Cannes Lions

Critical Distance: Connecting Audiences with Nature––And Each Other


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Supporting Content






For the Southern Resident Orcas of the Salish Sea, sound is essential for communication, hunting, and everyday life––but noise pollution caused by humans threatens the species’ survival. Critical Distance is an immersive augmented reality experience developed by Microsoft and Vision3. First featured at the Tribeca Film Festival, and now on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, it brings visitors into the underwater world of a close-knit family of 24 orcas called the J Pod. Using Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, visitors see the world through the eyes of a young orca named Kiki, experiencing first-hand the impact of noise pollution on the orcas’ lives.

Critical Distance is built to engage audiences toward long-term protection of marine wildlife by forging empathy and understanding with J Pod. The physical experience ends with an educational exploration, highlighting scientific efforts focused on orca preservation, and providing visitors with information on how to act.


We set out to bring Critical Distance to audiences at home by immersing them in the world of the orcas to raise awareness with urgency and hope. We began our creative work by producing a stand-alone video to promote the message and aspirations of the three creators of Critical Distance, interviewing and recording them remotely. We also captured footage from the Tribeca Film Festival, including proprietary recordings from the HoloLens 2 device to help viewers get a first-hand glimpse of the augmented reality experience.

To engage our target audience of socially-conscious young adults, we invested our focus on two key platforms over the 5 weeks of the campaign. TikTok is increasingly providing a social platform that promotes collectivism, discourse, and action, and its algorithmic content recommendations create groups of like-minded users. Instagram had been a critical platform for Microsoft In Culture to date, and we recognized the benefit in continuing our investment there. We chose to serialize content through the campaign to increase touchpoints with our target audience, and take advantage of the educational and informational styles of the two platforms.

Focusing on optimizing for TikTok and Instagram resulted the production Microsoft in Culture’s largest digital campaign to date. Each series in the campaign focused on a different topic and was tailored to specific audience segments: introducing audiences to the Southern Resident orcas of the Salish Sea; sharing how tech like HoloLens 2 can create a connection between each of us and nature; and bringing the story of the exhibit and cross-team collaboration to life.

We also created ad units for Microsoft’s owned and out-of-home channels, along with Facebook carousels, Twitter ads, Giphy stickers, and video created specifically for the Microsoft in Culture website. We also produced video assets and artwork for use at the September opening of the exhibit.

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