A father at an aquarium reaches into the tank, carves out a block of water full of manta rays and fish and brings it home, placing it into a Samsung television set in his living room. When he and his family don 3-D glasses and settle onto the sofa, the sea life swims out of the TV toward them. "Ever wonder how amazing it would be to experience life in another dimension?" asks the voiceover.
The commercial, titled "Wonder-Full," from Leo Burnett in Chicago, began running in 3-D in cinemas last Friday before the DreamWorks animated movie How to Train Your Dragon. The ad is part of the electronics company's first push for its new line of 3-D televisions and carries the brand message "Dedicated to wonder."
"3-D is a new dimension, literally and figuratively," says Peggy Ang, vp of marketing communications for the consumer electronics division of Samsung Electronics America. "Everybody has taken to the experience in the theaters, and consumers are saying, 'How can I take this home?'"
"Wonder-Full" is one of two 3-D commercials that Samsung is running in theaters. Another spot features Monsters vs. Aliens, and similar to the first ad, it shows a young girl taking the 3-D movie experience home by cutting a cube of the action out of the screen, taking it home and replicating the experience on her family's Samsung TV.
While Samsung is showcasing the experience offered by its new product line, it isn't the only company capitalizing on the 3-D movie trend, which has exploded this year with the release of films like James Cameron's record-breaking Avatar, Disney's Alice in Wonderland, DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon and Warner Bros.' Clash of the Titans. Marketers as unexpected as packaged-goods client Purina and even the Air Force are getting into the 3-D game to tap into the growing consumer interest fueled by Hollywood.
"In the past three months, we've seen more interest from advertisers than you can humanly imagine," says Cliff Marks, president of sales and marketing at NCM Media Networks, the digital in-theater network that includes AMC Entertainment, Cinemark Holdings and Regal Entertainment Group. "We all have to agree that Avatar has changed the world."
Driving the investment in 3-D advertising is a confluence of events. It's not only the influx of 3-D content coming out of Hollywood. It's also this year's introduction of 3-D product lines for the home from companies like Samsung, Panasonic and LG Electronics, and the upcoming availability of new distribution channels, as networks like ESPN, which will broadcast the World Cup in 3-D in June, begin to offer 3-D programming.
"We'd all be fooling ourselves if we said it was a fad at this point," Marks adds. "3-D is here to stay, and consumers love it. It is one of the most exciting opportunities to come our way in cinema in a long time. As brands learn how to use it, both cinema and TV will benefit."
Despite the hype at the box office, the reach of 3-D advertising is still limited. Samsung's Ang projects U.S. sales of 3-D TVs this year in the 3-4 million range, but that number represents only about 10 percent of overall TV sales. And cinema networks, which have a limited number of 3-D screens available, are struggling to keep up with the deluge of 3-D film content. Only about 8 percent of total screens in the U.S. are capable of showing 3-D movies, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Still, advertisers that are making early plays in the 3-D arena can benefit from the hype surrounding the 3-D movie releases. "It's a short-lived opportunity, but it is a real one right now," says Ken Venturi, CCO and evp at NCM Media Networks.
There are three primary ways to produce a 3-D commercial, explains Venturi -- through live-action capture (as was done in Avatar) CGI or 3-D conversion. Depending on how it's created and the complexity of the story line, 3-D can increase the cost of production anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, according to other sources.
Samsung went right to the source of the current 3-D frenzy -- James Cameron's team at Digital Domain -- to produce its ad. Avatar director of photography Mauro Fiore shot the spot using the Pace Fusion 3-D camera system, which is the same technology that was used to create the groundbreaking movie. "We are committed to 3-D, so we cannot compromise," says Ang. "We wanted to deliver nothing short of the full 3-D experience because it's going to be right beside the movies."
For Purina, which began running an animated commercial for its Friskies wet cat food in theaters with the release of Alice in Wonderland, the decision to go with 3-D evolved out of the strategy and tagline, "Feed the senses." In the ad, titled "Adventureland," from Avrett Free Ginsberg in New York, a live-action cat walks through a kitchen portal into a fantastical animated world where turkeys dance, chickens play musical instruments and flying fish narrowly escape the cat's reach while it takes a boat ride.
"We felt it was a perfect fit [for 3-D]," says Susan Schlueter, director of marketing for Friskies, which worked with Screenvision to place the advertising before the Disney movie. "We decided, 'Why don't we push [the concept] a little further with 3-D, which is the ultimate sensory experience?'"
The commercial, produced with Shythesun in Cape Town, South Africa, and Passion Pictures in London, was created to run on TV in 2-D and cinemas in 3-D. It took nearly seven months to produce, with an additional two weeks in post to add the 3-D elements. "You can go back and export all the mattes," explains Erik Denno, senior art director at AFG. "Because you are doing it as a digitally animated spot, you already have everything built into it to create the 3-D elements."
The team at GSD&M Idea City in Austin, Texas, took a similar approach to the production of its 3-D execution for the Air Force. Created for both 2-D and 3-D broadcast, "Space" (pictured), which shows the Air Force steering a satellite away from debris in its orbit, was created mostly using CG animation, with the 3-D effect created in post. "It already had dynamic scenes with the space action," says Christopher Colton, creative director at GSD&M, who estimates that the 3-D conversion added between $50,000 and $70,000 to the production cost and four to six weeks for the transfer. "It had the drama to get the viewer engaged in a 3-D experience."
Sean Costelloe, a producer at The Mill in London, which worked on 3-D Cadbury cinema ad "Cocoa Beams" for Fallon, says the greatest concerns he's hearing from agencies interested in tackling a 3-D project are about audience reach and cost. Distribution opportunities are increasing, so we should see more execution as the reach grows. And "like everything, with careful planning in preproduction, costs can be minimized," Costelloe says. "If everybody is involved in the idea stage, the cost needn't be scary."
The Mill worked with Inition to re-render the CGI assets in the Cadbury spot, which shows cocoa beans flying onto a giant spinning African mask, to create the stereoscopic 3-D elements. "It's an exciting medium, and it's here to stay," says Costelloe, pointing to the evolution of 3-D viewing from theaters to the home and later, as the technology evolves, to Internet TV. "It's not a flash in the pan the way we've seen before, and the reason is the product is so much better."