VR in advertising

Every year of late, consumers in the United Kingdom look forward to something fairly unusual; an advertisement. In particular, the John Lewis Christmas advert. Why? John Lewis is an upscale department store in the UK, with brands like Barbour and Fred Perry, so what could be so special about their advertising? In addition to marking the start of the Christmas season, the commercials have been emotional masterpieces worthy of all the praise they receive. (I will put links in for those of you interested in watching/catching the holiday spirit). The ads are so well recognized for their emotional poignancy, that when asked to evaluate a piece of modern advertising for class abroad in London, we were specifically asked not to use any of John Lewis’s advertising, as it was too obvious and the professor was tired of reading about the same content.

This year, I was one of those eager viewers, strangely looking forward to a video promoting a store I could no longer shop at without a 7-hour flight. And honestly, I was disappointed with what was finally released a few weeks back (so I won’t embed it, here’s a link if you really want). But what I did find more interesting was in the ancillary tactics of the marketing campaign. At its flagship store on Oxford Street, customers could experience the world of this year’s ad in virtual reality. And for those who could not make it to London, the same experience was available at home to those with their own VR headsets. This brought my attention to the expansive opportunity the VR provides to advertising, and made me curious to find the ways companies are making use of this. A good example was The North Face.

The North Face

When your brand is built on outdoor adventures, but your shops are in cities and malls, VR offers an exceptional opportunity to bring the wild world of nature to urban shoppers. This effort done in a Korean mall does just that: 

Besides looking like a fantastic time, the basic concept of bringing something like dog sledding to an urban store is easily to replicate across multiple markets. The experience of adventure and amazement exists as a powerful force across cultures, leaving a lasting impression on consumers. Producing emotion is key to successful recall in marketing, and even feeling like you are being pulled around by a team of dogs is sure to produce strong feelings. Of course, adding the real life dog team surprise multiplies this effect many times for the few lucky shoppers, but more importantly, it creates a piece of content likely to go viral. North Face can capitalize on the free nature of word-of-mouth sharing this way, putting the brand in the consumer’s mind and reaching a wide audience.

For a larger launch, North Face partnered with Jaunt, a tech company creating hardware and software for VR, to transport customers to the great outdoors at stores in several US cities. Shoppers virtually found themselves in Yosemite National Park or Moab, Utah, alongside North Face sponsored athletes. The 3D experience was eventually released for home viewing, after its limited runs in various stores.

Google

The ability to bring VR advertising to consumers at home relies upon the consumer’s ability to experience VR in their home. As such, Google has been providing a cheap solution to this issue, which both John Lewis’ and The North Face’s campaigns mention.

Google Cardboard is a cheap VR headset made from, as the name suggests, cardboard, which means that people can use VR technology without spending several hundred dollars on a product from Oculus. In fact, the plain Google Cardboard device sells for $15, and comes with complicated components such as a rubber band. And there are plenty of videos on YouTube offering to show you how to fold your device. 

By offering this technology so simply, Google has put VR in the households of a much larger base of people, and thus put these consumers within reach of companies. Google envisions VR will become a commonly used medium for producing content, and will be the most immersive way to experience this content. Companies and advertisers must continue to adapt this technology as a way to both create lasting experiences in-store and at home.

6 comments

  1. Aditya Murali · ·

    Awesome post! I had never really thought about the implications of VR and its ridiculous potential for advertising. VR allows for people to get immersed in a world no matter where they are, and that opens a lot of doors for companies. For clothing companies, if they’re opening up a new store, they can create a VR experience showing you the new store at the comfort of your own living room. If your company wants to advertise a video game, they can put you in the heart of the action, giving you a thrill ride that will most likely persuade you to buy the game. It will definitely be interesting to see where VR goes in the future. My only concern is that the quality of the video content is not as good as I’d hoped it would be.
    I was recently in Faneuil Hall and Facebook had set up a popup event where you could test their VR with Oculus Rift. The shots were amazing and creative but the quality did not seem HD at all, and that made me feel a bit detached. I still think there is a long way to go, but I know VR will become a huge way for companies to advertise to us and the primary way we consume tv, movies, and games.

  2. I’m excited to see where VR will take us. We’ve been hearing about it for about 20 years, but I think it’s close this time.

  3. gabcandelieri · ·

    Great post! I agree, I think VR in the advertising space is becoming an enormous opportunity for brands to engage consumers on a profound emotional level. From virtually test driving cars to a showing how products we consume everyday are produced, manufactured and sold to digital adventures in some of the most dangerous or exciting excursions the world has to offer, digital journeys have countless possibilities. I have complete faith in VR’s ability to transform a company’s product/ service experience into profit by utilizing the emotional connections experiencing an event triggers. I think we are in store for some dramatic change in this space–I would not be surprised if VR sets become as common as the iPhone in the next decade or so.

  4. Excellent post! And unfortunately I totally agree — this year’s John Lewis ad really wasn’t up to snuff. I have often loved the work that the North Face does, though. More than many other outdoor retailers, they have really done a powerful job connecting their consumers to environments hundreds of miles away and helping them dream about who they could be in these environments and with their products. (Even though many people may hardly ever use them in adventurous settings.)

    You beat me to my one criticism by including Google Cardboard in this post. VR definitely has enormous potential in the marketing space, but one of the largest hurdles will be getting the technology into the hands of consumers so that they can experience it outside of the retail environment. I think that Google has created an excellent opportunity for doing so, through this product. I think it also serves as a great trial opportunity to introduce consumers to VR and push them into more expensive setups.

  5. olearycal · ·

    Those were some really great advertisements! I’ve used Google’s cardboard VR headset before and it’s pretty cool. I walked around Tokyo and Paris and went underwater. I got bored of it after 15 minutes or so because I had gone through all the options. I would love to experience some of the virtual realities that these advertisement companies are creating. I think they are especially relevant for outdoors companies because all their products are meant to be used outside the store. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future.

  6. Great read! I think it’s very exciting to see what VR can do for us as consumers – I definitely did not take the lens of seeing how this can change advertising. If this concept does become more normal, I’m wondering which industries will be able to take advantage the most. I think some great examples have been mentioned above – Aditya mentioned video games. I remember seeing a video recently of an individual trying out VR in a Microsoft store. He was rock climbing in the game and it got to the point where he was so immersed into the game that when the character in the fell forward, the individual actually lost his sense of balance and fell down. Given how immersed people can be in these VR technologies, do companies have any kind of liability for injury to people that are using their VR advertisements? Thanks so much for sharing.

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