As communicators, our aim is to evoke the experiences we want for people. From selling the sizzle, not the steak, to the satisfying clunk that feels like a Golf, the challenge has always been to capture those sensory moments a brand can own.
But these intangibles have been limited by the tools available. Until now. Developments in 3D animation tools, the conceptual thinking they unlock and the increasing bravery of clients to explore the abstract mean we can capture this unseen world in ways that extend the imagination.
Of course, selling a sensation is nothing new. In 1938, the New Yorker ran a profile of Elmer Wheeler, who coined the famous adage: “Don’t sell the steak — sell the sizzle!” Wheeler understood the art of communication was in capturing the magic of a sensory experience. As the article went on, “Once Mr Wheeler has discovered the sizzle in anything, meaning the tang in cheese, the bubbles in wine, the whiff in coffee, the customer is his, or rather his client’s.”
We’re still trying to capture the essence that makes a connection. But now we have very different tools to use, for very different consumers. Can we go further?
REAL AND HYPER-REAL
As 3D designers, we wear different hats as we move from project to project. Every brief immerses us in a new world. Each topic sends us down a different rabbit-hole. One day we’re thinking like architects, the next we turn our hand to product design or master-blending ancient recipes. Building this understanding of a subject matter, product or brand is essential for success. It feeds the production phases with vital fuel as the exploration turns into motion design.
3D and CG design tools and techniques let us take this research material and present it visually. Accurately reproducing the real world is a powerful campaign tool we’re all familiar with. From CPU processors to fully-equipped vehicles, cityscapes and cosmetics, everything the human eye can see can be recreated to a level of heightened reality.
Reproducing the familiarity of the real world makes it easier to land key priorities like brand recognition and distinctive assets. But what if there was more than just the label on the bottle, or the badge on the grille? Exploring projects in a way that ignores those limits can unlock results on a far more expressive, sensory and emotional level. Moving beyond the restrictions of photography, we can start to ask new questions: How does comfort, freshness or excitement feel? And what do those feelings look like?
GO BEYOND OBSERVATION
While 3D design tools can give us identifiable real-world results, they also let us transcend real-world physics. We now have the freedom, and technical ability, to break any rule. Our knowledge of how light works, how closely we can magnify a surface or how materials should behave can all be tweaked, or ignored altogether.
This is where things get really interesting. Deciphering what sits in a product’s sensory inventory unlocks the elemental ‘building blocks’ of new conceptual starting points. Ingredients that fuse to create flavour notes can be visualised, then combined with other characteristics. Texture and mouthfeel, aroma – even molecular structure – can layer up into the visual development. Adding these relevant components into the mix aids richer storytelling and more ownable assets.
But that’s not all. While many believe most of our perception is visual, there are dozens of intermediate and internal senses beyond the five we know. Proprioception, kinesthetic and vestibular systems help us balance, move and locate ourselves in space. Internal senses such as interoception allow us to sense physiological changes inside the body and attribute emotions to them. These are vital to our sense of self.
Katherine Templar Lewis is a creative neuroscientist from Kinda Studios. She says, “Our brains are constantly trying to make sense of the world to inform our version of reality. The more we can perceive either through direct sensing – seeing, hearing and touching – or through passive sensing information about texture – that we can see even if we can’t directly touch it – the greater the activation in our brains.” What if we could tap into this richer source of human experience?
AUDIENCES ARE EVOLVING
With a huge quantity of visual material shared on a daily basis, our audience’s optical intelligence is growing. This gives the creative industry a more sophisticated scope for product representation. Abstraction is more acceptable. And expressive content which elicits feeling can have as much impact and legibility as explicit pack shots or lifestyle photography.
While 3D design tools can give us identifiable real-world results, they also let us transcend real-world physics.
Visually representing scent, refreshment, joy or taste, for example, adds an exciting layer to campaigns at a range of levels. Here, not only the use of colour, but materiality, form and behavioural movement add up to visual results that embody and perform a feeling. As Templar Lewis notes, “If something creates an emotional response in us, we are more likely to not just engage with it, but lay down a stronger memory. It can even change our subsequent thoughts and behaviour. The increase in meaning that comes with an emotional experience means we are more likely to keep it front of mind, feel connected to it, and even return to it.”
IGNITE THE SENSES
For modern brands, sensory stimulus is integral to product development. Investment in unexpected flavour combinations, aroma complexes and textures advance the consumer experience and offer up new storytelling material. Meanwhile, intangible characteristics like heritage, production methods and techniques may be due their time in the spotlight.
Found’s installation for The Singleton 40-Year-Old limited edition whisky used 3D design to create a brand representation with almost no visual product. By embracing a sensory visual approach, the team brought invisible processes to life, representing the product as a tactile feeling, rather than traditional product imagery.
Anne-Laure Pingreoun, curator and founder of Alter-Projects, found this approach solved a unique puzzle: “As curators, we believe in creating emotions through art and culture. This unique narrative for the brand focused on the experience and the whisky’s distinctive creative process, unlocking another world of opportunities. Every visitor had a unique and personal sensorial experience, full of flavour and rich in emotions.”
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Historically, 3D design tools have always replicated the world of photography. A studio set-up allowed us to configure lights, create a scene and capture the composition ‘in camera’. Improvements to lighting and texturing sought to achieve something closer and closer to a real photographic image or film.
The current tools that enable simulations take reconstruction of the real world to extremes. Adjusting attributes and parameters allows us to take control of physics. Renditions of flowing liquid or particles can behave as we’d expect if we were to hold them in our hands, but crank the settings and whoosh! The real-world limits are broken and we can paint different pictures altogether, evoking the sensory representation of products in totally new ways.
What’s next? Real-time rendering now allows content to be presented sequentially as well as explored internally by the audience. And design tools that straddle the designer / user threshold will accelerate an already powerful trajectory.
So, we find ourselves at a fascinating point in time. By fully embracing the potential of sensorial product representation, we can use computer generated animation to evoke the senses and stimulate emotions. The outcome is a deeper, inherent connection with a receptive audience. And in the right hands, technology, insight and bravery can combine to create memorable brand campaigns like never before.