Last week, SPM was excited to attend “Experience” An Evening of Emerging Technology, hosted by The Mill. Four members of our team visited the event: Executive Creative Director Jim Larmon, SVP Group Creative Director Bob Konold, SVP of Innovation & Engagement Bill Tourlas, and Digital Evangelist Kaela Carey.

Held at the new Chicago Google headquarters, the event showcased the latest in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) technology, which our team got to experience first hand. Some of our favorites are highlighted below.

STRATA—A Biometric VR Experience

One of the highlights of the evening was STRATA. Strata tunes into your heart rate, breathing, stress levels, and brain waves to remix a game engine world around you. The stunning immersive experience connects to your own emotional state, and actually teaches you to calm and focus your mind. This type of experience has been shown to actually out-perform opioids in relieving pain simply by refocusing the brain.

During the STRATA experience, the more you relax, the more it simulates levitating through a variety of individual VR environments. By combining sight and sound, the feeling of levitation becomes both real and immensely relaxing, so that you continue to calm and focus your thoughts.

Many ideas came to mind on bringing this technology into the real work of patient care—from reducing the pain of chemotherapy treatments to providing children an interactive, non-drug-based distraction from treatment to refocusing the brain to combat depression and anxiety, and so much more. The possible implications for healthcare are huge.

Solitary Confinement VR Experience

Another favorite of the team was the VR experience of solitary confinement in a 6×9 cell. This experience was actually developed in collaboration with The Guardian in London as a political impact piece to abolish this type imprisonment. Once you enter the experience, you are “confined” in a 6×9 cell and enter a truly immersive story that allows you to explore your new home, see the sights, and hear the sounds of your new life in this cell.

The entire experience is roughly 9 minutes in length and very powerful. After less than 10 minutes in this situation, you truly feel uncomfortable, confined, and suffocated by the limited space you can explore. A few of us even felt possessed by the need to see other people and experience life beyond the 6×9 space.

Really, the ability of this technology to bring to life such an experience and invoke so many powerful emotions was eye opening. And while a bit scary in nature, there are clearly opportunities for healthcare. Such experiences could be used to simulate real-life hospital visits or procedures, which would reduce the stress of the unknown and replace it with the comfort and confidence in what to expect, think, and feel emotionally. Building VR experiences of certain symptoms or disease states could also be used to create empathy in caregivers or healthcare professionals, set expectations for patients, and help us better understand different illnesses.

Microsoft’s HoloLens

One of the most fun experiences was interacting with Microsoft’s cutting edge mixed-reality product called HoloLens. In Mixed Reality, your existing surroundings (people, places, objects) interact with a virtual world and blend together as one. For example, we basically entered into an episode of Star Trek through the Holodeck, as we played MR games with robots coming out of the walls around us, dodging actual people and interacting with holograms in various places around the room.

Microsoft’s product is not the only one on the market—Meta 2 is a similar product and there are others working to rapidly bring this to life. Imagine not just experiencing and exploring the human body via a flat screen with a 3D image or scan, but actually walking into and exploring a 4D holographic image that you can open up, walk into, manipulate, and experience in a way that you could never do before. It’s honestly a bit bizarre; considering the pace of technological advancement, the future is bound to be more sci-fi-like than makes me comfortable to think about.


There were plenty of other experiences at The Mill’s event to fill our minds—even a version of VR Google Earth that let you walk directly into the 3D map. And the potential impact for brands was overwhelming. Imagine the possibilities for VR or MR in retail—not just shopping online, but walking into a VR store, looking at the products, picking them up, trying them on, and buying them all from the comfort of your home. Crazy to think something like that could be part of our not-too-distant future.

Wherever it takes us in our marketing efforts for our clients, one thing is certain: The ability to create emotional and immersive content experiences is at our fingertips. So be open to what’s next and pushing the envelope of consumer engagement, and we’ll keep thinking and keep pushing to bring powerful brand experiences to life.

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Bill Tourlas

SVP, Innovation & Engagement at SPM Marketing & Communications
With 30 years of experience, Bill is a recent addition to SPM’s ever-growing firepower. As a member of the leadership team, he drives the agency’s efforts to consistently reach new levels of innovation and engagement and to bring the full power of our ideas to life across traditional and new media channels. In his role, Bill collaborates with strategy, creative, and media teams for existing clients and is an active participant in new business efforts.
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