be fun and shareable,” said Shamlin. The multi-layered activation made full use of the Comic-Con Museum, bringing attendees the chance to engage with the Batman universe in a variety of ways.
This included a Bat Cave, built by MediaMonks, where attendees could play through an archive of Batman video games. We also developed a training room filled with punching bags featuring portraits of villains from the franchise. As you punch the bags, light projections dynamically fill the walls with comic panels and onomatopoeia (“Pow! Wham!”) that let you feel like you’re in a comic book—or the campy Batman TV series from the 60s. Throughout the museum, attendees could pause to snap a selfie with a variety of props from Batman movies, including costumes and the iconic Batmobile.
Pulling all of this off was a heroic effort in itself, requiring the alignment of several parties: AT&T and its agency The Collective; Comic-Con, including the group managing the Comic-Con Character Hall of Fame; and the city of San Diego itself, who issued the required permits for hosting the massive stage for the skydiving experience. “Our activation was just one part of a larger one within the museum,” said Shamlin. “There was an incredible amount of coordination and back-and-forth communication.”
From aligning a diversity of experiences to getting several partners (and fans) on the same page, an exhibit on the level of the Batman Experience is a huge undertaking. But together, the multiple layers of the activation culminate in a rich, accessible exploration of Batman, his history and his cultural impact over the decades—a recognition that the character doesn’t need, but certainly deserves.