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.
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.