Virtual reality is one of the latest technologies marketers are trying to wrap their heads around to figure out how to best utilize the tool to achieve brand objectives. While we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of impactful ways to use VR for marketing, several pioneers have found creative ways to do it well and support their unique value propositions. VR is being strategically used as a tactic to:
• Demonstrate product attributes, features, functionality (Samsung Gear VR)
• Communicate the brand’s mission at point of sale (Tom’s)
• Immerse users in a branded entertainment experience and add excitement at pop-up events for social media sharing (Game of Thrones)
• Help consumers make more informed choices so they’ll be happier with their purchases (Lowe’s)
• Add a new, more immersive and exhilarating dimension to traditional print and video story-telling (The New York Times)
• Show how a brand can fit into an aspirational lifestyle (Mercedes)
While the household penetration of VR headsets is in its infancy, the impact of VR based marketing programs can be far-reaching because of the viral response they can generate. Some brands have opted for providing the experience in-store or at special events through more durable, higher quality gear, while others have opted to let broader audiences experience VR at home, on cell phones, with Google Cardboard, and on computers. Here are my top six picks for smart marketing uses of the technology, that illustrate a range of ways VR can help brands achieve different marketing objectives.
The New York Times has been a pioneer in Virtual Reality storytelling. In November 2015, they distributed over 1 million Google Cardboard viewers/glasses to Sunday home delivery subscribers, and produced a VR film, The Displaced, to be viewed with them. In May 2016, they distributed another 300,000: this time, to its longest tenured digital subscribers, and released another VR video, Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart. It provided an exhilarating way for viewers to learn about and explore the planet, almost as if they were there, and experience the thrill of zooming to Pluto and soaring over it. Sunday June 5th, The New York Times Magazinehad a special New York issue that included the VR piece, Climbing Spire of 1 WTC (World Trade Center). Virtual reality is providing The New York Times with a new way of storytelling that keeps the old genre fresh and exciting, and captures the imagination of younger readers who have so many options of where to get their news and lifestyle information.
Tom’s is masterful at storytelling. The flagship store in Venice, California, not far from their corporate headquarters, is a cozy bungalow/shop/café, packed with Tom’s messaging. There’s a “virtual reality chair,” next to the shoe section, which guests are invited to try. Once the VR headset starts playing, you’re transported to a remote village in Peru where you experience a giving trip, starting with the drive into the village. Sweet looking kids are all around as you swivel in your chair. They’re incredibly happy and grateful for the gift. It’s emotional, memorable, and you want to tell others about it. It takes people closer than ever before possible, to understanding the impact of Tom’s mission.
HBO has embraced VR in exciting ways to launch its new seasons of Game of Thrones. In 2014 they created a multi-sensory, traveling exhibition which featured the VR experience “Ascend the Wall” at places like SXSW and Singapore’s Ion Orchard Shopping Mall. Viewers entered an elevator that featured blasting cool air and physical rumbling, creating the feeling they were being hoisted up 700 feet to the top of the Wall at Castle Black. The graphics were created by The Framestore: the firm that did special effects for the Oscar winning film, Gravity. Though the installation was exciting and viral, it could only be truly experienced by those physically present. Oculus Rift was the headset used. For the recent launch of the 2016 season of Game of Thrones, Oculus Rift owner, Facebook, provided a VR viewing experience more available to everyone through a special 360°synchronization of the show’s opening credits with Facebook. It’s another cutting edge application of VR that can immerse viewers in the world ofGame of Thrones and go viral.
Photo Courtesy of HBO
In 2014, in an effort to attract millennials, Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) launched a key influencer takeover of their Instagram account, #MBPhotoPass, to show how their CLA and GLA models fit into owners’ lives. Flash forward to 2016, when static Instagram accounts are less cutting edge. Mercedes engaged Kelly Lund, who loves sharing outdoor adventures with his Wolfdog, Loki (a YouTube and Instagram sensation), to create a special #MBphotopass, including a 360 degree VR video of their trip to the snowy mountains of Colorado. The 2-minute VR film, featuring Mercedes’ upcoming 2017 GLS sport utility vehicle is visually arresting, fun, the car looks great, and it casts a positive, contemporary image for the brand. This use of VR is also a great example of how using the latest technology can keep an existing campaign fresh and relevant.
The Loki partnership seems to be working, as MBUSA’s 2D and 3D videos have earned more than 4 million video views across platforms and nearly 80 thousand social media engagements. As a result of the campaign, MBUSA’s Instagram followers grew by 57,000, and today, slightly more than 40% of visitors to MBUSA’s site are between 18 and 34.
Photo Courtesy of Mercedes
Lowe’s was one of the first retailers to realize the potential of virtual reality as a way to help consumers visualize their plans for home improvement: a great application for the technology. Currently, there are 19 Lowe’s stores with “Holorooms” that utilize Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. To see what a new bathroom could look like, for example, consumers can select the plumbing, tiling, lighting, fixture placement and wall colors they would like, and then fit it into the actual room’s dimensions. They can make substitutions and compare options. While the selections can be viewed using the Oculus Rift in many stores, they can also view them at home with family and friends with a Google Cardboard viewing device. It’s a smart competitive advantage, before others catch up, because it’s intuitive and fun, and consumers are more likely to be confident in the choices they make. VR provides a simple way to share and get the opinions of others, before moving forward with a project they’ll be living with for years.
Photo Courtesy of Lowe’s
At the Samsung 837, the brand’s flagship “un-store” in New York City, visitors can experience Samsung Gear VR three different ways: seated in one of several 4-d VR chairs, they experience a roller coaster, in partnership with Six Flags; other sets of seats on multiple floors, surrounded by travel, sports and family photography; and during events at the Mainstage area, where those in the audience are given headsets to watch special intro videos about the performers that precede the acts. Even though the VR headsets are not available for purchase to take home, they can be ordered in the store. The demos are fun and engaging, and store personnel are available to explain how the headsets work, as well as some of the technology involved.
Virtual reality is one more tool in a marketer’s arsenal of tactics and there are many different ways it can be deployed: in-store, in the home, in reading material, in social media, in B2B demos and sales calls. Marketers will have to choose options that best support their brand strategies, will result in the greatest amount of social media amplification, and which are worth the creative investment. It will be fascinating to watch all the inventive uses to be deployed over the coming years.
Read more at: forbes.com