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VR Storytelling; Is it Time for Brands to Dive In?

It’s a question that brands must ask: “When do we start really investing in VR content; is it worth it now or should we wait?”

Marketers asked themselves a similar question about mobile for several years. Before that, it was desktop, and before that, it was cable. Today, marketers sit around the VR pool, dangling their feet, waiting to see if any of their peers are bold enough to dive in head first. This pool party plays out for every new medium. VR is no different, except that the water in this pool may be more enticing than the plunge parties of the past (and could prove to be more refreshing).

At the Adobe Summit this past week, Kelly Andresen (USA Today’s Senior VP) took the stage to say that VR Brand Advertising works, and she has the research from Nielsen to prove it. The company has featured several “VR Stories” that put the viewer in exciting, and sometimes dangerous, real-world experiences. Working with content partners like Nest and Honda, USA Today has seen metrics rise across the board.

Here’s even more proof that VR is perhaps the most effective medium yet for lifting brand metrics: Virtual Sky and Nielsen teamed up to produce the first ever VR Advertising Effectiveness Study. Working with three major brands, they discovered that VR content was between 1.5 and 18 times more effective than traditional video, depending on the content and metric. Highlights included brand recall, which was 8 times more effective across all brands when immersive VR was used, as well as intent to share, which was at least 2 times more likely when utilizing VR.

Immersive media represents a tremendous opportunity for brands of all sorts to engage, persuade and emotionally connect with customers and prospects in powerful ways, but what about scale? What about production costs? Where is the ROI on this stuff? That question has many brands still sitting on the pool deck, but there are those out there who aren’t willing to simply wait. We sat down with Jason Acker (Digital Director, Diageo), and Julia Hamilton Trost (Business Development & Content Partnerships, Google VR) during the Sundance Film Festival to ask about their perspectives on Brand Storytelling in VR. Read some of their responses on the blog.


Nielsen and YuMe put out a research-backed report saying that the potential VR has for marketers is “incredible”. While the potential is there, development and connection between content and platform will need to be achieved before there can be an opportunity for results. When tested against 360-degree video and 2D screens, VR yielded the strongest emotional responses, meaning huge opportunities for brands who can create engaging content built around their products and ideals. This comes with the acknowledgment that to do so, content will need to be pioneered by a new breed of directors who can create a balance between strong narrative and the ability for a consumer to explore.


This year’s Advertising Week Europe was not without conversations on VR and branded content. However, the conversation settled on the idea that the technology itself is years from delivering the kind of experience that is currently promised by the prospect of virtual reality. Examples of good VR campaigns like the ones created by CNN and Jaguar came up, but the opinion of the room was still that the current VR experience doesn’t hold up to the real thing. Suspicions as to why there isn’t an even exchange in content creation and consumer interest include the idea that at the present, the VR experience is an isolated one, as well as the notion that VR content doesn’t yet reflect all the ways that we as consumers engage with other media, like social. In any case, the experts posit that we’re still a few years from achieving VR’s true potential.


According to IDC, advertisers can’t afford to ignore the projected $162 billion dollars that stand to be earned in the VR industry by the year 2020. The sense of presence created by the VR experience is so strong that studies conducted at Stanford show it can even motivate real life behavior changes. This unprecedented consumer experience and result can be used to do some serious advertising, but so far growth has been limited to 360-degree video, with companies like Nike and Coca Cola putting out 360 content. But as costs start to drop, VR will be more pervasive and so will opportunities for VR ads that truly affect consumer behavior.


This year at CES, Rendermedia developed an immersive marketing experience in partnership with AirBus and HTC. The UK based company utilizes a combination of game engine platforms and CGI to create immersive interactive experiences. The experience created for AirBus, which simulates being onboard an AirBus via the wearable HTC VIVE VR headset, was produced with the intention of being used as a business-to-business marketing tool. Rendermedia’s Creative Director and Founder Mark Miles claims that by harnessing the power of current mobile and wearable technologies, Rendermedia and their immersive campaigns bring their customers’ businesses to life.


“Genius”, National Geographic’s flagship scripted series, had a large and popular installation at SXSW. Seeking a big, immersive experience to mark the launch of its first premium drama, NatGeo partnered with Microsoft to showcase Albert Einstein’s greatest gift: his mind. Activation activities included Microsoft HoloLens technology that let users experience Einstein’s thought experiments by way of VR. The activation also featured an AR photo collection of some of National Geographic photographer’s greatest nature photos in which the photos would jump right off the screen.


Ford delivers a prime example of 360-degree virtual reality content with their immersive video on the Ford F-150 Raptor. The video takes a narrative approach to showcasing the toughness, durability, and overall cool factor of the truck, which is currently available to consumers. Ford launched a VR app in August of last year and has been supplying it with exciting content that showcases Ford’s latest innovations. Because the content is story-driven, it’s capable of reaching a wider audience according to Darci Gurney (Ford, Digital Marketing Manager). “FordVR’s latest story showcases the ‘Built Ford Tough’ attitude that the F-150 is known for while creating an entertaining and unique experience for tech-savvy consumers,” says Gurney.


Adobe thinks it can help stimulate the creation of more VR content by giving creators an easier path to generate money from their work. This means creating advertising native to the world within a VR headset. With their innovative take on in-VR advertising, Adobe can place consumers in foreign and familiar environments and run traditional ads within that environment, like Coke ads on a VR movie screen or on banners and billboard trucks driving by the Bellagio fountain. Adobe is still awaiting the big boom of consumer gravitation toward VR, but when it does they’re confident they’ll be ready to add VR advertising to their list of digital marketing services.


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