Fran Elliott

VR for VR’s sake

As virtual reality (VR) experiences become more prevalent and impressive, are we using VR for VR’s sake?

VR is increasingly becoming a part of the experiential marketing landscape as brands become more confident in embracing the tech. Yet is it always appropriate?

VR content should be engaging, as all communication should, but it also needs be relevant and appropriate. To figure out if VR is the right thing for an event, you need to review what it is meant to achieve and assess whether using it can deliver results.

Time vs. appeal

There are two main factors to consider. The first is time vs. appeal. People are busy and even the promise of the most amazing VR experience needs to be in an environment where people have the time to participate. Alzheimer’s Research UK recently set up a VR installation at St Pancras International station as part of its ‘Walk Through Dementia’ campaign, where visitors where encouraged to experience first-hand what it’s like living with dementia. Setting up an activation in a place where people have some to time kill, provides a great opportunity for customers to engage with the event.


Inclusive vs. exclusive

The second factor is the inclusive vs. exclusive conundrum. VR can sometimes be isolating, for both those using it and those on the outside so the setting needs to be appropriate. For some, a moment of escapism and tranquillity may be on-point. We recently worked with Garnier Ultimate Blends to set up an in-store activation that transported shoppers away from the bustle of the supermarket environment to a sun dappled wheat field, providing a moment of peace for the customer.

But for other occasions this may not be the case. VR takes you away from the moment and transforms you into another world, a world without your peers. If you were already having a good time before you placed on the headset, doing so might actually detract from your enjoyment. Mark Zuckerberg has already formed a social VR team at Facebook to work towards VR’s inclusivity but it could be years before any kind of real breakthrough and, even then, meeting our friends in a virtual world might just mean a digitalised version of ourselves, so does that mean we would ever truly be there?

The isolation factor needn’t be sometime to be feared though. It just needs to be acknowledged and understood so it is accounted for when the choice to use VR is made. VR is brilliant, it is taking the experience landscape to a new level, allowing marketers to tap into places both physical and emotional that were previously unreachable. But to make this work, you must ask yourself, is VR appropriate and relevant for my event, because if it’s not, you’ve just spent a nice chunk of your budget on a very expensive gimmick.

Francesca Elliott is UK director of experiential and events at Momentum Worldwide.

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  • graham patten

    Absolutely spot on … the expression “VR for VR’s sake” is something we’ve been quoting in creative meetings since the 90’s .. so if you consider the phenomenon was around way back then, imagine how prevalent it will be in the VR hype-bubble of today.?

    Regarding whether a client should consider VR for a campaign however, it should also be mentioned that, to a layman, it’s not always clear what actually constitutes VR these days, as it is currently a term being applied to so many media forms that I worry about misselling in an ’emperor’s new clothes’ stylee.

    I would also just add another thought to the time/appeal dilemma; Although the myriad of passive experiences (360 video type-VR) are indeed very easy for consumers to enter and leave (with no learning curve), the benefits of even moderate levels of user interaction cannot be underestimated when it comes to their engagement with the message or brand.

    Isolation (immersive) VR is sometimes the only way to get your message across effectively, a couple of examples would be; a migraine aura simulation we developed for Astra-Zeneca, where users experienced a range of pre-migraine visual and audio conditions as they walked themselves around a virtual house, and a simulator for Johnnie Walker (Diageo) where users experienced the effects of drink on their vision and reactions as part of an anti drink-driving campaign.

    I also think you’ve also hit the nail on the head with your summary about relevance. The market seems now to be awash with VR companies, so talk to several, but always look for those who want to know more than simply ‘you want to use VR’, because something bespoke is always going to deliver you the best solution. Just as you wouldn’t consider an agency pitching to you with an existing poster or advert and offering to alter a few bits here and there, you probably shouldn’t consider doing it with your VR either :0)