Merrell Sends Festivalgoers on a VR Hike in the Alps
Outdoor shoe brand Merrell has enjoyed a long history of loyalty among serious hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. But it was in need of a little extra adrenaline to shed its “brown shoe” reputation and get younger audiences excited about its brand. Enter the Sundance Film Festival, one of the world’s only events where lovers of the great outdoors rub elbows with lovers of art, film and pop culture for a week every January.
Merrell jumped into the 2015 festival scene with “Trailscape,” a hair-raising Oculus Rift experience that transported consumers to the rocky Dolomites in the Italian Alps for a mountain hike that showcased the brand’s newest and most advanced hiking shoe, the Capra, named after the Capra mountain goat.
Attendees needed all their wits and balance to brave treacherous virtual rock ledges and swinging bridges. Oscar-winning effects house, Framestore, added 4D elements such as rumbling floors to simulate a rock slide and gusts of wind at the peak to help immerse guests in the experience. But the real showstopper was the introduction of an obstacle course—an element made possible by a first-of-its-kind spatial-mapping software technology that, unlike most stationary Oculus Rift experiences, allowed participants to move freely through a virtual environment by actually also walking through a physical space.
Here’s how it worked: Guests stepped into a padded obstacle course and put on the Oculus Rift headset. They were then transported to a mountain pathway mirroring the layout of the physical environment. As they moved about, participants pressed themselves against walls and inched along a narrow mountain ledge, and screamed as they jumped back when ledges in front of them crumbled, sending rocky debris down a sheer mountain face. Real-world rope railings were firmly grasped as users navigated a precarious suspension bridge in the VR world. And those who finally made it to “safety” often sighed with relief (check out the video online—it’s awesome).
In addition to the Oculus Rift experience, Merrell’s lounge at Sundance included seating areas with charging stations, complimentary coffee and an open bar. In the product display area, brand ambassadors encouraged guests to take photos in front of a large sculptural goat head made of Capra shoes and share them with the hashtag #Trailscape.
The entire experience was designed to generate buzz and highlight “the exciting places the Capra could take you” while giving the brand a boost of freshness and relevance that appealed to adventure seekers as much as it did trendsetters. The program gave Merrell the extra altitude it desired, generating 146 million media impressions and multiple industry accolades, including three CLIOS, three One Show awards, a Webby and… an Event Technology Award. Yodelayheehoo!