Ulrico Grech-Cumbo

Deep VR

About Ulrico Grech-Cumbo

At 16, I took a job as a pizza restaurant runner. I lasted 3 hours - and after a confrontation with the owner, I swore to never work for anyone. ​I studied Aeronautical & Mechanical Engineering once upon a time, where I learnt that my passion for problem solving extended beyond just a nut & bolt scenario. I fell in love with entrepreneurship. I started out as a concert promoter, became excited about brand activations, and so I started an experiential marketing agency called Ambrosia. This fostered my understanding of the power of an immersive brand experience.

Ulrico Grech-Cumbo

Ulrico Grech-Cumbo

How did you get into VR?

​- When Oculus Rift DKs came out, I had to buy one​; it was one of the most transformative ideas in the experiential marketing world I’d ever seen​. Had no idea what to do with it though​, until one day, a client asked if it was possible to film in 360° to play back in an Oculus. I had no idea. So I said “yes”. And so started the journey of building a prototype 360x3D camera with wood, underwear and elastic bands, and the formalization of Deep VR.

What is your company’s core expertise?

– ​While we develop our own camera systems currently, our focus is entirely on producing mono & stereo cinematic VR content. One division of Deep VR specializes in commissioned work – for brands, real estate, hospitality, education. The other division, Deep VR Wild, which is brand new, is focused on telling compelling wildlife documentaries. Our proximity to wildlife here in SA makes that pretty intuitive. We do it because, while I’m not a religious man, in the wild, I see evidence of a greater power. And we now have the ability to transport anyone in the world to these incredible kingdoms, and share what we find so profoundly compelling about wildlife.

How would you describe your company culture?

​ – “Burn the boats!” – a phrase we often use in reference to ancient Greek times when, upon invading a foreign land, their armies would torch their own boats so that retreat was just not an option. This gave them the best chance at success – it’s how we started, and how we continue to take projects on.

What is it like working with you guys?

​- I come from an agency background, so client service is the core of the business. We find there’s a lot of creative education necessary with VR so we’re there to start from first principles: What is your company about? What is your message? What is your desired consumer outcome? And we’ll flesh out the creative ideas at no obligation.

Can your company handle campaign volume production?

​- We’ve come to very deeply understand the technicalities of VR/360 video, which makes scaling the company a lot easier. Right now my job is to both build demand, and build capacity. We’re definitely getting there. Of course the overheads can be massive in any content company, so we have to be careful to not over-extend.

Can you show me something you’ve done that you are extra proud of?

​- I like to reference the protests that happened last year in South Africa, called #ZumaMustFall, in reference to our president, who many people believe is corrupt. We had 30 minutes notice on the shoot, and had about 8 hours for post production on the whole thing. Consider that we usually need 2 – 4 weeks for that. We also love the African Fish Eagle hunting video because, if you know nature, this behaviour is something you’d be very lucky to see once in your lifetime.

What area, geographically speaking, are you available to work in?

​- As a highly specialised team, we have our principle offices in South Africa and a satellite office in Texas, USA. We’ve operated in Botswana & Mauritius – we typically don’t need a lot of crew on site and the gear is compact so we can travel anywhere we’re required to travel. Compared to the costs of premium production, even international travel isn’t a very significant cost.

Do you offer any type of satisfaction guarantee?

​- If you’re not happy, we’ll work on it until you are happy!

Do you offer revisions of completed work?

​- We operate on a 3 revision basis included in the cost.

Money is a big issue. Can you give some examples of what you can do for a small company with limited resouces?

​- While we truly want to be accessible, unfortunately the cost of equipment & the cost of post-production labour, which sometimes requires 10x more time than a typical fixed-frame video, means that there are legitimate costs to company. We’ve decided to focus on the high end of production and as such our clients typically have disposable marketing budgets. Our pricing starts around the $10,000 USD mark for a shoot & edit in monoscopic 360.

I own a sushi restaurant. What sort of VR experience would you suggest for me? Money is not an issue.

​- I’d film this all completely POV from a chef’s perspective. Kind of like the famous Guy Ritchie Nike “Take It To The Next Level” campaign, to show all the intense training, finger chopping, abusive bosses, hand selection at the harbor endured that results in the perfect plate of sushi at Restaurant X.

I’ve been living in a cave the last few years and just got back to work at the marketing department, can you explain to me why I should invest in a VR marketing campaign?

​- For the first time in human history, you can place your viewer inside the content, telling them a far more engaging brand story than technology has ever allowed you to tell before.

If you were to speculate freely. What sort of VR experiences do you think we will see in the future, in terms of marketing? What sort of experiences will future tech allow for?

​- I think we’ll come very close to true teleportation. I think photogrammetry will play a big role in cinematic VR which will allow people to move around in a real world space, potentially being able to live-stream themselves there. It’s really carte blanche from that point – you’ll be able to walk around a World Cup soccer final in real time (for a fee), experience the thrills of a skydiving while networked to friends of yours in different parts of the world.

VR is a no doubt powerful tool that and the industry is young. What do you think are the risks and pitfalls of VR marketing?

​- The biggest mistakes we see happening currently in brands planning VR: not adequately using the 360 field of view (it takes practice, we’re so used to fixed frame!), and we need to keep the scenes long. Quick cuts are very interruptive once a newcomer to VR has finally got the gist of looking around and just as they start exploring, the scene changes.

Pick a brand and product that you like and tell me what sort of campaign you would create, given total freedom.

​- I’d like to work with tourism offices around the world, and digitize those horrible tourist info offices littered with paper fliers. Imagine a suite of VR headsets, allowing you to choose which of the top 25 activities to do in each region. There’s a huge business case to this too – increasing people’s intention to travel to your country or city; as well as average spend per person once there.

How big can VR marketing get and what will it take for it to get there?

​- We’re at a point where it could get MASSIVE, and it could also just die off in a year or two. Ultimately what it needs for it to get there, is consumer appeal. We need to illustrate to consumers why they need VR, enough to be prepared to part with money. Tech companies in the game can throw all they want at it, but the end consumer has to get it.

How would you define a successful VR marketing experience?

​- Ultimately marketing is all about directing sales. So a successful VR marketing will deliver increased production education, increased intention to purchase, and ultimately, a positive ROI on sales vs. expenditure.

What is it about VR that gets you excited?

​- The ability to tell stories in a completely new way.


By | March 27, 2018