3D in Advertising – Bringing the Wow Factor to Campaigns

By James Stewart, Geneva Film Co.

The Internet used to belong mainly to innovators and early adopters – the geeks among us. Eventually, we non-techies were able to log on without incurring a migraine. Today, the vast majority of us Google as often and as naturally as we blink.

So too regarding the evolution of 3D digital technology. Make no mistake: this brave new world is no longer a gimmick on the periphery, nor is it ‘coming to a screen near you soon.’ Witness for example the impressive new array of 3D-ready screens and devices recently (or seconds away from being) released. Perhaps the most exciting advance is 3D’s newly-evolved autostereoscopic status. In lay terms, this is a fancy way of saying ‘Cool, no more glasses.’

Frame from the recent Lexus 3D cinema spot.

As we speak, sumptuous, hyper-crisp 3D sportscasts are now available on ESPN; likewise, Discovery/IMAX now boasts 3net on a 24/7 basis. High-profile acts such as the Black-Eyed Peas, Cirque du Soleil, and soon Katy Perry, are grooving and back-flipping in front of 3D cameras; two more Avatar sequels and a Titanic 3D are slated for upcoming releases, while directors such as Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese, Wim Wenders and Baz Luhrmann all have 3D films in production or already released (and up for Oscar nomination). This year BBC and NBC will be broadcasting the 2012 Olympics in 3D – a wholly thrilling prospect if ever there was one.

High-profile acts such as Cirque du Soleil have embraced 3D.

Commercial 3D

Moreover, all of this fresh 3D content is now moving well beyond the confines of the cinema, and quickly slipping into the realm of everyday usage. For instance, you may now enjoy 3D imagery on, say, your new LG Optimus tablet. Or perhaps you prefer the HTC EVO 3D smart phone, or the newest Toshiba laptop. LG is about to debut the Optimus Max 3D, the first smartphone with 3D video editing functions. Gamers are going nuts for Nintendo’s recent glasses-free 3D handheld (now over 4 million sold); just around the corner the iPhone 5 is potentially set to embrace its patented holographic future. In addition to the 3D camcorders already on the market from Fuji, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and HVC, many of these newer mobile devices also come equipped with 3D cameras for recording: what if you could watch your child as she takes her first steps – again in 3D?

If you’re an agency creative, imagine the potential and sheer fun to be had in exploring all the new avenues to highlight your brand and to astonish your clients with previously unimaginable feats of imagination. However, relatively few brands have made the 3D leap so far with Pepsi, Coke, Toyota, Lexus, Sony, Armani, Mini, and Mazda among the digital 3D pioneers.

Today, only a few dozen or so 3D commercials currently exist. Out of this batch my company, Geneva Film Co., has produced a good share including cinema 3D spots for Lexus and Sprint. So what gives? What is the hesitation among smaller agencies?

Frame from the recent Sprint 3D cinema spot.

Selling 3D

Whether speaking at TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) or Cannes Lions, I have come to understand that most marketers and agency creatives simply need more information. Once the costs are outlined, an explanation of how 3D actually works is provided, and the storytelling potential revealed, most ad people soon begin to envisage 3D as well within the realm of possibility, and real excitement takes hold.

First off, 3D commercials can still be screened in 2D. Launching a campaign in both formats is entirely feasible, which may assist your wide release. This option preserves the huge 3D wow factor while maintaining the penetration of 2D.


As far as cost, for live-action 3D production, my estimate is 10 to 25 percent above shooting a typical spot in 2D (or a ‘flattie’). For bigger-budget campaigns, 3D will cost less because you have already invested in higher production value. Given the entire workflow is digital (acquisition to post to projection), you can expect some upfront costs here too.

Helicopter fitted with 3D rig.

If you are shooting 3D, careful storyboarding is crucial: you need to gauge how much 3D to use, in other words, quantify the ‘depth budget.’ Figuring out how much 3D should take place in front of the screen (negative parallax) versus behind the screen (positive parallax) will help you board your script and make creative decisions about how to tell your story.

Depth budgets are also influenced by story genre and demographic. In Werner Herzog’s documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams for example (a film which Geneva was very proud to be part of), the positive parallax beautifully heightened the existing phenomenon of ancient cave art. In contrast, shooting a comedy with lots of gags would involve more negative i.e. ‘in your face’ parallax.

Live action 3D requires two cameras, each replicating the view of one eye. By moving the cameras closer together or farther apart, or by pointing them slightly inwards or outwards it is possible to create all kinds of very powerful feelings. Bottom line, we all know emotionally-charged content is the basis for every great spot. The intensity, immediacy and raw visceral impact of shooting 3D takes this to a new level.

The author filming in 3D.

Lastly, 3D in advertising yields eye-popping returns in memory retention with audiences exhibiting 92% total recall of an ad. 68% of that number shows a higher likelihood of following through with a purchase of the product advertised – a significant increase over the same commercial in 2D. In studies from multiple independent sources, including ESPN, Xpand and Texas Instruments, the data shows an average increase in viewer retention of 15%. For a nominal increase in production costs, you get a 15% – 20% increase in ad recall. Who doesn’t want that?


Given the rapidly-increasing presence of glasses-free 3D and the sharp increase in 3D-ready playback devices, integrating 3D into your toolkit is a must. As Wayne Gretzky would say, ‘You can go to where the puck is, or you can go to where the puck is going to be.’

James Stewart is a director and founder of Geneva Film Co. a Toronto-based leader in 3D commercial production. When he is not on set, he is a regular presenter on 3D at conferences such as TED and Cannes Lions. This article is adapted from the article ’3D: It Is Where The Puck Is Headed’, first published in Strategy Magazine.

Twitter @jamesstewart3D

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