“Now is the winter of VR content, made glorious summer…”

We’re going to be talking a lot about VR and immersive media over the coming months; a set of tools, a platform and an approach that we believe in. And while the ever increasing speed of life, particularly technological evolution, often leads to things being put on the extinction watchlist at their point of conception, we believe reports of its premature demise, such as ‘The VR Cycle Is Dead’ reported in TechCrunch, are much exaggerated and are often neglecting to acknowledge the power of the tool for specific markets.

With the mad dash to accelerate the cycle of ‘innovate, disrupt and progress’ there is a danger that we fail (forwards) to fully realise the potential of things. In fact much of the value of an innovation comes from the quiet settlers not the noisy pioneers. We are firm believers in the power of mixed reality and immersive media, but like any tool it only works when used for the right job. Teeth are great for chewing but not so good for opening bottles. Over the coming weeks at Contented Brothers, we’ll be channelling our collective energy into exploring the state of the industry and reporting back on the most interesting uses. And perhaps if we get drunk and belligerent enough, where we think it’s being misused.

But first a little historical adventure. If we’re questioning the relevance and value of immersive media going forward, let’s take a look back at how it’s fared in the history books...

I would have said history lesson but I’m a little hazy on some of the dates and facts so feel free to use it as a dinner table anecdote but don’t include it in your homework. The “first-date-stamping” of things is a serious matter in scholastic circles and VR is no exception. Often when people talk about VR they will look to shock their audience out of its torpor by dropping in an unexpectedly early date to mark its inception: for instance the ‘Sensorama’ simulation machine of the 1950s is sometimes heralded at a start point. The speaker sits back and basks in the satisfying gasps from the audience, “but we had no idea”, “who would have thought such a thing” and “such an engrossing contrarian.” Anyway, I think these contrarians are feeble amateurs lacking ambition (I don’t really, I think they’re great but I’m looking to position myself as the contrarian's’ contrarian).

I would like to paint you a much earlier, gaudier and altogether more regal picture. In the early 17th century King James ushered in the golden age of the masque. These private entertainments were often written by poet, Ben Johnson, with (what we would now think of as) creative direction and production design by renowned architect Inigo Jones. A masque was courtly privilege, an invitation-only elite extravaganza. They were often performed only once. Unique to the audience and unique to the performers. Importantly, for the purposes of my argument, a masque, as opposed to a play, is written for and performed by its intended audience, with the roles carefully designed to reflect aspects of the casts’ aristocratic personas blurring the line between performance. It was a private intimate experience rather than a public performance. Thus the masque was designed to blow the mind of the participants who were literally in the experience.

Occasionally during the masque there was a thing called an ‘antesupper’. The tables would be loaded with a decadent and sumptuous Jacobean feast (think whole dolphins and roast peacocks). The guests, a rarefied and small group (high-value in today’s terms), would parade around the food to admire it, but not eat it. Let’s overlook the morals of this form of entertainment that was popular at a time when famines were a regular break from the monotony of plagues. The important thing is that this was a multi-sensory simulation of the coming meal for a core audience of active agents in the performance, participants whose actions formed a key part of the experience, even changing the outcome.

This tortured point then sets out the stall for our view of VR and hopefully moves the date for the first VR experience forward by 400 years or more. Immersive experiences have always been around and are powerful things when done well. Over the next few months we’ll be outlining the areas that interest us in more detail and with less pretentious waffle. Alternatively check out my next post where I will be forcing a comparison between Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and MTV’s ‘Just Tattoo of Us’.

My first agency: blissful ignorance and a powerful lack of knowledge

Before setting up Contented Brothers neither my brother or I had any experience of working in an agency. We worked with them and for them, but never in one. When the journey that led to Contented Brothers started I was an academic and Birdie was a film maker.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Socrates, ages ago.

If we assume that Socrates is worth listening to (and as the father of western thought you’d hope he was, a bit) then starting an agency was the wisest thing I could have done. Socrates is a pretty big gun to open with, but I think another giant of western thought sums up the first tentative steps that Contented Brothers made into the world.

“Operator! Give me the number for 911.” Homer Simpson, much more recently.

There is something liberating about ignorance, a much-maligned word that has its place. Our lack of knowledge meant that we got through the first few years of the business by making stuff up and not knowing any better. As the business began to grow, challenges arose and it became apparent that we needed more people. This is where our lack of agency experience began to show. While we were able to carve a new path due to not being encumbered with “the right way” to do something, we also took a long time to solve problems that other people had been solving for years.

