The power of CGI advertising in real-life marketing activations
Reading time: 8 min
The best computer-generated imagery (CGI) leaves a lasting impact. Film and television directors know the power of CGI and its ability to make the unreal real and to confound expectations. Marketers are aware of this power too and they use CGI and its offshoot technologies to engage with and surprise their target audiences.
In this article, we cover:
- What CGI advertising is
- Great examples of brands using CGI in their marketing campaigns
- How CGI fits in luxury brands’ wider approaches to marketing
- Ways to use CGI to increase real-life marketing activations
What is CGI advertising?
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is still or moving visual content made using computer software. Prior to CGI, many of the visual effects we saw in films, television and advertising were created using models and lighting effects. Advancing computing power made it possible to replicate and improve on those effects using software like Cray, Modeler and Videoscape.
The technology began to break through in the 1980s as it became cheaper and more user-friendly – see this advert from 1982 for a 3D modelling computer. What it was capable of producing is primitive by today’s standards but it made a big impression on cinema goers and consumers at that time. Standard uses for CGI in the early days were for creating product visualisations, animated characters and moving logos.
Great examples of brands using CGI in their marketing campaigns
The use of CGI in advertising has grown substantially in the following decades.
Ads that feature CGI can benefit from higher engagement and retention. For marketing teams, CGI gives them seemingly infinite creative possibilities allowing them to tell great stories and present products in brand new ways.
The technology available today to advertisers is light years ahead of the 1980s and it’s being put to ingenious uses by in-house and agency creatives to grab attention and headlines.
Examples we’ve loved here at VERB include:
Car bags in Paris (2,000,000+ likes)
Our new bag installation (529,000 likes)
Ski Chalet (134,100+ Likes)
Paris-based Jacquemus went viral with the above few campaigns, backing them up with an actual ice cream van in the shop of a handbag and pink vending machine pop-ups in the city.
2. Victoria Beckham
VB Chain Bag London Takeover (71,900 likes)
Victoria Beckham dropped the ‘Chain bag’ all over iconic London monuments including Big Ben and Tower Bridge to promote the release of this new handbag.
Falsies Surreal Mascara tram (304,700 likes)
Sky High Mascara Express (31,000 likes)
These videos promoting Maybelline’s mascara products were a viral sensation, making the company’s mascara products part of London and New York’s mass transit networks.
This clever video, in time for Christmas, turns Regent Street into Good Hair Street complete with its own Tube station, buses and decorative lights.
CGI as part of the wider marketing mix
When executed well, the volume of likes, follows and shares these and other online CGI-driven advertising campaigns can be substantial. The use of CGI is primarily online but brands are using it in increasingly creative ways in many different marketing environments.
Brands, including luxury brands, are starting to fuse CGI, augmented reality and virtual reality into the marketing. Out of home, the most visible examples of this convergence are digital billboards.
The most effective examples use a forced perspective technique to create deep, 3D visuals that places objects at certain heights and scales depending on the viewers’ perspective.
A great example of this is the 3D billboard for Resident Evil by Netflix. Nike used 3D CGI to great effect on one of its Tokyo billboards to advertise a limited-run sneaker.
The visual effects are stunning and can create really engaging brand experiences, making a lasting impression on the audience.
The increasing sophistication of web browsers and the power of mobile phones deliver the necessary computing power required for interactive 3D product views and tours.
Luxury in-home furnishings and interior designers can create stunning lifestyle renders of their products and ideas to create a series of inspirational images for catalogues and websites that engage potential clients.
Luxury automotive manufacturers use CGI particularly well, allowing customers to inspect every aspect of the inside and outside of a car from their own homes, offering a virtual experience that is almost as detailed and immersive as physically inspecting the car in a showroom.
CGI allows manufacturers and retailers to bring products to life with animation which can also be interactive so consumers can get a true sense of a product before making a purchase.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)
Building on the foundations laid by CGI, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to take interaction to the next level. They not only enhance the quality of a visual presentation but they also immerse the consumer deeper in the experience.
