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Making an Impression: Holograms in CPD?

Recently I attended a client brainstorming session for an anniversary event when someone asked “wouldn’t it be great if we had an avatar of x person to greet people at the door?”  Since it was an open question to the group, I weighed in. “Well, we can probably arrange it if you have enough money, but would it actually be great?”

The use of holograms or more accurately computer generated two dimensional renderings to raise the dead attracted headlines this past April when the late rapper Tupac Shakur performed at the Coachella Music Festival. While the technology wasn’t entirely new – similar visual magic has been used for several living musicians and to resurrect dead CEOs – the performance generated an amazing range of reactions on the web and in print media. Some commentators described it in remembrance and homage-paying terms while others derided it as empty imagery and manipulation at the hands of parasites. Pretty polarizing stuff.

And although the company that created Tupac’s hologram is now bankrupt, there is clearly still a huge appetite for holographic performances by deceased icons – Michael Jackson’s brothers have apparently said that he may join them on tour in holographic form, the estate of Marilyn Monroe is threatening legal action of a potential holographic performance, and reputable media sources have confirmed that Ronald Reagan was scheduled to appear as a hologram outside the GOP Convention this past August but was cancelled at the last minute. It is, as more than one writer has noted, just a matter of time before Elvis returns to Las Vegas.

So what’s that got to do with PD, you ask? Dead celebrities are a far cry from late leaders of the bar and deceased association bigwigs. Maybe, maybe not. As technology advances, digital projections of the living, dead, and fictional may become more common. This year, University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust started using ‘holographic nurses’ to promote hand hygiene in the UK. And a hologram of a female customer service agent was interacting with passengers at LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and JFK International airports this past summer. So where does it stop? I’m guessing it doesn’t, so sooner or later, more PD professionals may be asking “wouldn’t it be great…?” Which brings me back to my client’s anniversary event. Would they be providing an opportunity for members to witness a legacy “first hand” or would they be tarnishing a legacy? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m at least as innovative as the next PD professional, but for right now there’s a significant creepy factor to holograms for me. Seriously, they’re weird, right?  On a less personal level, I worry allowing holograms – particularly of the departed – into association culture could seriously undermine day to day member recruitment efforts. In most cases, the elite is already a pretty crowed club. Resurrecting the dead could leave little to no room for all those new folks we’re trying to attract. Is there any good news, you ask? I think so. At least for today, holograms are probably out of most associations’ price range – even for a blowout anniversary event.  Estimated cost of the technology is in the US $100,000 to $400,000 range. Try projecting that.

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