A ‘Wright Brothers Moment’ for Mobile? NYT VR Wins a Grand Prix at Cannes

Work that stands 'head and shoulders above the category'

CANNES, France—Virtual reality has been a major a theme at this year's Cannes Lions festival—and indeed, in the advertising and media world writ large, as brands strive to create more engaging, immersive experiences for consumers.

Against that backdrop, T Brand Studio in New York, the brand marketing unit of The New York Times, scored the Mobile Grand Prix tonight for its work on NYT VR, the newspaper's virtual reality app.

"It's something we believe transforms the relationship of a 165-year-old brand that's inherently analog with today's digital world and its consumers," Mobile jury president Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer at Cheil Worldwide, told reporters at a press conference. "Along the way, it just may save a $176 billion industry. That sounds like a pretty big thing, and we think it is. We think it's potentially a Wright Brothers moment for mobile in how it can really help a brand thrive in its most challenging times."

Since its launch last November, NYT VR has been downloaded 600,000 times, and the Times, Google, Mini and GE have distributed 1.3 million Google Cardboard headsets allowing subscribers to view VR content. Such efforts include a T Brand-GE VR film examining the link between nature and creativity, and two original VR dramas from Mini.

"Once you get beyond the wow factor of a roller-coaster ride in VR, they're really bringing this to consumers at scale, taking a really brave step with a full conviction and commitment to do this, and to change how [the Times] brand sits in the world," Poynton says. "And it brings with that different things that we haven't seen in channels before—an unprecedented level of empathy and also excitement that only mobile through VR can bring to people."

He added, "I think from our point of view as a jury, the case study really does not do justice to all the background information and criteria that we had in front of us to judge this. And with that, it really does stand head and shoulders above the category."

—U.S. Mobile Lion winners
In addition, two U.S. agencies scored Gold Lions in Mobile: R/GA Hustle Los Angeles for Beats by Dre's "Straight Outta" (which let users stamp their own city names on the "Straight Outta Compton" movie logo); and Zambezi Los Angeles for Stance's "Shop With The Force" (a Star Wars: The Force Awakens tie-in that featured hologram outreach to influencers and an Instagram retelling of the film trilogy with the brand's socks as characters).

Goodby Silverstein & Partners San Francisco won three silvers, two for the Ad Council's "I Am a Witness" and one for The Dalí Museum's "Dreams of Dalí."

Venables Bell & Partners San Francisco won a silver and a bronze for REI'S #OptOutside, which is shaping up as one of the biggest overall winners at Cannes 2016, having scored trophies in several categories, including the Grand Prix for Promo & Activation on Monday.

360i New York won a silver and a bronze for Oscar Mayer's "Sizzl."

Winning single Silver Lions were: 72andSunny Los Angeles for Google, Disney, Industrial Light & Magic and LucasFilm's "Lightsaber Escape: a Chrome Experiment"; Razorfish's Ignition San Francisco for Acura's #RaceYourHeartOut; Deutsch Los Angeles for Taco Bell's "Taco Emoji Engine"; and TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A. for Airbnb's #LiveInTheMovies.

Winning single Bronze Lions were: Droga5 New York for Johnsonville's "Johnsonville Sausage Nonnas" and R/GA New York for Samsung's "Try on a Six."