With that in mind I’ve started compiling a list of things that I have learned along the way:

  • Account managers and other useful people

In the early days of Contented Brothers it was Birdie, myself and a production manager. I began to struggle in my joint role, bringing work in and then delivering that work. We agreed that I needed support with managing our client relationships. But who could do such an important role? We agonised and interviewed lots of different people with a massive range of experience and skills. When discussing our predicament with a friend in the pub, he couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard about account managers. He said that I could walk out of our (then Soho) office and probably stumble across a clutch of them. We ended up hiring a business development manager just because we really liked him, which led the business down a new unexpected path.


  • Timesheets - and other cumbersome processes

This was another surprise for me and initially they felt like a throwback to some 1950s “us and them” infantilisation of the workforce. I canvassed opinion and had the process variously described to me as a “meaningless retrospective chore” and “just what happens in agencies” or an “essential and rewarding group exercise”. I have been intrigued by my visceral resistance to them and have thought about it a lot. Neither of my two other main places of work have been designed around time and materials. Academia, whether my own work or marking the work of others, is judged on the outcome not the process. When marking you could tell the brilliant student who could write a A* essay the night before the submission deadline but it didn’t make the essay less good. We’re lucky enough to have such a tightknit team at Contented Brothers that we regularly meet up and check progress in a conversational face to face kind of way. My mind is open to be changed on this subject and I understand that as we grow it will be more difficult to maintain our current face-to-face approach, so we’re thinking about what time and effort management looks like for us. Any advice and insight is much appreciated.

The other reason might be personal. I rarely do only one thing at a time. I know that this is frowned upon according to LinkedIn clickbait articles (5 Habits of Successful People and all that jazz) but it is just not the way my mind works. I like to jump around and always have done. It’s allowed me to make unexpected connections between apparently disparate things and allows the mental porosity that means that inspiration can strike at the unlikeliest of times. I have also felt it wrong to expect people to do something that I wouldn’t or couldn't do. On writing this, there might be some thinking to do about my own approach to management, both time and otherwise.


  • Marketing - not just for other people, apparently.

While I realise that we work in the marketing industry, it felt like a big step when we recently hired a full-time marketing manager. We’ve been head down, focusing on the client, the brief and the work, not on awards and gaining publicity. Rightly or wrongly we didn’t think as much about the face we presented to the outside world. Our phones have always rung with enquiries and clients have always returned. So why did we need marketing?

At this point in the Contented Brothers journey, I feel that we’re at a point in the business where we can start being publicly proud of the amazing work we create for our ambitious clients. Also, our talented, growing team deserve to be celebrated. We need marketing like all ambitious businesses need marketing, to thrive and grow.


I like to think (again perhaps naively) that our tactical ignorance was a strategic success; we may have lost some battles but it feels like we’re winning the war, on our terms. My lack of knowledge about traditional roles meant that we hired slower but it meant that we hired based on the individual rather than words on the top of their CV.

My ignorance of timesheeting meant that from the outset we created an environment of trust and empowerment for the team. As any HR will tell you the flipside of empowerment is accountability so we create a detailed budget using our knowledge of what was required and then we made damn sure that it was delivered on time and within our budget, or it was coming out of our pocket. Lastly, The fact that we have a new marketing person felt like a milestone in our development as an agency and inspired me to reflect on our journey and write this post (and also, she told me to). One last quote to finish up...

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.” Isaac Asimov, a galaxy far, far away.

Perhaps we would have grown faster if we had done these things differently, if one of us had been steeped in agency lore but we definitely wouldn’t have the business that we have today, and that would be a shame.

That said, if anyone has any tips or insight from their experiences, I’d be really interested to hear it.

5 things I've tried to avoid at all costs… like writing a “5 things” list


1. Posting online

In 2009 I joined LinkedIn. In 2017 I wrote my first post. 

In 2009, very late to the party, I also joined Facebook. My first post was “Birdie Hall… ‘isn’t’.” Not much of a stance now I look back at it but I guess that set the tone for my future relationship with online social. I suppose I just haven't always been that comfortable with that type of sharing, whether it’s intended for friends and family or for my professional network, even though I hugely value the thoughts and insights I get from others.

As a visual person, I am generally happier drawing a diagram, badly sketching something out on a whiteboard or creating a film rather than writing stuff down. I’m an editor at heart and that means I like to tinker. I like to think things over and try them out in different ways.

Even though I find writing my thoughts down difficult, over the past few months I have realised that doing things out of my comfort zone has generally brought up surprising results.


