Almost all the virtual reality content consumers have experienced has centered around games, entertainment and travel. Diageo is taking a different tack: using the immersive experience to show consumers what it's like to be in a fatal drunken-driving accident.
As the spirits company behind Johnnie Walker scotch and other prominent alcoholic brands, Diageo hopes to use VR to discourage people from driving while intoxicated, behavior that increases during the holidays.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an average 728 people are injured or killed in drunken-driving crashes each day during the holiday season.
I got to preview the Decisions virtual reality experience while wearing Oculus Rift headgear and while sitting in a vibrating D-Box chair that is synced to the audio and choreography in the VR video. The story runs about four minutes and is focused on three different vehicles and their passengers: In one vehicle, three carefree friends are heading to a party; in another, a woman is celebrating a breakthrough in her career; and in a third, a married couple are having their first date night since the birth of their new baby.
I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, the cars will converge and the consequences will be tragic—and thanks to VR, all-too-real.
“There’s been a new perspective that this medium allows you to be a part of and put you in situations where you wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to be in, good or bad,” says Jason Beauregard, the head of studio at VaynerMedia, which produced the video on Diageo’s behalf.
Adds Dan Sanborn, senior vice president for partnerships and entertainment marketing at Diageo: “By making it relatable to as many people and having it be such an immersive experience, we think the impact’s going to be far more powerful than previous techniques.”
You’ll be able to access “Decisions” through Facebook 360, YouTube 360 and a VR app integration withThe New York Times. It is also compatible with all VR headsets, including Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Daydream and Google Cardboard.
Not everyone will be able to “feel” the full impact of a crash because they won’t be sitting in a D-Box chair like I was able to. But Diageo plans to make such chairs available for consumers who can experience Decisions at branded events and sponsorships across the country.
For a company like Diageo that profits by selling adult beverages, it all becomes a balancing act. “We want people celebrating that touchdown, celebrating that job promotion, celebrating those moments in life that bring us all together,” Sanborn says. “But it’s not about going out and getting behind the wheel of a car or falling down in a gutter somewhere."
Diageo already has in place a Johnnie Walker Join the Pact program in key markets internationally where consumers are urged to stop drunken driving by taking a pledge to never get behind the wheel while intoxicated, and encouraging friends, family members and loved ones to do the same. The program has received 2.6 million such commitments globally, and has delivered, the company claims, roughly 630,000 miles of safe rides home.
Sanborn says that Diageo commits 20% of its broadcast advertising to dedicated responsible drinking messages, and “we feel this (VR experience) is the next evolution of that…. If it even changes one person’s opinion before getting in a car (drunk) it’s a victory for us.”
There are other efforts to employ VR for social good. At a lab at Stanford University, efforts are underway to use the technology to help people overcome fears and reduce prejudice.