In a sector that has a tendency to over-hype and under-deliver, here are some ground rules for quality VR experiences. The number of people owning virtual reality headsets is predicted to grow to over 200 million by 2020. With all this in mind I expect a surge in brands looking to introduce VR tech into their campaigns. Now we are looking at a bright new future for marketing thanks to this amazing creative tool. But, the marketing community always has the ability to foul up with its propensity to over-hype and under-deliver.
In a bid to avoid reaching that point we need to establish some ground rules, so we don’t underwhelm consumers and slam clients with a big bill for ineffective, poorly executed VR concepts. Here are the principles to follow:
Treat technology as the platform, not the idea
Technology should not be the starting point for creative. Sure, experiment and play around with concepts for VR – though current production costs means you’ll literally be sketching ideas out or modelling simple 3D online constructs. But any campaign must start with the brand story, the emotion you are trying to create and a clear sense of what you want the target audience to think, feel or do after their experience. VR needs an authentic role in telling the story if it’s not to be a gimmick and must not be shoehorned into the creative plan without reason.
VR allows users to stand in other people’s shoes and unlocks heightened empathy. It can help consumers understand the huge efforts made by athletes, musicians and even astronauts. Empathy is an incredibly strong prompt for action – brands looking to champion social causes and explain their brand purpose, take note. Brilliant apps such as Google’s Abbey Road VR experience are engaging and powerful additions to the format.
Tickle the senses
It’s easy to get carried away with the visual possibilities of VR to blast people’s eyeballs with a hyperkinetic DayGlo world, but don’t forget the other senses. Voices and sounds can swirl around users, emerge above, below and from over the shoulder to create a deep and rich 360-degree environment. Unsurprisingly, sound works well when trying to replicate the experience of a blind person and how they navigate the world. I found Notes On Blindness: Into Darkness a fascinating VR experience along these lines. Remember, sound and touch (in the form of haptic technology or Google’s Tilt Brush) can be powerful elements in VR storytelling.
Take inspiration from the world around you
VR does not have to be high concept to have an impact. Real people embracing, enthusing and sharing joy is infectious. Putting consumers into the heart of an authentic, emotionally upbeat scenario can pay dividends. Take a look at the BBC’s 360-degree video of the moment Leicester City fans celebrated their Premier League triumph in an ordinary pub. See if you can create and capture some of the world’s everyday magic in a virtual environment.
Again, to avoid VR becoming a flash-in-the-pan gimmick, brands need to think about how the VR element integrates into and joins up with the wider strategy of a campaign. Don’t treat VR as a standalone, one-off experience – decide how it fits with everything else you’re doing for your brand, like John Lewis has done with its in-store VR setup complementing its Christmas campaign this year. If you can’t work out where to squeeze it in, VR probably isn’t the right approach in this instance.
Adding personal aspects unique to the specific user can greatly enhance the impact of the experience. From something relatively simple like inserting their name into the program in real-time, to pulling social media or previous customer data to tailor the creative, personalisation can forge a deeper connection that will leave a longer lasting impression.