Taken separately, 3-D mapping technology, giant projections, interactive windows, use of public space, and event planning aren’t new strategies. But how Pearl Media has combined them has made the Fairfield, New Jersey, company one of the go-to creators of extended immersive branding campaigns for clients like Chevrolet, Lexus, Tommy Hilfiger, and Sports Illustrated.
Along the way, Pearl has refined its mapping technology, developing proprietary software to produce larger projections without losing resolution, to more accurately configure images to more complex surfaces, and to synchronize more projectors.
The result now has Pearl training its improved technology on other markets—mapping clothing on mannequins; prop animation and set design for film, Broadway shows, and live performances; nightclubs that want changing immersive environments; and even medical demonstrations. The art curator of the recent Coachella music festival tapped Pearl to help him realize a giant art installation that turned a blank structure into a mid-century modern house party, complete with a pool.
"The biggest problem with technology is that people are scared to be the first, but they want to do something that’s never been done before," says founder and CEO Joshua Cohen. "It took awhile for people to get on board with the 3-D mapping, but now it’s, `What else can we do with it?’ "
Two of the more spectacular efforts involved car companies and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. In one, the hotel façade suddenly fell away as a giant mechanical claw emerges from its interior and begins constructing a Chevy Sonic. An interactive component enabled passersby to vie for a free car by manipulating the projected claw with a 3-foot joystick. Event buzz extended further when it later ranked as a Guinness World Record winner for World’s Largest Claw Game.
The Lexus CT Hybrid campaign, in conjunction with Earth Day, featured the edifice opening to reveal a field of sunflowers and the car driving along roads in and out of the building. The event tied into live interviews on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Extra.
Events can range from $200,000 to $1.5 million, depending on location and length of development, and take eight to 12 weeks to put together. Pearl not only produces the projection, but also secures the building and location, press outlets, catering, and hardware. "We’re not a projection company," says Cohen. "We’re a marketing technology company that uses projection technology to get your message across."
The business model turned Pearl from a one-man startup in 2007, with the sole goal of turning empty storefronts into interactive, street-level billboards, into a multimillion-dollar business with a base staff of 25 that expands per-project. In 2012, Inc. Magazine named Pearl one of the country’s fastest growing small businesses with a 1,840% growth in revenue, from $421,643 in 2008 to $8.2 million 2011. Cohen’s mum on current revenues, but he says the company has already exceeded last year’s tallies.
"Consumer-to-consumer endorsement is always better than brand-to-consumer endorsement," Cohen says. "The 30-sec TV ad wasn’t as effective, print media was migrating to digital, and mobile devices were becoming the gateway to consumers. We needed to find more creative ways to connect with them and create lasting impressions that they wanted to talk about through social media.
One early campaign, for TNT detective drama Rizzoli & Isles, created a storefront interactive crime-solving campaign that enabled pedestrians through 3-D graphics, gesture technology, augmented reality, and QR codes to navigate a series of clues to solve the murder. Those who did earned a photo of themselves with the stars of the show, which was then displayed on the storefront window. Consumers were able to share their photos with friends via Facebook.
"It turned these vacant storefronts into this creative canvas and cut through the clutter in big, messy outdoor markets like L.A., New York, and Chicago," he says.
Pearl turned to large-scale 3-D projections after spotting examples in Europe on YouTube. "We thought it would make a good marketing tool, and we could track the response—how many people watched, how long they watched, how many forwarded it to their Facebook pages," says Cohen. "The bang for the buck comes after the projection is over and people start sharing it. It’s taking a local event and making it global, so it lasts well beyond that one night."
Check out more of Pearl’s work here.