Taking the right route to VR

Recently, at one of the biggest experiential industry conferences of the year, you couldn’t turn a corner without being faced by VR in some form – a vendor sales pitch, an agency case study or live brand experience.  For me – and no doubt my fellow marketers – it was an education. The full A-Z on how to (and how not to) use the technology.  What a relief.

Until now we’ve felt like we should be on the VR train, but have been reluctant to leave the platform.

Our business is about bringing brands ‘to life,’ providing a vibrant and positive assault on the senses.  It feels counter-intuitive to invite consumers to (more often than not) sit down, cover their eyes and find themselves in a virtual world – which rarely lives up to the promise…or the real world that surrounds them.

In too many cases, it seems the desire for an ‘innovative campaign’ has led to briefs with VR rather than the consumer at the center, and so inevitably, the final experience falls short.  Fundamentally, the inclusion of this technology isn’t a guarantee of success.  Success comes from using the tool to radically enhance or provide layers to the story already being told.  VR isn’t THE story.

A brilliant example is the award-winning American Express campaign (pictured above), that gave attendees of the 2015 American Open the chance to face Maria Sharapova, and tackle her famous 100mph serve. This physical ‘money can’t buy’ moment was experienced by thousands over the course of the event, but in real reality it is a dream very few would be able to achieve.  Amex wanted to show potential customers that they would always go the extra mile for them – don’t just watch your favorite athletes, play against them!

Another came from Ford, who used Mixed Reality to virtually peel back the layers of body work on cars at Auto Shows, to reveal their inner features.  A ‘surprise and delight’ moment, that wowed audiences during live demonstrations, and provided access to parts of the vehicles not normally visible.

In both examples, the latest technologies were utilized using experts from all over the world, suggesting that budgets were plentiful. However, despite the proportion of investment in technology, it didn’t dominate – it simply helped the brands tell a better story and put customer curiosity and ambition at the heart of their experiences.

Looking ahead, the ability to even more closely measure consumer reactions to our activities through VR is incredibly exciting, and another step forward for experiential.  To understand exactly how a user is going through an experience, down to the level of eye tracking, pauses, hand gestures and heat mapping, will enable us to adapt and evolve concepts in minute detail – to achieve maximum consumer satisfaction.  This really does feel like the holy grail.

Finally, we’re on board.

Sarah Priestman is President of Sense New York.

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