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Behind Kellogg’s VR Game that Takes You Inside the ‘Gut Bacteria Reef’

Behind the Work 216 Add to collection

Executive creative director of TBWA\ Eleven Sydney, Russ Tucker, speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about creating the VR gaming experience that puts you inside the ‘Great Barrier Reef’ of the human body - the gut

Behind Kellogg’s VR Game that Takes You Inside the ‘Gut Bacteria Reef’


Starting the process around two years ago, Kellogg’s wanted a campaign that would explain how fibre from their cereals promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. A simple enough brief at first glance - and TBWA\ Eleven Sydney did initially consider the usual routes: a traditional film spot, a 360-degree video… But nothing provided the interactivity or scale that the team wanted. That is until VR gaming was suggested.

ECD Russ Tucker’s team at TBWA\ Eleven Sydney and game developer Nakatomi took this idea and ran with it - working through the pandemic to develop a playable virtual reality experience that puts the players inside the digestive system before… well, ‘exiting’.

Using the game as a way to simplify the science and stand out in the advertising, mainstream and gaming press, ‘Kellogg's Gut Bacteria Reef’ was made available to download on gaming platform ‘Steam’ and held players’ attention for an average of seven minutes.

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Russ, who shared his thoughts on the process of creating a VR gaming experience, his “very grown-up conversations about animating sphincters” and the joys of “brutally honest” steam reviews.



LBB> How did you initially react to the health insights and the brief from Kellogg’s? What ideas immediately sprang to mind for the campaign? Was it always going to be VR?


Russ> Our brief was to explain that fibre from grains promotes the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, which supports a positive change in the intestinal microbiota; fibre contributes to laxation and increasing grain fibre intake increases feelings of fullness as part of a healthy varied diet - simple right?

Our initial reaction to the brief was:

‘How on earth are we going to explain this to a typical Australian household?! And WTF is bifidobacteria lactobacillus?’

We needed an idea to simplify the science and give the complex world of the human gut meaning and relevance to everyday families. At this point, we certainly weren't considering VR or any specific media or medium. 

Looking at microscopic vibrant imagery of gut flora, we discovered that our bodies are host to trillions of living microorganisms. It was then we drew parallels between the great human gut and the Great Barrier Reef. These fragile ecosystems are both inhabited by trillions of microorganisms, good and bad bacteria and viruses. Our idea was starting to make strategic sense, we just had to solve how we could visually tell the story. 



LBB> Where did the gut health statistics and insights come from?


Russ> The insights came from a recent report by a leading marine biologist from the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University, Townsville - associate professor David Bourne, in consultation with medical expert, Dr Ginni Mansberg. A great piece of light reading…

From there we worked closely with Kellogg’s nutrition team and health experts on how to apply these insights to their high-fibre cereals range.



LBB> How and why was the idea of a VR experience developed? What opportunities does VR offer that other mediums for this campaign couldn’t?


Russ> We were initially thinking about making a film that compared the similarities between a coral reef and a human gut. Traditional film felt passive and not the most engaging experience for our audience, so we kept exploring more visual ways to show the hidden world within the human gut. 360 video was another option on the table but soon became pretty gross and medical, plus the world we were trying to capture was so very small it wouldn’t work. We didn’t want to create just a sit and watch experience, we wanted it to be actually educational. It was then we hit upon the medium of VR gaming. Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn’. He was obviously a massive fan of VR back in the day. 



LBB> Have you worked on VR projects before? What is there to consider in terms of the creative process?


Russ> Our agency has a history of creating rich VR projects for brands. Most notably the NRMA Insurance ‘Crashed Car Showroom’, created with Fin Design and Alfred in 2014. That was arguably one of the first dual Oculus viewing experiences and definitely the last time you could virtually launch yourself through the windshield of a 1982 Holden Commodore as a crash test dummy. Our previous VR work had all been passive ‘roller coaster’ viewing experiences compared to the interactive gameplay of the Kellogg’s Gut Bacteria Reef. We had to think about interaction and gameplay objectives as well as gestures and interface. The complexity of designing the game was certainly more involved than a sit back and watch viewing experience. Like all stories, we started with a world, a script, characters, gameplay objectives and levels. 