AR brings digital assets into the real world through headsets and mobile phone screens. Vogue Business recently reported that Dior is working on a catalogue allowing consumers to try on certain outfits using AR tech. H&M introduced a clothing line in the metaverse which permits customers to do the same.
VR transports consumers to a completely virtual world where luxury brands can replicate the feeling of being in a showroom or experiencing a product in a unique setting.
Elizabeth Arden launched an immersive virtual store in which consumers could shop and take a walk through the company’s history via interactive content. Adidas, Puma and other high-end sports footwear brands have embraced VR wholeheartedly, allowing access to the virtual world by bundling an NFT token with limited-edition physical products. Luxury hotels and spa resorts allow customers to tour rooms and overall facilities before they make a booking – a very interactive way of showcasing their amenities.
While not entirely widespread yet, CGI is creating new opportunities for brands to connect with existing and potential customers and there’s a demand for it. As we discussed at the Future of Luxury Summit in 2022, 21% of luxury shoppers have used AR/VR devices before with 14% using AR/VR to explore a product or make a purchase. (Figures from Facebook)
Another interesting revelation that came from our summit last year was that luxury shoppers are 1.9x more likely to want an in-store experience with 2.2x wanting to experience products through AR or VR.
This neatly segues into an increasing luxury retail trend – the “phygital” experience.
“Phygital” is a hybrid approach to retailing where brands attempt to blend the experience consumers have in retail stores and online seamlessly. The luxury space in particular is showing great creativity and experimentation in its approach to phygital retail.
Online, CGI can create compelling interactive product visualisations online which can be topped up instore with kiosk displays that provide a deeper understanding of a product. Online AR- and VR-driven try-ons can be supplemented with immersive stories on particular products when a consumer scans a QR code.
A superb and highly creative example of CGI in retail, used more for art and the experience than a traditional marketing activation, is the floor-to-ceiling windows at Tiffany & Co.’s recently completely refurbished Fifth Avenue store in New York. They surround store visitors with stunning CGI footage of the city skyline and Central Park.
Introducing CGI into your marketing mix
CGI is superb for product visualisations and creating an immersive brand experience for consumers. CGI can be a common language that bridges the gap between online and offline experiences to deliver an enhanced level of engagement. Done well, as we saw with Jacquemus and other examples, they also generate buzz in the press.
The best CGI-influenced campaigns pass the “So what?” test.
The creativity and the thought that have gone into some of the campaigns and events is clear to see. They are powerful enough to cause people to stop and look at the campaigns in the first place. Second, they are relevant to the consumer and their purchasing hopes and fears. Without having to commit, they can see exactly how furniture might look in their home, how a handbag works with their wardrobe, how glasses work with their face shape, and what it feels to sit behind the wheel of a car they’re yet to buy.
CGI should be subject to the same tests as all advertising collateral. Marketing teams and agencies should ask themselves before committing to a project:
- Is it worthy of the brand?
- Will it enhance the customer journey and create memorable experiences?
- Will it drive online engagement and revenue?
- Can this touchpoint be the opportunity to capture a client’s details to market to them directly? How can we make that process easy and natural for them?
- Will this be enough to persuade consumers to follow us on social media?
Many doubted luxury’s ability to convey its prestige and exclusivity online rather than in a retail setting. The industry has proven those doubters wrong with Bain & Co. predicting that 30% of all luxury sales will take place online by 2025.
What CGI, AR, VR and phygital offer are ways to create visually stunning and personally involving brand and product experiences in the real world and online. It’s an opportunity to collect and nurture prospect details and upsell and cross-sell to existing customers at every touchpoint.
For over 10 years, VERB has worked with some of the world leaders in luxury from Aston Martin to Harrods. To talk to us about how to use CGI to grow your online followers and increase revenues, please get in touch – we look forward to hearing from you.