Virtual Reality – A New Way to Advertise

Virtual Reality (or VR) is the use of a computer-generated environment using high-quality graphics and sounds used to make the user feel as if they are somewhere else. Whilst it has not fully entered into mainstream advertising, the number of users has increased from 200,000 people in 2014 to approximately 171 million users today so its popularity is on the rise.

VR has been successful due to the fact that it creates an emotional connection with the user. Adverts are more engaging which in turn increases brand awareness and therefore encourages greater purchases. It’s been found to be particularly helpful for clothing and jewellery companies as VR offers the opportunity of ‘Virtual Try On’ so consumers can try on an outfit and see whether it looks good without even having to leave their home.

Types of VR Advertising

Virtual Rooms – A virtual room differs from other forms of VR advertising.  Say, a 360-degree immersive video experience – in that the user is interacting with the content for 100% of the time they’re inside the room. This is an advantage VR advertising has over traditional advertising: users are placed in a distraction-free environment, and companies are able to create high-quality content to engage the viewer for as much time as possible.

A virtual room was created for “Jigsaw”, Lionsgate’s latest instalment in the “Saw” horror movie franchise. Users can solve a quick puzzle and interact with various “Jigsaw” – related content inside the virtual room. It was an interactive and emotional experience that made consumers feel fully immersed in the experience and that’s why it was so successful. However, these types of adverts are limited to much larger companies as it obviously incurs great expense to create.

In-Program Ads – Digital distribution is when companies are selling ad space in VR programs so content providers can monetise the adverts. Adverts are contextually relevant and strategically placed which means publishers can develop content that doesn’t ruin the user’s experience.  It’s important that the ads are placed in a suitable environment, so they are successful. This type of advertising increases flexibility and creativity so adverts become more interesting and immersive. When delivered in context and with appropriate interactivity, these experiences are embraced by consumers and increase positive brand impact.

Storytelling – By allowing users to use their bare hands to interact (instead of a controller) and give them virtual objects and true positional data, developers and headset manufacturers can create interactive, immersive and intuitive AR/VR experiences.

“What the users do, where they look, how they’re interacting within that space or with the objects is different from user to user. They have to get the same feeling and the same overall story. It’s called ‘Responsive Storytelling’ where what the user does actually has to impact what then ultimately happens and that’s the magic of this platform.”

Agatha Bochenek.

So, which brands are using VR?

Some of the biggest brands such as Samsung, Volvo, Jaguar and McDonald’s have jumped on this trend and started using VR in their marketing campaigns. Samsung actually makes VR headsets and last year they sold over 5-million. As part of a marketing campaign in 2016, Samsung gave away free VR headsets with their Galaxy phones in order to promote virtual reality which caused a great increase in sales the following year.  Volvo and Jaguar used VR in order to allow consumers to test drive their cars to give them a fully immersive experience (you can watch this here). McDonald’s have been very effective through their use of VR advertising. They’re currently doing a trial run in Sweden where the happy meal toy is a McDonald’s Cardboard VR Headset. Slope Stars is the game that comes with the goggles. This helps utilise and repurpose the Happy Meal as ‘Happy Goggle’ whilst providing entertainment with their app. You can watch this in action here.

Cancer Research has also used VR but in a particularly moving way. The charity created a custom virtual garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower show where families and friends came together to celebrate Cancer Research and the developments in science. Each of the 100,000 flowers represents a supporter. This VR campaign was emotional, effective and each experience was different for each user. Watch it here.

The future of VR

Many experts believe that VR will be hugely effective in marketing in the years to come as they believe it will deliver enhanced experiences and increase ‘Trial Practice’ which is when a consumer can try something before they buy it, making shopping more convenient. However, some people believe it will make traditional advertising become obsolete as there is much more of an opportunity to engage and excite customers through more interactive content.

VR will increase opportunities in TV and movie programming as it begins to move beyond just gaming. This means advertisers can develop highly advanced VR ads that leave a lasting impression. Global VR revenues hit $7 billion in 2017 and are predicted to continue to rise.  Everyday VR becomes more of a reality as companies grab onto it as a marketing strategy as the user base develops and grows.

Although VR is being utilised by the big brands, it’s something which SME’s need to be mindful of. As with most technological advancements in marketing, the costs of new technological advancements can decrease with age and therefore VR advertising may become more feasible for smaller organisations in the future. For example, we’re safe in predicting that VR property viewings may someday be an option for estate agents or online property listers such as Zoopla and Right Move. VR attracts a great interest and will change the way media is consumed and how consumers are interacted with making advertising easier and more effective.