P&G LifeLab is a Strange Place
By Laura Kobylecky
Normally, a convention like CES has a big expo hall with a variety of companies and promotional marketing techniques. This year, at online CES 2021, that has been replaced with a virtual exhibit hall. It is a section of the CES website where the exhibitors are listed alphabetically.
You can also narrow the exhibitors by category. Click on their name and you will go to a page with some basic info and whatever facts, media, and contact information they choose to provide. There is also a chat function available. Some of them have a “microsite,” a custom website they have created solely for their CES presence.
Proctor and Gamble have taken it a step further. They created a virtual world, accessible as a microsite. It is called LifeLab. In some ways, it is the recreation of a basic experiential marketing event at a convention. There is an event “footprint,” a small area transformed into a branded space where they have demos. There are brand representatives roaming about and waiting to help or explain.
When you first click on the microsite, you are offered the chance to modify your avatar. The standard is a genderless blue form in tan slacks and a black long-sleeve shirt. You enter an elevator and appear to be traveling through the void of space, except the stars are replaced by various P&G products.
You leave the elevator to enter a large white room. There you can go to other areas, like the strangely dark “Oral B” world. You walk up to videos and they show animated screens with bacteria and speak ominously about tooth decay. The audio is dimensional. As you turn to leave, the sound retreats quietly and in a spatially-correct direction.
On the main floor, you can speak with the representatives. If you stand still, they are likely to approach. They speak to you with real human voices and human names and you realize that these are probably actual humans. They offer to explain things to you and you can press space to speak. Or you can back away without speaking. Oddly enough, the experience seems slightly more awkward than avoiding a conversation in real life, perhaps because the room is so empty.
If you walk by other people, you can hear their conversations too. This experience is also rendered with appropriately dimensional sound. There are “private” sitting areas you can go to if you would like to speak without all ears on your conversation. There is also a chat function for those who choose not to speak.
If you walk to the edge of the room you see a beautiful coastal view through a giant glass wall, but you can walk no farther. It might be a lake or an ocean. How this striking coastline relates to the LifeLab remains a mystery, but it makes the strange, white, room you roam in seem more bare and stark by contrast.
Occasionally, a small group of birds flies by randomly. You hear their calls at random points throughout the hall. Their sound, like the rest, is spatially placed, to a haunting effect as their voices echo in the room. They seem as hopeless as a sparrow in a grocery store. Who are these birds and how did they become trapped in the LifeLab? The answer is a mystery, known only to the makers of this mysterious lab.
Overall, it is an interestingly ambitious experiment in virtual experiential marketing. The graphics ran smoothly and the overall layout seemed well designed. I can imagine companies seeing this as a cost-effective substitute for the live events they would normally do.
Does it meaningfully recreate the level of engagement normally available at a convention? Probably not. However, the P&G LifeLab is an admirable attempt at engaging marketing in a socially-distant world.
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Laura Kobylecky is a contributing writer to Tech Trends. She is particularly interested in new and emerging technology and culture. Connect with her on LinkedIn