A time and a place for VR

VR is a bold new brand­ing medium, says Jon Collins. But it is not a sales tool

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - Jon Collins is global pres­i­dent of in­te­grated ad­ver­tis­ing at Frame­store. He will be speak­ing at the Dubai Lynx on What Four Years of VR Have Taught Us.

Frame­store’s Jon Collins on why he will tell the Lynx the tech­nol­ogy is a bold brand­ing medium but not a sales tool.

Vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) is the most ex­cit­ing new plat­form to be in­tro­duced into mar­ket­ing, en­ter­tain­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and health­care for many years. Yet brands still strug­gle with com­mit­ting to a bud­get, largely due to con­cerns about re­turn on in­vest­ment (ROI).

90 per cent of chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cers I’ve spo­ken to in the last six months asked the same ba­sic ques­tion: “If I spend a dol­lar on a VR project, can you guar­an­tee me a re­turn of $1.50?” The an­swer is that I can’t. No mat­ter how good the cre­ative or ex­e­cu­tion, if it doesn’t an­swer this ques­tion it fails in its pur­pose. Or 99 per cent of the time, it won’t get com­mis­sioned in the first place.

Frame­store has been lucky enough to be an early torch­bearer in the brave new world of VR. Hav­ing cre­ated one of the globe’s first VR mar­ket­ing cam­paigns back in 2013 (HBO’s “As­cend the Wall”), we now have sev­eral years’ ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with brands and stu­dios on ma­jor VR projects.

For “As­cend the Wall”, HBO and Relevent cre­ated a world-tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion to an­nounce Game of

Thrones Sea­son 4. They wanted an ex­pe­ri­ence that gave fans at the ex­hi­bi­tion the feel­ing they were in the show it­self. Us­ing Ocu­lus soft­ware de­vel­op­ment kit (SDK) 1 was the per­fect so­lu­tion.

Our very next job was for Mer­rill Shoes’ Sun­dance event. They wanted to give peo­ple the ex­pe­ri­ence of climb­ing the Dolomites, de­spite be­ing in a small room in Utah. We again de­ployed a VR so­lu­tion, but this time pushed VR’s lim­its by al­low­ing users to walk around within a con­trolled space so they felt the phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence nec­es­sary to cre­ate the per­fect il­lu­sion.

In our clients’ eyes, both projects were suc­cess­ful. But nei­ther asked: “How are we go­ing to sell more tick­ets or boots?” They wanted ex­pe­ri­ences for cus­tomers that cre­ated stronger con­nec­tions with the brand. And the ex­pe­ri­ences’ lim­ited ac­cess was off­set man­i­fold by so­cial me­dia reach.

In th­ese early days of VR, it was eas­ier to get at­ten­tion. As buzz height­ened, many com­pa­nies en­tered the mar­ket with their own lower-cost VR so­lu­tions and many brands in­vested small amounts to test the wa­ter. But the re­sults were of­ten un­der­whelm­ing be­cause they were gen­er­ally re-ver­sioned TV spots, not tai­lor-made VR con­cepts.

Mean­while, tech­nol­ogy and con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tions have evolved so quickly that VR’s nov­elty fac­tor is al­ready fad­ing. To­day, a be­low-par VR ex­pe­ri­ence will back­fire be­cause don­ning a head­set and im­mers­ing your­self in a brand’s world for five min­utes is more of a com­mit­ment than watch­ing a TV com­mer­cial.

When VR is done well, there’s no other ex­pe­ri­ence quite like it: you’re not just wit­ness­ing; you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Plac­ing users in­side a world built around brand touch points and lay­ered with lev­els of in­ter­ac­tiv­ity cre­ates not only deeper en­gage­ment but also mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences that out­last many oth­ers.

To reach this point, though, re­quires fully-fledged in­vest­ment. And this makes it even harder to put aside the deeply en­grained ROI men­tal­ity. The in­evitable re­ac­tion is: “If not a sales uptick, what will I get from a $500,000 in­vest­ment?” It’s an un­der­stand­able ques­tion. Here’s the an­swer:

If you want a met­ric show­ing more prod­uct be­ing shifted, in­vest in tra­di­tional chan­nels. But if you want to re­boot pro­file and make bold brand state­ments, VR’s propen­sity for im­mers­ing peo­ple in brand cul­ture and en­abling in­ter­ac­tion makes it the place to be.

The per­fect ex­am­ple is Lock­heed Martin’s “Field Trip to Mars”, where we trans­ported a school bus of un­sus­pect­ing chil­dren from the streets of Wash­ing­ton DC to the sur­face of Mars. The project was the first of its kind: rather than us­ing VR head­sets to trans­port chil­dren into a vir­tual re­al­ity, we used bus win­dows as screens to dis­play Mars im­agery. To cre­ate au­then­tic­ity, ev­ery move, tilt and bump on the bus’s jour­ney was synched to the Mars con­tent. By es­chew­ing VR head­sets, we cre­ated the world’s first group VR ex­pe­ri­ence.

Lock­heed Martin’s goal was to show its cre­den­tials as a pi­o­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pany. By com­mis­sion­ing a ground­break­ing VR project that also demon­strated how the brand has built tech to take this gen­er­a­tion of schoolchil­dren to Mars, Lock­heed Martin used VR to cre­ate a par­a­digm shift in brand per­cep­tion: the type of in­valu­able mar­ket­ing that goes be­yond ROI.

Un­like other medi­ums, VR isn’t a pas­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. No one per­son’s ed­i­to­rial view is be­ing im­posed; the user is in com­plete con­trol of where they look and ut­terly en­gaged. It’s this unique sense of user agency and em­pa­thy that de­liv­ers paradigmshift­ing mar­ket­ing, el­e­vat­ing a brand from prod­uct to ex­pe­ri­ence or idea.

With such a young medium, we’re only scrap­ing the sur­face of how to nur­ture this pow­er­ful brand/con­sumer con­nec­tion. But one thing is cer­tain: thanks to on­go­ing in­no­va­tion in VR in­ter­ac­tiv­ity, this con­nec­tion will only get deeper.

VR tech­nol­ogy pro­gresses so quickly that we’ve al­ready wit­nessed the ar­rival of hand con­trollers. From 4D ef­fects to voice ac­ti­va­tion and hap­tic feed­back, VR ex­pe­ri­ences will get more in­ter­ac­tive as time moves on. Pro­vid­ing the qual­ity is high enough to cre­ate au­then­tic­ity, in­creased in­ter­ac­tion al­lows peo­ple to go deeper, fur­ther sus­pend­ing dis­be­lief and con­nect­ing with the brand in a more pro­found way.

By be­ing gen­uine to a brand’s cul­tural touch­points and in­vest­ing enough to cre­ate a high-value ex­pe­ri­ence, VR’s abil­ity to drive to­tal en­gage­ment whilst evok­ing a strong phys­i­cal re­sponse is price­less. Get this right, and tra­di­tional forms of ROI be­come re­dun­dant.

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