VR: The next big shift in advertising
Technology and advertising often move hand in hand and both shift in waves. We have seen advertising move from print to TV, which allowed advertisers to work increasingly with emotion. Then the transition from TV to digital let advertisers capture data and create experiences which moved across media. Social added the ability to have deeper and more direct engagement. And next comes virtual reality (VR) which will create more meaningful and impactful experiences than ever before.
Virtual reality advertising is still in its infancy, but already we have seen some great examples of campaigns which demonstrate how the emotional impact of the technology can achieve cut-through for brands – enough to convince me that VR is an essential platform for the entire future of advertising and that brand managers should be deploying some of their budgets towards creating a VR experience for consumers.
Is the market there yet? Deloitte estimates that by the end of 2016, over 2.5m people will have bought VR headsets and, according to Strategy Analytics, by 2022 47% of UK adults will have access to one. As most headsets will (initially at least) be shared by multiple people, that adds up to a large addressable market, hungry for great VR experiences.
The promise of VR for advertising
The most impactful format for content is most-often seen as video. Great content can be created for high-resolution TV or even for IMAX screens which deliver a very rich experience. And, done well, video can be a highly-engaging medium full of emotion and entertainment.
But no matter how good the quality of the content, the audience is still trapped behind the “fourth wall,” separate from the action. There is no way around this: no matter what you do, the audience is an observer from in front of the screen.
The promise of VR for content creators is the creation of what the content industry calls “presence” – the feeling that you are no longer merely an audience, but are inside the action. Virtual reality immerses the audience in the content, allowing them to look wherever they want and having a greater sense of the environment. This immersiveness and presence means a much deeper and more engaging experience.
If you can deliver a fantastic VR experience, you cut through the thousands of advertising messages that people receive every day and create something they will remember. VR takes customer engagement to the next level.
So how should a brand manager approach incorporating VR into their planning for 2017? The answer to that can be found in a couple of examples of brands which have already done it: fashion brand Topshop; and French food company Boursin.
How great brands are using VR
For fashion brands, content around events like London Fashion Week are a core part of their advertising. Fashion weeks are, though, exclusive. Although you can create images, words, and video around them, there’s no way your customers can experience the event.
With VR, though, your customers can. Fashion retailer Topshop opened their Fashion Week show to a wider audience by creating a VR experience filmed from the front row. The retailer used conventional advertising on social media, email and in-store to run a competition which allowed five winners to experience the show live in VR from Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store. After the event, visitors to the store could also experience a recording of the show on-demand.
What made the experience unique was that it used VR to deliver an experience which couldn’t even be had by someone at the event. The developers – Inition – pulled in multiple media streams including both front row and backstage, as well as 360 degree selfies taken by celebrities, and live tweets which dropped from the “sky” in the virtual show environment. All this required some heavyweight hardware to achieve live during the show but thanks to more cost-effective hardware it would be easier and cheaper to do today. Although the company didn’t release results for the campaign, Sheena Sauvaire, global marketing and communications director said afterward that “we couldn’t have asked for better results.”
Boursin, the French soft cheese brand, used VR to solve a classic advertising problem. Although it’s a familiar name in the UK (thanks largely to its TV ads) Boursin knew that recognition of its different flavours and formats was low. It wanted to achieve greater recognition while retaining its “luxury” status.
To achieve this and to engage with a younger audience, Boursin created the “Boursin Sensorium” – a multi-sensory experience with virtual reality at its heart. Donning VR headsets, customers could fly through the inside of a fridge, past a series of ingredients (including of course Boursin brands). The reactions of each member of the audience were also filmed and could be shared on social media.
And the results for the company were excellent, delivering more good days for the brand managers involved. Two months after the event, 98% of those who took part remembered it, and 62% felt they had learned new things about Boursin. The average net promoter score for Boursin before the event was 7.5; post-campaign, this had risen to 8.3. And a 360-degree video of the Sensorium, hosted on YouTube, has now been viewed nearly 100,000 times, proving that VR content can have reach as well as impact.
The challenge of VR in advertising
The examples of Boursin and Topshop encapsulate the challenge of VR to brand managers. It’s not enough simply to think in terms of delivering film content, but in VR: instead, in both cases, the companies thought differently about how to use the immersive power of the medium to make something entirely new.
In both cases, the campaigns had at their heart two principles. First, delivery an experience which would not be possible in any other medium. For Topshop, this meant mixing footage from both front row and backstage to make something that couldn’t be experienced even by someone physically at the show. For Boursin, this was flying through the inside of a fridge which, of course, isn’t physically possible. VR works well where you deliver something that’s more than a carbon copy of a real-life experience.
The second principle was to put VR at the centre of a wider campaign. VR was the driver for both campaigns, but it wasn’t the only element. Boursin made VR part of a roadshow, but also used it as a driver for creating content delivered by social media. Topshop’s campaign worked almost the opposite way around, using social media to find the winners for an exclusive VR-based experience. What’s important, though, is that in both cases VR was central to the campaign, but not the only part of it.
But the biggest and most important lesson is to remember the emotional impact of VR. The technology is immersive and lets you deliver a much more engaging experience than anything else. If your campaign capitalises on this emotional experience, you will create something which is much more memorable and has much greater cut-through than even the best film or television ads can provide. That delivers more good days for brand managers, and also their customers.