Lauren Jackson should be dizzy by now. I just spent 30 minutes shaking the global hoops star, cracking up with every “Oh my God” she deadpanned.
What the? Exactly. There’s this new wave of virtual branding for celebrities and marketers called “HeadCasts.” As if Twitter, Instagram, Podcats, personal websites and Facebook weren’t enough, now in an animated app you can sort of interact with stars — if you have a smart phone, of course.
And you thought video games were the only way to toy with athletes.
To quote the company, HeadcastLab, “We’re a team of media professionals and animation obsessives with years of experience stretching from Spitting Image to Lara Croft. We develop characters and environments that beguile audiences, whoever or wherever they may be.”
Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP, recently played her first game in China. Through this crazy technology, she chats with you about her experience so far (like watching a friend eat duck beak) while making face gestures. Tap her, poke her or shake her — while creepy — makes her bounce a basketball or spout “Oh my God” like she knows it’s completely insane to shake your phone to get a reaction from a virtual her. Jackson is an advocate against domestic violence, making the whole taping her face thing weird, but you gotta love the “realness” of the image down to her bad hair dye. And it’s cool to actually hear from her.
Yeah, I could call, but you probably can’t. And she’s in China!
I sound like an ad, but this way we all can interact with the Australian Olympian. Jackson, 32, is one of five versions of Headcasts and the only female launched, from what I can tell. A virtual pioneer.
“It’s like having your very own Lauren TV show,” virtual Jackson said.
British swimmer Tom Daley is the only app that costs, so far, at $1.99. It ranked No. 1 on a recent top 10 list of celebrity apps. “Virtually Lauren Jackson” is the newest addition, debuting this month.
“They are limited in duration to 60 seconds, so have the same bite-sized character as a tweet, but are also designed to be watched, thanks to the avatar component,” critiqued Natasha Lomas for Techcrunch in May. “There’s no getting away from the uncanny valley phenomenon here, but presumably in an effort to make that effect comic rather than sinister, the avatars have a cartoonish air, rather than going after exact photo-realism.”
Currently Jackson’s animated muscular self is dressed to resemble her uniform in China. The avatar started out resembling her old Opals national team singlet, so I’m guessing she’ll change clothes to bear a Storm image when the real Jackson is expected to return to Seattle this spring. That has to be a marketing bump to a new audience for the WNBA.
On the court, yes, Jackson has returned to playing. She underwent right hamstring surgery in January, missing the 2013 WNBA season. Her contract with the Storm was suspended as she rehabilitated in Australia. A 6-foot-6 center, she’s only played two games since the procedure to help the Opals qualify for the FIBA World Championship in Turkey in the fall of 2014.
Naturally, Jackson showed some rust in helping Heilongjiang Shenda Basketball Club win its season-opener on Tuesday. But she finished with a team-high 21 points and 13 rebounds in the 73-69 win. Her next game is Saturday.
“It was a little bit of an ugly game,” virtual Jackson said as I made her bounce a basketball.
Oh my God.