LBB> How collaborative was the process with Kellogg’s - how much input did they have on the development of the game?


Russ> Kellogg’s were really great to work with, and I’m not just saying that because they are our clients. They really got involved in the creative process before we even started visually designing the game. We had to make sure everything we added to the game was factually correct from a scientific perspective so they were great at simplifying the science. 

 


LBB> Who did you work with to develop the VR game? How was that process?


Russ> We partnered with Nakatomi to help develop the game, bringing the client along for the journey. Part of that process involved immersion sessions where we tried out VR experiences to really get our heads into the gaming space. Looking back, this was a key step in the development process. We were then struck by the pandemic so a portion of the project was conducted remotely, making the testing of the experience a lot more challenging. 



LBB> What is your favourite feature of the VR experience? Were there any ideas that didn’t make the final cut or weren’t possible?


Russ> We had certain time and budget restraints which certainly meant we had to limit how involved we made the experience - so a few ideas were cut. Interestingly, when we were developing the game in lockdown, my six-year-old kid was being homeschooled and took an interest in the project. I let him play it which prompted some rather disruptive feedback:  ‘How do you get out of the gut?’. This innocent question led to some very grown-up conversations about animating sphincters in the project group chat. Ultimately a decision was made to let the audience be pooped out which I think was a win for all involved.



LBB> What has the reception to the game been like? Do you have any data that you can share? I’ve seen some very entertaining Steam reviews for it!


Russ> One of the best decisions we collectively made was to put the game on the Steam gaming portal. Hilariously a lot of the commentary is about being pooped out, but hey, this is a brief for fibre so that’s okay. Gamers are a typically tough audience and surprisingly some of the reviews were actually really favourable, in fact, 77% of the reviews were positive. The average playthrough time was seven minutes, meaning they played to completion. So when you compare that to the typical engagement on a digital pre-roll ad for the same brief it’s a huge win. Also, the game will continue to live on Steam far beyond the campaign period of a typical ad campaign. 

In the press, Kotaku - Australia’s largest gaming community - wrote a whole feature on it after finding a link to the game on the back of the cereal box. We also caught the eye of Australia’s Today Show which touted the activation at the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium live on air.  



LBB> How is the campaign designed to convert players of the VR experience to Kellogg’s customers?


Russ> The intention behind the campaign was primarily to create newsworthy PR buzz and educate the benefit of cereal grain fibre, not necessarily to convert gamers to become Kellogg’s customers. However, using the back of Kellogg’s cereal boxes to create portals to gaming experiences could convert and drive brand and product preference over time.  



LBB> How long did the project take to be fully realised? And what was the hardest challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?


Russ> The project took about two years to complete from brief to live activation. The hardest challenge we faced was ironically a microscopic bug called covid-19. We worked remotely, set up regular catch-ups and tested the work with remote VR headsets to overcome the lockdown challenges.  



LBB> What have you learnt from this project? What lessons and ideas will you take forward into future campaigns? Especially VR ones!


Russ> A big learning was that once you publish a VR game to Steam, beyond just the user reviews - the vast network of gaming blogs and online forums will also pick up on it and publish , review and critique it. This creates brand and product awareness that reaches far beyond just those that play it. Pretty much all entertainment is subjective so as long as the sentiment is overall positive, it can only be good exposure in my opinion.  



LBB> Anything else you would like to add?


Russ> My favourite review of the game was this brutally honest one:

‘Thank you Kellogg's for allowing me to observe the beauty of going deep inside someone's guts. Also for those curious (spoiler alert): Yes you do in fact get pooped out at lightspeed velocity to wrap up the short experience. For those of you worried that might not happen, fear not. Kellogg's got you covered. 9.3 out of 10. Still better than Cyberpunk.’ 



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TBWA\Sydney, Fri, 06 May 2022 15:15:00 GMT