We want real things, not simulated ones

Ramsey Naja is chief creative officer, JWT MENA

“Is this for real?” is one of those questions that have such a quintessential humanity about them they should be listed as a UN World Heritage site and protected by multinational troops. This is because, as humans, we have this unique ability to transform the imaginary into a variety of tangible formats, yet without actually making it reality. It is this, in my view, which really separates us from the animal kingdom. For one thing, I really can’t see simulated experiences being a big draw amongst baboons.

We always long for the real thing but these simulated experiences have that ability to democratise. Virtual reality, which is basically make-believe but with a sensorial dimension, made anything we dreamt of doing, kinda doable. And suddenly, armies of teenagers, accountants and assorted geeks became Michael Schumachers, martial arts heroes and mustachio’d italians. In effect, this is at the heart of the digital world today. But is also what makes that world ultimately – and frustratingly – incomplete.

I don’t know about you but I can’t seem to recall anyone telling me to ‘get simulated’. And for a good reason: however much we enjoy drooling over eye-candy, what we crave is to touch, feel and enjoy. And the best brands have always been those that truly complete the glossy promise they make in above-the-line communication by delivering it for real.

What virtual reality allows, however, is for consumers to simulate that experience, to get a feel of what it would be like to live that promise, but within the safe confines of the internet and without commitment or expenditure. This means that, despite all the hoo-hah surrounding all things digital, that domain should really be viewed as what it is: an intermediate station in a brand’s journey from promise to realisation, with all the dangers that over promising can have. Recently, an auto magazine put the world’s supreme online racing champion behind the wheel of a real racing car: the guy did well for a rookie. But he also threw up in his helmet.”

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