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Virtual reality is making us more human.

Virtual reality (VR) is at the center of a lively debate. Proponents say it’s a game changer for storytelling. Skeptics say it’s an overpriced, sometimes nauseating fad that will eventually go the way of the 8-track tape.

VR uses a headset to produce computer-generated images, sounds, and sensations that re-create a real environment or an imaginary setting. The VR medium digitally transports users to an immersive alternate reality.

Progressive marketers have always struggled to determine whether—and how—a new medium should be added to their roster of storytelling vehicles. Every possible paradigm shift in the modern media landscape, be it static photography to motion film, or print to digital, has faced some skepticism. VR is no different.

Don’t do technology for technology’s sake.

Marketers doing technology for technology’s sake are the reason why VR has gotten a reputation for being gimmicky. Smart marketers are leveraging a consumer-driven strategy. VR should be used to reach the audiences who find it compelling. And, according to research, those audiences are primarily young people: Millennials and Generation Z.

In today’s marketplace, consumers aren’t satisfied with just getting good products and services. For a brand to differentiate itself and win loyalty, it also needs to tell a compelling story and create experiences that are memorable. Here are three ways that brands are successfully using VR to do this.

Brand stories

“At the core, brands are basically stories, so if you don’t tell a compelling and engaging story, you’re basically a commodity,” says Alex Placzek, US Director of Marketing for Häagen-Dazs.(2)

Marketers, who are up against ad blockers and short attention spans, need to move away from producing ads that interrupt engaging stories to producing engaging stories themselves. One example of how VR can help comes from the Tommy Hilfiger store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which has begun engaging customers in a virtual experience of “the best seats in the house” at its fall fashion show.(3)

Product education/immersion

An eMarketer survey found that 35 percent of respondents would make more online purchases if they could get a more realistic feel for the products from home.(4) The immersive nature of VR lends itself to digitally re-creating the experience of shopping in a store, but from the comfort of one’s own home. Brands are taking note. Recently, IKEA debuted a virtual reality kitchen that replicates the experience of walking around its in-store kitchen models.(5)

Cause marketing

Finally, cause marketing, when a brand promotes a cause as part of its day-to-day business, has become critical to winning loyalty from Generation Z and Millennials. Seventy-one percent of young consumers cite “alignment with beliefs” as an important attribute when choosing a brand or product.(6) And 32 percent of young consumers say that a company’s affiliation with a cause would make them a repeat customer.(7)

VR is a great medium to communicate cause marketing initiatives because research shows that it can facilitate “empathy at scale” by allowing users to experience what it’s like to walk in another’s proverbial shoes.(8) In other words, VR is helping some of us have more compassion for what it feels like to be human.

One successful example of VR in cause marketing is McDonald’s UK campaign to show where its products come from.(9) McDonald’s used VR to challenge viewers’ preconceived notions about farming and McDonald’s food. Another example is Häagen-Dazs, which used VR to talk about waning honey bee populations. The brand created a virtual reality experience called “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” that lets viewers fly with bees to better understand their beauty and ecological importance.(2) Finally, another recent and powerful use of VR for cause marketing came from The New York Times, which produced a virtual reality experience about today’s refugees, called “The Displaced.” The project won the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in 2016 for its immersive look into the lives of children displaced by war and persecution.

The VR experience is more memorable.

Of course, VR experiences take effort to produce, so are they worth an investment from an ROI standpoint? Results from the first Virtual Reality Advertising Effectiveness Study(10) indicate yes. The study showed that advertising in virtual reality is between 1.5 and 18 times more effective than traditional video advertising, depending on content and metric. Highlights included brand recall, which was at least eight times greater across all brands when immersive VR ads were utilized, as well as intent to share, which was at least two times higher.

Of course, the effectiveness of your VR experience will ultimately depend on the story you’re telling. At the end of the day, VR is the medium. What will really matter is what has always mattered: whether the story you’re telling is relevant and valuable to your audience.

Conclusion

If your brand wants to reach the elusive Generation Z and Millennial audiences, a VR-powered brand story, product education experience, or cause marketing initiative may be the right solution. If you need help creating that amazing VR experience, The Garrigan Lyman Group can help. Our audience research and social listening tools will tell us what experiences and causes will resonate with your audience. Then, our award-winning creative and technical teams will craft a compelling VR experience that will help you achieve your goals.

 

1. Aaron Burch, “The VR (Virtual Reality) Consumer Sentiment Report – Infographic,” Touchstone Research website, November 11, 2015.
2. Kristina Monllos, “Through VR, Häagen-Dazs Will Let You Fly (and Sympathize) With Imperiled Honey Bees,” January 21, 2017.
3. Rachel Arthur, “Hands-On with Tommy Hilfiger’s In-Store Virtual Reality Catwalk Experience,” Forbes website, October 25, 2015.
4. “Virtual Reality Interest Highest Among Gen Z,” eMarketer website, December 3, 2015.
5. “IKEA Launches Pilot Virtual Reality (VR) Kitchen Experience for HTC Vive on Steam,” IKEA website, April 5, 2016.
6. “US Millennial Shoppers 2017: How a Digitally Native Generation Is Changing Retail,” eMarketer website, January 30, 2017.
7. “US Digital Buyers Who Say a Company's Affiliation with a Cause Would Make Them a Repeat Customer, by Age, Nov 2016 (% of respondents in each group),” eMarketer website, January 23, 2017.
8. Jason Ganz, “Virtual Reality Is the Global Empathy Machine,” Singularity University website, March 23, 2017.
9. George Bowden, “McDonald’s ‘Follow Our Foodsteps” Initiative Uses VR to Reveal Farming Secrets,” Huffington Post UK website, May 5, 2016.
10. “Airpush Partners with Nielsen and Three Leading Brands, Releases the World’s First Virtual Reality Ad Effectiveness Study,” Airpush website, December 8, 2016.