If you’ve never experienced the world of virtual reality (VR), don’t worry; you will no doubt have the opportunity soon. Some 75% of the biggest brands in the world have integrated VR into their marketing strategy to date--and it’s no wonder because it’s a powerful marketing tool.
In the most obvious sense, it’s powerful because it allows us to get up close and personal with certain products. But when we look at it more closely from an advertising perspective, there’s a lot to be said in terms of improving buyer awareness, accelerating the purchasing process, and offering more personalized choices to buyers, just to name a few things.
Below, we’ll outline the basics of VR and fill you in on some of the biggest and boldest advertising strategies that companies have recently used with this remarkable technology.
What is Virtual Reality and How does it Work?
You’re going to hear the terms virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality floating around more and more in the near future---let’s break them down.
- Virtual reality: This is the generalized term for any type of experience that essentially places the user “in” another world or dimension. It may be used in reference to entirely digital worlds, or worlds that incorporate a mix of real and virtual.
- Augmented reality: This is a term for basically placing content “into” the real world by way of, for instance, using your camera on your iPhone. The most popular example of this is Pokémon Go.
- Mixed reality: This is a combination of real content, and digital content that sometimes consists of, for instance, two types of video essentially layered over each other. In this example, the virtual and real things interact with each other.
Now let’s take a look at some innovative examples of some major marketing and PR initiatives that have offered customers exciting, immersive experiences, and have caused quite a stir while doing so.
1. New York Times
There’s no doubt that VR is a great medium to tell a visual story. A couple of years ago, the New York Times delivered Google Cardboard glasses to all of their subscribers in order to watch a VR film and then did it a few times over with different films. These glasses were only delivered to their most loyal customers, so they essentially acted as an incentive or reward for brand loyalty.
The films specifically appealed to intellectuals and philanthropists that are likely to grace the list of the NYT’s audience: Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart offered the space-obsessed an opportunity to investigate the planet up-close and personal, and a documentary entitled The Displaced offered an intimate glimpse of the ways in which kids all over the world have been displaced by war.
The emotional intensity that this experience provided viewers would have reinforced brand loyalty for all three of the products: the glasses, the New York Times, and the featured films.
2. The Outdoor Niche
The well-regarded hiking shoe brand Merrell created a unique experience as a part of launching their most innovative hiking shoe via TrailScape, a 4-D multisensory hiking experience. This was the first time a company had ever used a particular type of technology called Oculus Rift, which involves tactile elements of walking on different surfaces and even included obstacles such as rockslides that participants would have to navigate around.
This film premiered at the Sundance festival, which added another marketing element, which is cross-promoting outdoor gear with film. This was a completely immersive experience, which was no-doubt something that participants would remember for a long time.
The North Face did something similar by offering participants an opportunity to hike through Yosemite National Park as well as Nepal. This type of immersive experience is brilliant for such a specialized market. People were able to feel what it was like to explore, thus motivating them to actually have a reason to buy the shoes---or, of course, something similar in the Merrell brand.
3. The Home Improvement Niche
Lowe’s home improvement store set up a virtual reality initiative that allows customers into a Holoroom to help them see what their house will look like after desired home improvements. They also worked with Microsoft to create an experience that allowed customers to select designs and products to help them visualize what they might look like in their own homes. Soon to come is an integration of customer’s Pinterest boards.
The benefit of these types of initiatives is that the VR system is gathering customer data as a part of market research and this is incredibly valuable data to guide a marketing strategy.
IKEA also has a VR-based app that allows customers to “place” furniture into their homes to decide on the look, feel, and fit. This is probably one of the simplest, most accessible and most practical VR applications that we’ve seen to date.
A few years ago, Thomas Cook, a UK-based travel agency tried out a campaign that allowed travel agents to experience certain trips in order to promote them to clients, called “Try Before You Fly.” Although this particular campaign didn’t necessarily take off, it’s a prime example of the ways that we can use VR marketing through both the B2B and B2C tourism spheres. This is a growing trend today as many companies are not only advertising the tourism bit, but also accommodations are able to share an up-close experience of what it feels like to stay in their spaces.
5. Toms Shoes
Toms is a shoe company that’s known for their philanthropy. They give away a pair of shoes for every one that is purchased. Their ingenious VR tool was to create an experience of a giving trip where they would go to Peru and gift someone a shoe. They set this up in-store for customers to experience. This is a great example of using VR to appeal to touch into an emotional, feelings-based marketing campaign, which can be the most effective way of selling a product at the best of times.
6. McDonald’s Happy Goggles
Leave it to the biggest fast food company in the world to introduce a simplified VR experience that’s completely accessible to the under-12 set. McDonald’s has managed to create a Happy Meal Box that easily folds into a VR headset. The initiative was created based on Google Cardboard, which is their own slant on offering VR experiences to people in a simple, affordable format. The boxes even came with instructions on how to build their own at home.
In offering consumers an opportunity to build their own, as well as making it easy enough for kids to use, McDonald’s has paved the way, at least in one example, for this technology to be available to the masses as a simple, fun tool rather than a high-tech, ungraspable investment. It’s also a wonderful example of repurposing.
7. Volvo Test Drive
Possibly one of the best applications of VR is using it to test drive a car when you don’t have a dealership nearby, and that’s exactly what Volvo did a few years ago. They continue to come out with updated versions that are easily downloadable onto your mobile phone. This is another Google Cardboard initiative, which is also available as a downloadable app (even if you don’t have Google Cardboard).
This is a brilliant marketing move because, not only has it put Volvo on the map (again) for something innovative, it’s also accessible. They’re now offering a “weekend escape” version of the app which includes 360-degree landscapes, allowing adventurers a chance to cement the pairing of “adventure” and “Volvo” in their heads, something which, given the practical element of Volvo’s branding, may never have occurred before.
Offering users an immersive experience allows them to connect with a product in a new way, making new associations with experience that they may have never had before. Where one person may have thought of Merrell hiking shoes as practical weatherproof boots for the winter at one point, they now may associate them with the hiking trip of a lifetime, and likewise with the Volvo adventure.
All of these examples are so different, but they all do one thing well: they immerse the audience in an unparalleled and unforgettable experience. Now you’ve seen the impact that VR can make on an ad campaign by touching into a certain level of personal experience that they may otherwise never get to experience, or perhaps it’s similar to something they’re passionate about but only get to experience occasionally.
VR offers the possibility for consumers to reframe their experience with a product while getting closer to the experience that it offers. Today’s VR-based campaigns prove that now more than ever, innovative marketing strategies involve offering some sort of unique, immersive experience---something that touches people’s lives, and hearts, in a brand-new way.
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