The Next Big Touch Point: Virtual Reality and Immersive Platforms

Nearly ten years after the launch of smartphones and the social networks as we know them today, the world is set to adopt yet another digital medium; Virtual Reality and Immersive Technologies. The anticipated market potential is huge and this indicates the birth of a new marketing touch point. Just like the brands who pioneered and capitalised their communications through the initial versions of iPhones and Facebook, those who unlock the true potential of these new platforms will be able to win the minds and possibly the hearts of consumers in an uncluttered environment.

Although it was tried and failed before, advancements in the category have recently enabled the global consumer electronics brands to invest and launch the first iteration of mass virtual reality headsets that are somewhat cheaper and a lot more capable than their predecessors. Through a joint effort of PR activities, the VR industry has managed to catch the attention of the tech consumers. A study from YuMe* suggest that 86% of the respondents in the US claim that they have heard of VR, and 63% have tried felt that it’s the next big thing. Meanwhile GlobalWebIndex data from 2016 shows that nearly a third of the UK consumers are interested in using VR in the future.

Virtual reality, along with 360 videos, augmented reality and mixed reality make up today’s immersive consumer technologies, which are mostly about offering 360 audio-visual experiences. As you look around or rotate your device, you see different images and hear different sounds. Whether what you see is real life visuals or computer generated graphics, the aim is to transfer you to another place, where certain elements of your experience physically do not exist in where you are.

How is VR used by brands?

Virtual reality – as the name states, is mostly used for experiences that leverages computer generated graphics to illustrate a virtual environment. Therefore, digital entertainment industries, particularly the video games represent the biggest opportunity for the category. Hence most of the VR devices and platforms are offered by (or partnered with) companies such as Sony (PlayStation), Microsoft (Xbox) and Steam. In order to deliver great quality visuals for games, VR headsets require a powerful computer and so come with relatively high prices. This currently limits the reach and penetration of full-feature VR devices, and makes it less interesting for brands from a distribution point of view. However, low-reach / high-impact experiences like marketing stunts and events often benefit from full-feature VR headsets, where the consumers are happy to immerse themselves into a branded experience. Many brands have used similar strategies such as Peroni’s recent House of Peroni Arts project in London, where the invitees are offered to use HTC Vive headsets to browse 3D artwork; and Adidas’ Snow Run VR experience in Hong Kong, where the shoppers are virtually transferred to a snowy run to trial the brand’s new active wear.

Meanwhile, some brands have identified a way of overcoming the limited reach of VR platforms, while still being on trend. Since pretty much everyone who tries a good VR experience reacts in a positive way, capturing this reaction and telling stories of those who enjoy branded VR experiences through digital content is on the rise. Both Expedia and Honda brought joy to the patients of different children’s hospitals in US, while Hyundai surprised American troops by virtually bringing them next to their loved ones in a stadium to watch the Super Bowl together. All three examples show how powerful a VR experience can be if it is told through a touching story, as evidenced by their number of views on YouTube.

Expedia tells an emotional story in their Dream Adventures film.

Increasing reach through 360 video

When it comes to bringing your own immersive branded content to the masses, 360 video seems to be the best way forward. As smartphone penetration reaches more than 95% in western markets among 18-55 year olds, and both of the two major video platforms YouTube and Facebook now supports, the world is ready for your 360 videos. Whether in the form of paid advertising or organic content, you can now deliver your audio-visual stories in the most immersive way, and all your audience need is a smartphone. BMW’s Eyes on Gigi Hadid, Unilever’s Lipton infusion teas and Supercell’s Clash of Clans have been the pioneering examples of 360 advertising so far*.

As a marketer or advertiser, you probably wonder how 360 performs better than 2D (regular) videos. According to a recent Google study with Columbia Sportswear, 360 video doesn’t over perform on traditional viewer metrics, however 360 video ads motivate viewers to watch more and interact (higher click-through rates and interacting with 360 feature), while also driving viewers to share, subscribe, and view other videos.

More interestingly, a Nielsen and YuMe study from 2016 suggests that immersive formats offer higher biometric engagement and higher overall engagement times over the regular formats, where 360 sees double the engagement time and VR sees 3 times more than the 2D.

Bringing virtual and physical together in Augmented Reality

Last of the immersive technologies is the augmented (and mixed) reality. With the short-lived global phenomenon of Pokémon Go last year, millions were re-introduced to overlaying computer generated graphics (little Poke-creatures) over the real-life images of their surroundings. Although it is fun to use augmented reality for entertainment, the momentum we see in this category is coming through informing and helping consumers. Microsoft’s latest gadget HoloLens takes this one step further and positions augmented reality with high quality 3D visuals (holograms as they call them) as part of the company’s productivity offering. In their demo video, Microsoft showcases engineers manipulating the designs of a motorcycle, while healthcare professionals working on a model of human vascular system. These examples of mixing high quality computer generated graphics with the objects around you opens a door to a world of possibilities for brands to offer virtually (excuse the pun) unlimited ways to enhance their customer experience – particularly in retail and other categories with physical presentations of their products. One of the first brands to exploit this trend is the American DIY retailer LOWE, where they trial a new 3D mapping technology for home improvement that lets users hold their phones up and explore 3D images of the appliance they are interested in by moving it around in their own home.

LOWE lets customers see appliances in their homes before buying them.

Having so many options might make it difficult for you to identify the right approach for your brand, but the capabilities of these technologies so far points us towards informative uses including product demoing and how to instructions, as well as the obvious entertainment experiences. VR, AR and 360 can certainly fulfill different roles through the stages of your consumer journey from awareness to purchase.

Regardless of what immersive format you use, it will create a positive view of your brand and consumers will see you as innovative, according to the above mentioned YuME study. Hence the question is not “if you should explore and trial this new touch point”, but instead “how you do it”. And of course, the answer will depend on your brand and campaign objectives. Being brave and developing new experiences and even services through new technologies is now a hygiene quality in pretty much any category. Doing this without being gimmicky, however, will be key.

If you would like to find out more about how to use immersive technologies for your brand, we are here to help. Contact us:

58 Great Sutton St, London EC1V 0DG
Tel +44 20 7575 7654

Yavuz Dilmac

Digital Planning Director

Red Brick Road


* All links are correct at the time of publishing. Please view the 360 videos on a mobile device or a compatible browser.