Possibilities unlocked with VR

Possibilities unlocked with Virtual Reality

When announcing the Oculus Rift acquisition in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post: “This [virtual reality] is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventure … Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”

I defy anybody who works in this industry not to get a slight twang of excitement about that prospect. Virtual reality is as close as it gets to time travelling or teleportation, it tricks the mind, when you feel something in virtual reality that feeling is real. That is why it is already being used today in hospitals to spark neurons in the legs of paraplegics and calm the heart rate of patients en-route to operating theatres (that in itself is a post for another time).

In my previous post I described VR as a young adolescent teen, just starting to mature and change the world. From a marketing perspective though, we are now very much at inflection point, with a growing number of brands openly experimenting with different VR use cases. The tricky thing however is really understanding how we, as marketers, can use it to tell better stories for our clients. With a bit of imagination (and inspiration from those playing with it already) however, that part can hopefully follow a little easier. Which is why I wanted to share some of the more credible and thought provoking ways it is already being used today:

Human story telling

Zuckerberg describes VR’s magic perfectly: “the incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people”. This is very much a human story telling platform – giving the power to place viewers in an immersive world that they could never otherwise experience. The New York Times were one of the first to tap into this and have been creating powerful VR and 360 content with powerful human stories behind them. Take this VR film called The Displaced with tells the stories of three refugees who have each lost their homes to war and persecution. This school field trip to Mars from Lockheed Martin is another fantastic use case (and also Cannes Lions winner) of how VR is helping to unlock unforgettable, immersive and otherwise impossible human experiences – in this instance, instantly transporting a school bus full of children straight to Mars.

Making product stories more engaging

The tricky thing with any product experience or launch is that it always involved a bit of logistical nightmare – trying to get journalists or media to a physical product or event. It’s always a bit of a tricky sell too, with most media steering well clear of product centric news. This challenge isn’t going away any time soon, but VR does give us marketers a new dimension to consider. Imagine being able to create a VR experience for press, allowing them to attend the product launch without having to leave the desk, or better yet, even test out the product on display. The automotive sector has made great strides here already with Audi using VR to give customers the thrill of driving its new third-generation TTS virtually. The recent Jaguar I-Pace press conference is also a sign that product launches as we know them could be about to change for ever. In both instances, the medium is as much a focal point of the story as the product.

Behind the scene story telling

There are already a number of thought provoking examples of brands taking stakeholders behind the scenes – in a bid to show off externally how great, friendly, exciting, eco friendly or sustainable they are internally. One of my favourites is this clip from Patron Tequila. Not only did this video put Patron Tequila on the map for me but it did so in an entertaining and educational video that essentially films, the everyday journey of one of my favourite drinks: Patron Like You’ve Never Seen It Before. Another great example is this one by Queen last year, who collaborated with Google Play and Enosis VR to create the ultimate Bohemian Rhapsody experience – essentially offering a journey behind the scenes in Freddie Mercury’s own subconscious mind.

From a marketing perspective, it will be interesting to see just how widespread it becomes. Naturally, any campaign we undertake is measured on views, exposure and the number of people who have seen it. And that’s where, right now, VR isn’t quite ready – the headsets are still very pricey and they haven’t reached mainstream adoption. This is precisely why media outlets like the New York Times have been organising massive giveaways of Google Cardboard. Because the more people who get their hands on it, the more accessible it becomes and the easier it will be justify the cost of investing in a VR content strategy.

As communications people, we are all experts at finding the best way to tell a brand story, whether that is through writing (long form or short), video, animation, infographics, heat maps, video games, pop-up stores, you name it. Thanks to VR, we now have a whole new dimension to play with, which means it is time to get creative and embrace its potential as 360-degree experiential story telling platform.

That’s why I would love the comms industry to experiment with it more. We all still have a lot to learn about VR and there is clearly a long journey ahead. However, as comms professionals, we are all responsible for keeping ahead of the latest technology trends and understanding how they could be used to help us become better story tellers. As we do this though, it’s important that we don’t get lured into a trap of trialling it because it’s cool, but instead because it is needed (each of the above examples is testament to this). VR certainly isn’t for everybody, but if used creatively, it can add a whole new dimension to the story you are trying to tell.

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