Virtual Reality and Digital Marketing

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If you spent some time with your younger family members this past Christmas, you may well have witnessed them clambering around the house knocking over glass of wine after glass of wine with a Virtual Reality (VR) headset clasped to their face much to the dismay of everyone else. But, despite what these first impressions may have made you think about VR, the use of this powerful technology is becoming more and more prominent.  

So, what is VR?

Put shortly, VR is the use of computer technology to create an environment that is accessible from anywhere in the world with the use of a VR device (goggles, smartphones, headphones, gloves, or controllers may be required to help bring this virtual world to life). It allows the user to be transported to, interact with, and explore any surroundings imaginable in 3D and with a 360 degree view.

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Okay, sounds pretty cool. But why do I, as a marketer, need to know about a kids toy?

The audience for VR spans way beyond kids (and adults) that just want to play games. With the number of active users of VR expected to increase almost six-fold between 2016 and 2018, up to 171million people (Statista), it is safe to say that VR devices are on their way to becoming a household item. The technology can be used to create all-encompassing movies, bring venues to life to give a bride a sneaky preview of what her wedding day will look like, test drive a new car before its even reached the showroom, or even be the basis for a new form of interactive social networking! The possibilities are vast, and we will uncover more of them as go along.

But why is VR a good tool for marketing?

The nature of VR allows for unrivalled levels of engagement between your content and the viewer because…:

VR is immersive – the user wears some form of headgear, eliminating distractions and focusing their attention on what is happening on the screen.

VR is impactful – VR is an intense experience. It puts the user in someone else’s shoes, allowing them to live through what is about to unfold. This leads to the generation of stronger emotions when compared to content that is simply viewed, rather than experienced.

VR is memorable – the human brain is wired to link events with locations, meaning VR experiences will have a longer lasting impact in the user’s memory.

VR is novel – VR is still at a relatively young stage of its lifecycle, generating a large amount of interest and buzz. Producing some good quality VR content at these early stages could lead to a surprising level of exposure and ‘sharing’.

How can I incorporate VR into my marketing campaigns?

We’ve already mentioned a few uses that VR brings to the table, but there are even more! Let’s start with infographics where, surprisingly, The Whitehouse are the ones leading the way (albeit with help from ‘The Verge’). In a video about Michelle Obama’s success with social media infographics pop up periodically, focusing and guiding the viewer’s attention around the virtual space, keeping them engaged with the video through their own movement.

Planning to have an extravagant performance or centre piece at your event that traditional live streaming will not do justice to? Events present another opportunity to make good use of VR. Why not stream in a VR friendly way and bring those watching at home right into the centre of the action! Again, this will provide great levels of engagement with those virtually attending your event, drastically increasing your overall audience numbers.

Thirdly, with a growing number of VR videos being uploaded to YouTube, VR adverts could pose another chance for marketers to reach well targeted audiences. Playing on the novelty factor of VR, your immersive ad is more likely to last beyond YouTube’s 5 second ‘skip’ option that traditional YouTube ads work hard to contend with. There may also be an opportunity for VR versions of banner ads in the near future. With Facebook proposing a concept for social networking through VR devices, we may soon start to see the emergence of virtual billboards, shops and more.

Finally, The New York Times have already showcased the power of the use of storytelling when using VR. With its heightened impact and generation of emotional responses, VR boosts the chance for you to connect meaningfully with your audience. The New York Times’ award winning video ‘The Displaced’ portrayed the stories of victims of war who have been driven from their homes, and the tragic struggle they encounter to reach safety. We know that storytelling is an effective tool for marketers, but when coupled with VR and done correctly, its power really shines through. See for yourself here:

Great! I’ll get started now!

Hold up! It’s not quite that easy. Although VR is becoming more and more popular, it may still not be considered mainstream. A real struggle for those trying to implement VR campaigns at the moment is actually getting users to realise how easily accessible it is! As with all new tech, there is a tendency for consumers to assume that it will be expensive to acquire and use, which is not the case for VR. To overcome this, The New York Times sent out free cardboard headgear and a link to download an app for smartphones with their video on to their subscribers, demonstrating how simple the technology really can be for the user. When looking to use VR for the first time with your audience, this may be good practice to follow as it will allow you to reach more than just those who currently use, and are aware of, VR.

Another sticking point for VR success may be your current use of digital channels with your audience. Are you already using lots of digital methods which your audience is responsive to, or are you currently just sticking to the odd email here and there? For your VR content to be well received, there needs to be the demand and technical capability for it on the customer side of things. If you feel you’re not there yet, try building up to it with the introduction of more digital channels (apps etc.) rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end.  


Don’t be fooled by the novelty factor of VR! Rushing in to VR just to get any old content out whilst the buzz still surrounds it is a dangerous game to play. Although it is still new and fun, your audience will still value quality. A well thought out and executed campaign will certainly pay dividends, whereas a rushed one will leave you looking like you’re trying to jump on a bandwagon (not cool).

What makes a good quality VR campaign, then?

Michelle Obama and The New York Times’ videos are both brilliant examples of how to leverage your creativity to deliver an enticing VR campaign, but for a little extra inspiration here a few more well received attempts:

Volvo – XC90 Luxury SUV Test Drive 

Boursin – Sensorium

Jaguar – Feel Wimbledon

Marriott – A Virtual Honeymoon

So what do you think, will VR become the next big thing, or will it just fade away as the novelty factor begins to wear off? And will you be looking to use it in any of your future campaigns?

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