Features

Winning work: How we made ‘Inside Anfield’ at Liverpool FC – and more importantly why

Octagon’s Jasmine Er maps out what happened behind the scenes of the cutting edge VR production, which recently scooped the Mumbrella Asia Awards ‘Most Engaging 360 Video/Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality Work’

As a diehard Manchester United fan, it was a bittersweet experience to witness firsthand a Liverpool Football Club fan tear up after watching the ‘Inside Anfield’ virtual experience.  

The visceral reaction it triggered from a 28-year-old Thai fan I met on the film’s roadshow epitomised the power of VR. Its depth of connection with the audience and immersive storytelling was so powerful. In the words of the Thai fan: “It felt so real, like I am actually at Anfield.”

Why make the film?

In 2016, our client, Standard Chartered Bank – the main club sponsor to LFC – issued a challenge: they wanted us to close the gap between Liverpool fans around the globe, including Asia, and the football club they loved in the North of England.

A geographical chasm that often stretched thousands of kilometres physically, and emotionally often even further. Standard Chartered’s biggest markets are in Asia. Yet less than 1 per cent of LFC fans in Asia have the chance to visit the home ground of their beloved club – Anfield.

The use of 360-degree VR technology allowed us to not just overcome this real-world barrier, but to use the physical distance between fans and club as a springboard to create an immersive experience.

How we did it

The success of this campaign was dependent on two key elements: exclusive access at the football club and an understanding of the unique process involved with VR storytelling. Standard Chartered was able to secure access to the club, the management, the players – past and present – and the stadium, something no other third-party organisation would be able to do.

It was important to shoot the film on a game day. Something that had never been done before in VR. Bringing the football club into the process early and ensuring it was a collaborator ensured not just buy-in to the project, but also saw it going beyond contractual obligations to deliver an end product that supported both the bank and the club’s marketing goals.

Knowing that the famous main stand was to be demolished in 2016, we ensured this historical structure and its stories of footballing glory would be captured for history. Key to this experience was first establishing how the viewer would perceive the story. Whether the viewer would a fly-on-the-wall observer or actually a participant, as in VR/360 the point-of-view can considerably change the way people engage with the experience. Partnering with a specialist production company, Milkmoney, ensured the necessary technical and storytelling expertise was readily available.

In order to deliver on the client’s brief, we centered our story on the viewer being a VIP guest throughout the experience. This first person point-of-view then dictated all of our creative decisions from 360 degree scripting (as opposed to a single 16:9 framed script used for a traditional television commercial) through to camera placements and the ‘north’ of each scene. The north being where you enter a new scene in VR.

This orientation is important, as once a participant enters a scene in VR they can then look anywhere they choose. So this is the one critical time you can control the POV. Each time we started a new scene, the north was carefully considered to ensure we kept people guided and oriented through the experience. Each new scene producing a feeling that the viewer was getting more and more immersed in the heart of Anfield.

Audio, of course, also played an integral role. We designed it to build up gradually as we got closer to match time in order to subtly introduce tension in the build-up to the coming match. Specifically, we bookended the film by starting off in a very quiet empty stadium, one that we eventually return to for the final shot when the stadium is full and crowd is singing loudly. We wanted to show the full passion of match day.

With club legends Robbie Fowler and John Barnes as our VR guides, we gave fans an unprecedented look inside the dressing room just before a game. We allowed fans to experience what it feels like to be a part of a Jürgen Klopp team talk.

Climaxing with 46,000 fans in ‘The Kop’ main stand just before the match kick-off, chanting the famous You’ll Never Walk Alone anthem, the spine-tingling finale is quite something.

The production

Inside Anfield was produced on-location in Liverpool in just six hours – during a live game day – featuring Jürgen Klopp, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and the entire first team. In just this small window, our production partners were able to shoot footage for the immersive 360-degree main video, multi-platform and multilingual teaser films, ‘Behind the Scenes’ film and segments with Klopp and players for sharing on social media – all done in English, Indonesian, Thai and Cantonese.

On match day, we used a variety of multiple 360-degree rigs to suit each shot and situation. On the critical You’ll Never Walk Alone pitch scene, we used three camera rigs with a total of 14 cameras in order to get the perfect visuals. As this was shot on a live match day, we had only one shot and so didn’t leave anything to chance.

Finally, the execution

We then activated globally; taking a custom-built version of the famous ‘Reds’ Locker room to 63 locations including Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Kenya, Dubai and Malaysia. A bespoke ‘Rapid Play’ Android App was also developed to simplify use of the VR headsets at the on-ground activations, maximizing the number of fans who could enjoy the experience.

On Standard Chartered Bank and Liverpool FC’s global social media channels, the VR video was viewed over 4.4 million times in just five weeks. It earned more than 125,000 likes and garnered more than 29 million impressions across 70 countries.

Harnessing the power of VR to deepen fans’ experience

For fans, nothing quite compares to the experience of being at the game. And the emergence of VR enabled us to capture the excitement of ‘being there’. We delivered an authentic experience for the fans, fuelling their passion further and building the brand connection, and loyalty for the bank.

When I first put on the VR headset and heard the anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone, it sent shivers down my spine. Just remember, you didn’t hear this from a Man United fan alright.

Jasmine Er is a senior account manager at Octagon Singapore

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