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#HumansofMKTG Roundtable: The State of VR in Experiential Marketing

#HumansofMKTG Roundtable: The State of VR in Experiential Marketing

8 minute read

  • Since virtual-reality headsets have not become household items, marketers can provide value to consumers by allowing them to experience the technology first-hand
  • However, with so many brands leveraging virtual reality, marketers need to deliver more than just a visual experience
  • Virtual-reality alone is not a silver-bullet solution to marketing, but rather, the channel or platform to deliver an experience

According to research firm IDC, 30% of consumer-facing brands in the Forbes Global 2000 will experiment with virtual-reality (VR) as part of their marketing efforts in 2017. With a large number of brands activating through VR, the #HumansofMKTG sit down to discuss the sudden jump to virtual-reality, best practices in VR, and how brands can stand out from the crowd.

 The following is a transcribed discussion between MKTG’s Matt Klar, Brandon Mazerall, Reuben Greenspoon, and Geoff Biss.


Geoff Biss:

In a short span, we’ve seen a lot of brands activating using virtual-reality as part of their brand experiences. Why do you guys think VR has become so popular amongst experiential marketers?

Brandon Mazerall: 

I think it comes down to a fundamental of marketing; every brand wants to break through and VR is a breakthrough technology, so marketers have really leaned on it as a tactic in their activations.  

Matt Klar:

So let the technology do the innovation for them? In some respects, it sort of feels like brands are passing the buck.

Brandon Mazerall:

Yes, but that's not to downplay it. It’s an effective technology and an efficient way to deliver a positive consumer experience.

Matt Klar:

In terms of personal headset use, VR hasn't really taken off yet outside of the ultra-early-adopter segment.  The headsets are too large and too expensive. That’s why I think brands are drawn to it. They recognize there is an awareness from consumers but no trial yet, so want to play a role helping consumers pilot this tech.

Reuben Greenspoon:

It’s efficient in some ways, but the challenge for me is around content that is supported by VR. The headsets are only one piece of the puzzle. There is still a shortage of content available that can be viewed within the headsets and that is really what takes the experiences to the next level.  

Geoff Biss:

Some of the most successful and widely adopted innovations in technology have been social. Is virtual-reality too isolating of an experience?

Reuben Greenspoon:

I think it’s interesting because for some people, putting on a headset can be uncomfortable - they don't know who's watching them or they could be self-conscious about how other people are reacting to them. It’s an isolating experience. It isn’t always the most effective fit for a physical brand experience.

Brandon Mazerall:

You make a point. I think VR makes sense for brands that are trying to position themselves as innovative and tech-savvy. But for some brands, their objective for the activation is to try and create a human connection - have a personal touch. Brands need to be mindful that you could lose a bit of that if there isn’t that face-to-face connection.

Geoff Biss:

It is isolating in a lot of ways, but on the other hand, that is the strength of VR. We live in a world where everyone has multiple screens in front of them. When I’m watching TV, I also have my computer and phone in front of me as well. I’m distracted. If you want someone’s full and undivided attention, virtual-reality achieves that.

Let’s talk best practices in virtual-reality. What are examples of effective uses of VR by brands?

Matt Klar:

One of the places that I’ve seen VR used effectively is for high involvement purchases like pre-build condos. If you want to see what your unit looks like, and it hasn’t been built yet, VR can transport you into that world. So there are sales opportunities.

Brandon Mazerall:

We had the opportunity to go to the Canadian International AutoShow, and there were a lot of brands that leveraged VR effectively. The brands that stood out most to me also had other physical elements of the activation, and didn’t simply rely on a visual element. A great example at the Canadian International AutoShow was Ford's Future of Mobility VR Eperience. You sat on a platform with three other people, and through VR, are transported to a futuristic world where you’re flying. While you’re experiencing this, the platform is moving. It felt like a Universal or Disney ride. They also tied it back to the brand really well. While you’re in this futuristic world, they talked about all of the innovations that they employ today (that were the first steps to achieving this futuristic world). They brought it back to the brand while making it entertaining at the same time.

