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Frozen in place, alert and quietly breathing the eight-foot Perentie lizard sizes me up. The only discernible movement is an opaque eyelid gliding over a dark reptilian gaze. I don’t THINK it will eat me for breakfast. Suddenly it’s long, forked tongue darts out into the air just barely missing my nose, as the lizard loses interest and looks for his breakfast elsewhere. The Perentie is one of the largest lizards in the world and can only be found on a remote Islawnd, off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia.

However, instead of requiring the 20-hour flight from the US, I was able to experience this beautiful creature in my own backyard with the help of augmented reality.

Chevron’s AR experience featured 3D, animated creatures native to Barrow Island, like the Perentie lizard.

The Perentie lizard along with two other rare and wondrous creatures, the Euro or Wallaroo and the Flatback Turtle, was part of Chevron’s latest immersive augmented reality experience that launched at the 27th World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C. The goal was to share details on Chevron’s Gorgon Project, a new and technologically-advanced liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant located on Barrow Island, a Class A Nature Reserve. According to Tina Robison, Senior Advisor for Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron, the biggest reason they decided to use AR was to make the impossible possible. “There will never be an opportunity to bring people to Barrow Island and show them what we do there or the priority we place on protecting this nature reserve. So we brought Barrow Island to D.C.”

Chevron not the typical brand for immersive storytelling

“Chevron is a conservative brand,” admits Robison. “Shareholder return is important, but we also want to leave a small footprint in the places we do business.” While a brand like Chevron may not seem like an obvious choice for immersive experiences, Chevron’s digital center of excellence has had success using AR and VR as a mechanism to tell partners, policymakers and industry insider’s key Chevron narratives by transporting these audiences to their remote operations. The latest AR experience documenting The Gorgon Project was a huge hit at the World Gas Conference with both Chevron CEO and Chairman of the Board, Mike Wirth and the US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, spending time on the exhibit hall floor engaging with the experience.

US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, explores Chevron’s AR experience at the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC. From the left:  Colin Parfitt, President of Supply & Trading for Chevron, Rick Perry and Mark Nelson, Chevron Vice President for Midstream, Strategy & Policy.

The Gorgon Project AR experience was delivered using Apple iPad Pros and a trigger placed in the center of circular tables within Chevron’s conference exhibit booth. Attendees could pick up the iPad and immediately begin to engage with the 3D content displayed digitally over the marker on each table. The experience included three areas of exploration or chapters. Chapter one explains Chevron’s unique quarantine management system that focuses on protecting the nature reserve and the environment. Chapter two teaches users about the unique wildlife found exclusively on the island and chapter three describes how the liquid natural gas is shipped from Barrow Island to global customers.

Chapter 3 of the AR experience allowed users to learn more about the facility on Barrow Island and the process of sourcing and shipping liquid natural gas around the globe.

When asked about success metrics, Robison listed off a few key measurements of success: How many people engaged with the experience? How long did they stay? How many questions did they ask? How easy was it to use and understand? By these standards the experience was a home run, engaging hundreds of conference attendees during the four-day conference. However, the Barrow Island story was chosen specifically so it could be leveraged in other areas of the business, not just for policymakers or even those attending the conference. According to Robison, “the Gorgon Project AR experience also gives employees a tool to have conversations with family and friends and the Australian business unit is able to show some pride in the great work they are doing.” Chevron also worked in partnership with The Washington Post to share the AR experience beyond the conference by distributing it through the publisher’s app. The execution was the first advertiser-led AR activation for the Post.

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Immersive storytelling just the start for Chevron

While this is the first AR project for Chevron, they are not new to the power of immersive storytelling. Last year Chevron launched a 360 VR experience that documented life on one of their most remote oil rigs off the Gulf of Mexico.

The extreme conditions on the rig – upwards of 115 degrees and 100% humidity, the remote location–280 miles off the coast of New Orleans, deep in the heart of international water, and safety concerns around the film crew’s electrical equipment made the project a logistics nightmare according to Dave Snyder, SVP and executive creative Director at design and innovation agency Firstborn. Snyder’s creative team at Firstborn conceived and developed both The Gorgon Project AR experience and the 360 VR virtual rig experience in close partnership with Chevron. Snyder admits he was surprised and delighted by Chevron’s commitment to innovation, “Anytime we get to do a cool, bleeding-edge, innovation type project, I get really excited. Immersive is the last little realm of neat stuff in digital. Chevron was unbelievably supportive.”

Snyder’s VR production crew took a two-hour helicopter journey into the Gulf of Mexico to capture the rig in 360.

Chevron’s commitment to innovation starts at the top with a CEO that is dedicated to being a leader in the space. According to Robison, this was an essential ingredient for getting internal support for a new, immersive storytelling approach, “One of our key internal priorities is being on the cutting edge of innovation. Our new chairman and CEO, Michael Wirth, is focused on digital innovation and he wants us to lead the industry in this space, and I think that helped us be successful with this immersive experience.”

Snyder agrees that aligning company-wide goals and objectives is required for a company to be truly innovative. “How do you try and sell in innovation? Unless your company is really bought into it and changes the internal structures, and KPI’s and how people get their bonuses it’s going to be really hard for companies to innovate. Great immersive projects create innovation halos over a brand — that’s a positive. I think that’s very important.”

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While Chevron is currently leveraging AR and VR for storytelling, Robison believes this could be the gateway to innovation across the entire business. “What’s really cool is seeing our executives engaging with AR content and thinking about how they can use this in operations environments. Can we look at piping differently? Can we look at how our projects flow together so that we can make better decisions and move product faster? So not only was it an opportunity to tell our story but a way to experiment to see how we can use this to be innovative across our business strategy.”

Chevron CEO and Chairman of the Board, Michael Wirth, took time to engage with the AR experience while walking the exhibit floor at the World Gas Conference.

Key elements for successful immersive experience

To create a truly memorable and valuable experience, Snyder believes the most important element is the purpose for both the brand and the audience. The audience needs to be able to sense that purpose when interacting with the experience. For both the AR and 360 VR experiences created for Chevron, the experience took the user to a place they would have otherwise never been allowed to go. Instead of having partners and policymakers sit through a six-minute video on The Gorgon Project, Chevron opted to create a memorable, interactive experience that would allow the user the freedom to explore in their own way. “The tech can’t be the story. It’s not that Chevron did VR. That’s not a story. It’s that Chevron took you to a place you could have never gone. The tech needs to elevate or enhance the story you are telling.”

Along with developing a purpose-driven experience, there are a few other recommendations to help ensure success. Robison suggests using small, internal teams and allowing them enough time to test and learn. For The Gorgon Project AR experience, she leveraged a team of five key players and the project took about one year from start to finish.

Chevron’s team built out a simulation of the conference exhibit floor in a warehouse to serve as a testing environment for the AR experience. This resulted in crucial adjustments that improved the user experience.

Robison also suggests keeping the story very simple, constantly putting yourself in the shoes of the user and editing out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. When asked what she wanted the audience to feel, Robison sums it up this way, “That energy and the environment can co-exist. It’s not one or the other. Chevron is working very hard to make sure that happens. And we respect the places that we work and we’re committed to ensuring safe and reliable operations and protection of those places. I think the AR experience does that.”

MarTech readers can experience both The Gorgon AR project in The Washington Post app and the virtual rig 360 VR project within the New York Times’ T-Brand studio or learn more about these projects directly from Chevron’s website.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Lisa Peyton is an immersive media strategist and media psychologist focusing on the user engagement and marketing applications of new technologies.

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