Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Google Zoo, Alphabet’s in-house creative think tank that provides value ad for brands and agencies by helping them devise creative ways to use Google products and new tech platforms, recently released a study with Google News Lab about how audiences experience VR. The study includes implications for how journalists and marketing creatives will relay messages to consumers through VR going forward, and how consumers will react to and process this new form of communication.
The Google study coins the concept “storyliving”: EXPERIENCING stories and brand messages through VR. Their ethnographic study found that consumer perceptions of what VR was ranged from a 360-degree video (where users can turn and see around them or move smartphone and computer screens around, like Google Maps Satellite View), to fully immersive virtual reality with state-of-the-art headsets like Google Daydream, HTC Vive, or Oculus.
The overall takeaway from the Google Zoo study is that Virtual Reality has the potential to relay much more powerful advertising and journalistic messages than traditional storytelling’s text, still images, and traditional video. Consumers take VR messages and stories to heart in deeper and potentially longer lasting ways. The more multi-sensory communication enables viewers to better see, hear, feel and identify with what others are experiencing.
Storytelling in traditional print and TV ads tends to be linear. With virtual reality, consumers have more choice in the order they experience message elements and they're freer to follow their own paths of exploration within stories. As a result, advertisers will be less in control of how viewers will process their messages. VR ads that provide different directions viewers can take means marketing stories have to be more nuanced and detailed, and brands need to anticipate more varied reactions: Humanizing VR and quick takeaways for marketers might help to do so.
According to Abigail Posner, Head of Strategy for The Zoo at Google "Access to VR experiences is surging. It's getting easier to try it out, driven in large part by both VR180 and 360 formats. It's a gateway to larger experiences. People try this flavor, dive into new worlds, pique their senses, and then want to try more and more complex kinds of immersive experiences. So brands need to start playing around with the unique VR story framework, blaze new trails and truly show what they're about to their users. It's a new way to make a deep impression about what the brand stand for."
6 recent examples convey the power of Virtual Reality to touch people in profound, memorable ways.
On July 10th, Warner Brothers in collaboration with Google and Jam3 released a new Dunkirk WebVR game for Chrome in support of Christopher Nolan’s latest movie launch. The 360° mutliplayer game, enables viewers to more closely experience the battle of Dunkirk in June 1940. Though done in CGI animation, scenes were created with real sounds of planes overhead, recorded to sync with the video. Through eye tracking, when consumers turn to see the beaches of Dunkirk being bombed all around them, the sound of enemy planes above follow players’ head movements, as it would in real life.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the highway safety agency that launches semi annual campaigns to discourage drunk driving. Their latest effort, created in collaboration with Google ZOO's team and Tombras Group, deployed 360° videos with interactive overlays to enable app users to experience different levels of drinking at several different virtual bars they could choose from. In Last Call 360° viewers select the number of drinks they want. As the number increases, their virtual view of the world becomes more distorted. The experience speaks louder than words to hit home the effects of alcohol.
Recently, in Martorell, Spain, just outside Barcelona, I experienced a virtual reality 360° video using Oculus Rift headsets at the SEAT car company corporate headquarters. The experience took viewers on a life-like ride through the streets of Barcelona from the vantage point of driving the new SEAT Ateca, followed by virtual walks through one of the hottest restaurants in the city and around the roof of one of Gaudi’s most famous buildings. The experience of virtually driving the Ateca was far more exciting than watching someone else drive it in a TV spot.
Javier Molina, a professor of Integrated Digital Media at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering debuted his awesome virtual reality theater play To Be With Hamlet, at this past Spring’s Tribeca Film Festival. Live actors, playing the Shakespearean roles were filmed in motion capture body suits and transformed into animated characters. The audience could attend in real-time from anywhere in the world. Wearers of VR headsets felt right in the middle of the play's action, despite watching from different locations around the world. The audience could explore the ramparts of Elsinore Castle as Hamlet is confronted by the 15ft tall Ghost of his murdered father. The full production of To Be With Hamlet premieres off-broadway in September 2017.
At the unusual, multi-media restaurant, Opera Samfaina’s in Barcelona, a newly installed small ship that guests can sit in, transports them (via VR headsets), through the city’s history. It starts with a journey through tunnels below Barcelona. Viewers emerge into the sunlight of 450 AD, where knights are jousting. Progressing through time, viewers soar above and around Gaudi’s iconic church spires, ending in today's Barcelona. It was a quick, engaging and exciting way to experience a glimpse of the city’s history.
How Marketers Can Best Integrate VR into Overall Plans
Like all new tech platforms, VR should be part of the overall marketing mix, utilized strategically, and not as a gimmick where the technology is the hero. VR messages can change attitudes by more literally placing someone in another’s shoes (experiencing the battle of Dunkirk), or virtually experiencing physical sensations (like being drunk). Brands can extend “the conversation” with integrated campaigns across social media, creating like-minded communities, relevant website content, branded content, in-store activations, etc.
How VR “Storyliving” Marketing Will Play Out Over Time
While the potential to deliver potentially more effective, memorable and emotionally resonant stories and brand messages via VR is exciting, a number of issues remain to be seen:
• Will viewers become emotionally exhausted from so many VR, intense, quasi-real world experiences?
• If VR becomes “the” new journalism or advertising form, will people be able or willing to process as many VR “articles” or stories as the old school print and non-immersive videos they’ve historically consumed?
• Will VR become tiresome?
• How will individuals select which to watch and engage with?
• Will VR intensity have to keep escalating to vie for attention and engagement?
• Will it be even harder to break through the clutter?
• What will happen to old school journalists? Can they adapt/be retrained? If not, will VR immersive storytelling be told only by the young and hip?
• Will brands with rational, brand attribute communication needs suffer by comparison, or will necessity propel them to find more creative and immersive ways to communicate their features and benefits?