Imagine a young girl stuck in a hospital for months—or years—finally getting to live out her fantasy of roaming with wild horses on an Argentine plain. One girl did, in a manner of speaking, thanks to "Dream Adventures," a new campaign from online travel agency Expedia.
With help from a 360-degree camera, interactive live-streaming and a specially built screening room, the company is helping cancer-stricken kids at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital get a taste of the far-flung outdoor activities their treatment prevents them from experiencing in person.
Created with agency 180LA, the program is captured in the new ad above, where children take virtual trips to the jungle to play with monkeys, to the ocean to swim with fish, or to the desert to dig for fossils.
It's beautiful and heartrending—perfectly summed up when one young patient, unable to contain his excitement, starts guessing what kind of dinosaur bones an archaeologist is brushing off. "That's a raptor, I think," he says.
It doesn't hurt, either, that the technology transformed the four walls of St Jude's screening room—as well as its floor and ceiling—into an impressive visual presentation. But the real-time aspect of the stunt—with Expedia employees on the other end of the cameras, in locations like Miami and Playa del Carmen—lets the kids engage with the experience, and helps set it apart from similar tactics.
The approach combines a number of themes used in recent ads from other marketers. To support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Wieden + Kennedy used virtual reality headsets and 360-degree cameras to help MS sufferers reconnect with athletic passions, like surfing and dancing. In Peru, LAN airlines and McCann Lima flew poor children from remote regions to Peru's capital so they could experience air travel while playing out fantasies—like singing among the clouds—along the way.
In fact, featuring kids—and the fruits of their imaginations—seems an increasingly popular tactic for travel marketers seeking to bring magic back to travel.
In other words, Expedia manages to evoke empathy for young victims of debilitating diseases while using the wonder of today's technology to ameliorate their plight, emphasize the joy that comes from seeing the world in all its natural glory, and convey the hope that comes from witnessing unbridled enthusiasm of youth, even in the face of unimaginable hurdles. It's simple, clear and direct.
There are far worse ways to spend a marketing budget than making a sick kid's day a little better—even if it is still meant to drive Expedia's bottom line.