Reuben Greenspoon:

Mazda is another great example. At the Canadian International AutoShow, Mazda offered the opportunity to take a test drive of their MX5 convertible through virtual-reality. There’s a person in the driver’s seat, you’re in the passenger’s seat, and while you’re driving he’s pointing out the features to you. The top goes down, the wind blows in your face, the heat of the sun hits you. To achieve this, they had heat lamps and fans to simulate the convertible being down. It was essentially a virtual sales pitch.

Matt Klar:

The examples of VR I like the most is where there is an access barrier that you have to overcome. Honda did something special with the Children's Hospital of Orange County, where kids were going to be away from home for Christmas. They gave them a VR tour of walking down a street where every house was lit up with amazing Christmas light decorations. There was a physical constraint and they gave them an opportunity to experience something they wouldn’t otherwise experience. Similarly, Samsung is helping people overcome a fear of public speaking. They had five different modules – they had an interview, a business pitch, and few other different scenarios that helped people with their public speaking. In this case, it’s not supposed to be social, it’s a personal experience to help you become better and help solve a problem.

Reuben Greenspoon:

Speaking of unique content, this week is the Tribeca Film Festival, and they have an entire category dedicated to VR. It’s one of the largest film festivals in the world, with major tier-1 sponsors like AT&T, Heineken, and IBM. It’s interesting to see such a large film festival adopt and recognize VR as a mainstream entertainment medium - where you could go and watch a whole film or documentary through a headset.

Geoff Biss:

With so many brands leveraging virtual reality, do you think VR is at risk of becoming stale?

Brandon Mazerall:

I don’t think VR is at risk of becoming stale. However, I do think it’s more challenging to create a good experience than it was a year ago. The Canadian International Autoshow was back in February. Just a year before that, we were at NBA Centre Court with the NBA All-Star Game here in Toronto. Samsung’s VR experience at NBA Centre Court was the first time I tried virtual-reality. Putting the headset on, you could watch LeBron James run wind-sprints with a teammate, and that was cool at the time. It was one of the first opportunities to look around in different directions through a VR headset. Now, only a year later, my expectations are much greater.

Geoff Biss:

When VR was fresh on the scene, it was exciting to just be passive and look around. But now, people expect more. They will want to have a bit more control, and rather than be a passenger, be more of an active participant.

Matt Klar:

VR is at risk of becoming stale if brands continue to use it just for the sake of using it. This rule applies to any form of technology and there is nothing special about VR in this sense. The technology itself isn’t a strategy. Brands need to ask themselves what they are trying to achieve through the brand experience and subsequently identify the right technology. If virtual-reality improves the experience, great. But the technology itself is not the silver-bullet solution.

Brandon Mazerall:

It’s the channel or the mechanism to deliver the experience. It’s not an experience in itself.

Matt Klar:

As a consumer, if there’s one thing you wish you could experience in VR, what would it be?

Groff Biss:

You guys know I love movies, so I would love to experience what it’s like on-set during the filming of a major motion picture. More and more, big blockbuster movies are releasing production teasers years in advance to build excitement and anticipation, so why not? You already got cameras there. Would love to get a first-person perspective while they’re acting out a scene.

Brandon Mazerall:

I’d love to experience in-field news reporting through VR. To put yourself in the middle of major historical events or protests, and feel the gravity of the situation.

Matt Klar:

I would want to be in the locker room for a Mike Babcock intermission pep-talk. If I’m watching a game as the buzzer goes at the end of a period, I’d love to hit a button that adopts a player’s point of view, giving me access to this behind-the-scenes view.

Geoff Biss:

There are limitless possibilities. VR offers a ton of opportunities to create engaging and can’t-buy experiences. But like we said, it’s simply the channel or vehicle. Placing VR at the centre of a campaign doesn't make it innovative. The best stories are never about the technology itself, but rather about what the technology enables.

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