2. Industry talks

Oh god no. Did I sign up for this? Arse-clenchingly awkward moments designed to take you out of your comfort zone and get you thinking differently. Mostly by creating such a high level of anxiety in me that my only thoughts are on the different ways i can get the hell out of Dodge.

But I don’t want to hug that stranger next to me and I know they don’t want to hug me. Did I just let slip that I love killing things in a ‘stream of consciousness’ storytelling huddle? What’s going on? I’m never doing this again...

Then you get back to the office and it's great that you have an experience to share with them. Then you tell your partner about it when you get home… then a few days later you’re in a meeting and one of those techniques or small chunks of advice suddenly comes to mind… and then you realise, it was worth it.


3. Doing our own work

We make stuff, that’s what we do and that’s what I have always loved doing and that’s why everyone works here at Contented Brothers - I hope. The trouble is being an agency with (wonderful) clients means it’s very hard to find the time to make your own stuff. How do you ask yourself and your team, already stretched on client projects to spend more of their time on something that on the face of it isn’t bringing anything into the business?

In the early days we used to make stuff because we had more time and I was relatively competent across most areas of production so could do it all in house. Tom had the drive and the contacts so it made sense for us to make stuff when we could. We made weird stuff like this which I still love: 'Honky Tonk Music Knight'

So, now we have put some time into building the business and growing the team, it’s time to start doing our own creative work again.


4. Trying new things

“Sure, we can do that…” I have wanted to kick Tom under the table many times, but more often than not this is the best way to approach things. It does, however mean you don’t sleep and you live in a world of blind panic; Sure, let’s make “ The World's first AR Hotel” why not? How hard can it be in 2012 with an untested workflow and technology that’s not quite ready? But we did it and it helped push Contented Brothers into the new territory of immersive media.

This approach has also been the starting point for the projects I am most proud of and that have changed us an agency. So, we’ll keep doing it. Sleep be damned.


5. Writing lists of ‘5 things...’ like people do on LinkedIn

I nearly couldn’t make it to five things and I need that for it be a ‘5 things…’ post. So here is the 5th one. I’ve never done it before but I have now; organising my thoughts into 5 things. It's more fun than I thought.


I am sure this list could grow from 5 to 20 'things' had I dug deeper, however I'd be interested to hear about any challenges that you have resisted, and if embracing them has been a positive learning experience. Answers on the back of a postcard.


By Birdie Hall, Brother & Executive Creative Director

A new chapter in the Contented Brothers Story

It’s been quite a year here at Contented Brothers; working with ambitious new clients, winning awards, moving to a new location. Excitingly, the family is also growing and it felt like the right time to start telling the world what we’re up to.

With the larger team it was time to find a bigger space. We are delighted to have made a grand move into a new, much larger location with the addition of a basement ‘VR playroom’. Although the move itself was only two doors down, it opens a new chapter in the Contented Brothers’ story. This new addition means we can continue to develop more mixed reality experiences and it’s great having a dedicated space to introduce this arm of our business to our clients and friends.

Throughout September and October, we are running a series of ‘DiscoVR’ events in the new  space where we provide a tailored and engaging VR exploration session for all VR users, from beginners to expert. Explore how VR can help with learning and training, encourage collaboration and communication with a dose of fun and healthy competition.

If this sounds like something that would be of interest to you and your team, click here to book a slot with us: DiscoVR Bookings

Our new office space now stretches over four floors, allowing for the business to grow with the arrival of larger projects and an ever expanding team. We remain located in the heart of Clerkenwell and our doors are always open for visitors to pop in and catch up over a beer in our new home! On that note we are always looking to meet potential new family members so do get in touch on jobs@contentedbrothers.com if you think you or someone you know would like to come and work with us.

We are delighted to continue our work with biopharmaceutical company, Amgen, on their latest awareness campaign, which Contented Brothers consulted on and produced. This video was filmed using a GoPro camera, to capture the footage from the point of view of a woman experiencing a heart attack.

In other exciting news, we have been commissioned to make our first TVC to be aired in the United States. Due to air in November, we can’t wait to share more information about this breakthrough project later this year.

We are creating a series of videos bringing to life the board game publisher, Asmodee’s hit game; ‘Ticket to Ride’. Contented Brothers have worked closely with Asmodee to develop the creative strategy, including the narrative and media delivery.

Most importantly the family is growing with more siblings arriving all the time. With the addition of Producer, Sophia; Production Co-ordinator, Alex; and Marketing Manager, Vanessa. We’re now positioned to hit the ground running with great new projects and an exciting new series of events lined up.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter & Instagram where we’ll be sharing all of our behind the scenes snaps and news about upcoming projects and events from us.