Virtual reality is rapidly reaching the marketing industry, and brands have already started using it to increase awareness, promote engagement and enhance the customer experience.
It is estimated that there will be 171 million VR users by 2018, up from just 200,000 in 2014. This increased interest is compelling brands to experiment with VR technology.
Although its usage is still at an early stage, there are already some great examples from brands who are making it work for their marketing strategy. So which brands are pioneering the use of virtual reality in marketing, and is it paying off?
Marriott Hotels have collaborated with Framestore VR Studio and Relevant to create a 4D tourism experience. “Teleporter” helps consumers transport to Marriott Hotels, from Hawaii to London, transforming the use of technology in the travel industry.
Since VR is still at an early adoption stage, brands have the opportunity to serve as digital pioneers and improve the experience they are offering. Travel is something of a natural fit for VR in that sense, as it is all about transporting people to other locations – either physically or experientially.
At the moment, Marriott Hotels is using VR to build up an appetite for visiting their physical locations, but one of the often-discussed possibilities for VR is that it could become a virtual alternative to physical travel, “transporting” consumers to realistic locations without needing to leave their chair. This could either spell bad news for the travel industry, or it could be a massive opportunity. Either way, travel brands need to be on top of the newest developments in VR, in order to know what might be coming.
As a maker of VR headsets, it’s not surprising that Samsung is using VR to… market VR. Samsung allows visitors at the Samsung 837 store in New York to try out Samsung Gear VR in action. The idea is to help them understand how the headsets work, with 4D VR chairs and demos that create an engaging experience.
VR technology is used to increase the engagement with and sales of the actual headsets, as a test of the experience entices consumers to make a purchase. Thus, Samsung uses VR technology to keep up with the latest trends, promoting a market that they can benefit from its growth.
TOMS Shoes have focused their branding message on making an impact on the world, and that’s how they also use VR technology. A visit to their store in California allows people to live the experience of their shoe donations in Central America. This is achieved with a VR chair, showing to customers in the most direct way how the company proceeds to shoe donation every time a new sale occurs.
Jaguar wanted to promote their sponsorship of Wimbledon in an impressive way, and so opted to offer a cinematic experience through VR.
Virtual reality allowed people to fly over Wimbledon’s court with the use of Google Cardboard, with Andy Murray offering the tour. The end landed viewers in the Centre Court, turning into Murray for a moment to score a match point. The result was impressive and it managed to engage a targeted audience and strengthen the brand’s benefit from the sponsorship in the most visually appealing manner.
Volvo offered a test drive of the new XC90 SUV through their Volvo Reality app. Customers could drive the car on a road in Vancouver, with or without the use of Google Cardboard.
This allowed the brand to offer a unique experience to a broad audience, building anticipation for the new car, while positioning themselves as among the first to try out VR technology for an exciting test drive.
McDonald’s have seen numerous successes with their global marketing strategy in the past, so it’s no surprise that they have already jumped into trying out VR technology.
They started by turning a Happy Meal Box into a cardboard VR headset, “Happy Goggles”, in Sweden, finding a new and innovative use for their ubiquitous boxes. Customers can enjoy the game “Slope Stars” that comes with the headset, and try out skiing through virtual technology.
The idea increases the in-store engagement in the least expected way, and also promotes the idea of repurposing the box for a better use.
Luxury fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff explored the use of virtual technology back in 2015, starting with the idea of selling their own VR headsets.
The headsets allowed consumers to include their phones in them and enjoy VR content, getting an enhanced glimpse of their runway shows.
Rebecca Minkoff’s brand has been synonymous with innovation the last years, blending fashion and technology in the most creative ways. This made the brand more popular and it was no surprise that they were one of the first fashion brands to bring VR into runways. Since then, many other fashion brands have experimented with AR and VR, making the fashion industry one of the most invested in new technologies.
All of them indicate how modern marketing can become more experiential to increase engagement with consumers. But are consumers themselves fully on board with VR at this early stage?
Are consumers ready to embrace VR?
Consumers are always open to new experiences, particularly engaging ones. In that respect, virtual technology can certainly become a great addition to a brand’s marketing strategy.
However, investment in the technology is not justified on every occasion, as not all brands have a clear goal that they want to achieve with VR. At the moment, the best brand use cases for VR appear to be in creating an immersive experience, something that works well for specific brands (such as travel or automotive brands) but might not be suited to others (such as a stationery or healthcare brand).
That’s not to say that brands with a creative idea for how to employ VR in their marketing shouldn’t use it – but the use of the technology needs to seem relevant and not a gimmick, or it may be perceived as inauthentic by consumers.
Moreover, VR technology hasn’t yet seen the same adoption rate as augmented reality, a fact that makes marketers more cautious towards its use. According to a report by Forrester Research, 42% of US adults haven’t heard of VR, while 46% don’t see how VR can be part of their lives.
Mainstream consumer adoption of VR technology will be key to it becoming successful and widely used as a marketing tool. But even before that time comes, brands with a clear and innovative use for VR can blaze a trail, showing consumers the possibilities of VR and helping to lead the way in establishing its place in marketing.