While many marketers are feeling pressured to get into virtual reality, it isn’t quite clear if the public has totally bought into it or not. “Makers of virtual reality headsets think 2016 will be the year of VR,” reports The Wall Street Journal. Yet 2016 is approaching the halfway mark and VR is not exactly dominating the global conversation.
“The dirty little secret about VR is that the hardware has run ahead of the content,” René Pinnell, head of Kaleidoscope VR, a production studio that hosts an international VR film festival, told the Journal. It is like the early days of the internet when consumers used dial-up to access content. Media like YouTube would have had a difficult time surviving in that landscape.
Virtual reality gear-makers and marketers are banking on the technology gaining wider usage across the marketplace—and doing their best to help grow the marketplace and demand for VR. The New York Times distributed a million VR Google Cardboard headsets to print subscribers and now has a thriving VR channel that features VR ads from a number of brands, such as TAG Heuer, MINI and GE.
The world will see just how important VR is this summer during the Olympic Games in Brazil. Virtual reality will be used to film select events at the Games, including the 100-meter sprint (featuring Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man) and the heptathlon. Viewers can watch the events live in VR and pick up other related VR content online, Information Age reports.
The ways in which VR is consumed during the Games will help marketers see just how prevalent VR use is across the globe and enable them to decide how much to invest. Brands are using the technology to not only show their tech-savvy cred but also to create fresh experiences to engage current and prospective customers, expand their interactive storytelling chops and explore new platforms.
Some current examples of brands that are testing VR marketing to help grow their businesses, from awareness to growing market share to boosting their bottom lines, include eBay, Best Western, McDonald’s UK, Saks Fifth Avenue and Alibaba.
eBay and Australian retailer Myer have paired up to create the “first-ever virtual reality department store.” The concept: “We took the VR experience around Australia to our eBay shoppers. From Bondi to Broome and a few places in between, we gave shoppers a glimpse into the future of shopping.”
The partnership lets shoppers virtually enter a Myer department store and check out more than 12,500 products in the VR environment. If a shopper looks at an object long enough, it will “float towards them,” eBay states in a press release.
The innovation “allows customers to immerse themselves in a new experience of shopping inside a Myer store, with product information updated in real time,” the press release adds. “More than 12,500 Myer products can be browsed, selected and added to a shopper’s cart using eBay’s Sight Search function.”
How does it work in practice? Using a ‘shoptical,’ a specially designed virtual reality viewer, shoppers view a product, and by holding their gaze on it select an item which then ‘floats’ towards them.
The goal is to enhance the customer experience, thus growing brand loyalty. “It’s been important to us that we don’t just replicate the e-commerce experience in a virtual environment,” said Jooman Park, Managing Director, eBay Australia and New Zealand. “We are taking the best elements of traditional retail and expanding on them to improve browsing, selection, personalization and efficiency.”
Best Western is launching a VR feature that will allow customers to check out rooms, lobbies and amenities at its more than 2,200 locations, Skift reports. This will allow potential customers to see what they will be paying for in addition to simply attracting a whole new market of consumers to the US hotel chain’s rooms.
The Phoenix, Arizona-based hotelier has been working with Google Street View to collect approximately 1.7 million photos of its North American hotels. Now, it’s combining the Google Street View technology with customized narration and music into the Best Western Virtual Reality Experience (BWVRE). By this summer, every Best Western branded hotel in North America will have implemented the BWVRE.
“Walking into a lobby or guest room leaves an indelible impression on what kind of experience will follow, but photos aren’t enough,” stated Best Western’s chief marketing officer and senior vice president Dorothy Dowling. “The Best Western Virtual Reality Experience transports consumers into our hotels and a customizable narration will guide them through the experience.”
BWVRE videos will be made available on a variety of platforms, including Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube and Facebook. They’ll also be developed in 8K resolution, the highest ultra-high definition video currently available.
McDonald’s UK is using VR to help showcase its corporate citizenship and sustainability commitments. In its new offering, it allows consumers to follow their food all the way from the farmland through the suppliers right up to the restaurant. Not only does this help customers see where their food comes from but also shows off what kinds of jobs are out there in the UK food and farming industry, according to a press release.
The Follow Our Footsteps campaign to champion British and Irish farming uses the latest in virtual reality technology from Oculus and Samsung Gear and 360-degree video to tell its UK food story through the eyes of the people who grow, produce and prepare food for its UK menu. The goal is grow engagement, spread the word on its commitment to farmers, and serve as a recruitment tool for its supply chain.
Follow our Foodsteps is part of McDonald’s Farm Forward initiative, a long-term program to address the challenges facing the sector. It’s supported by industry statistics showing the UK food and farming industries are hungry for fresh talent across a vast array of areas including farming, horticulture, engineering and food development. According to the Food and Drink Federation, there is a need to attract 109,000 new recruits into the food industry by 2022 as the UK population is projected to rise by 4.4 million in the next decade.
McDonald’s UK brought together a collective of tech developers, young farmers and food experts, challenging them to use technology to give the public a real-life glimpse of how the food on its menu is made and where it comes from. The resulting VR experience, which travels across the UK throughout May, will transport consumers behind the scenes on some of McDonald’s UK’s flagship farms, factories and restaurants — all without having to physically be there.
The public is invited to virtually experience farming by donning an Oculus VR headset to play a potato harvesting game and a Samsung VR headset to experience a 360° video to transport them into various farming scenes.
Connor McVeigh, director of supply chain, McDonald’s UK, explained to Campaign: “As a nation, we have never been more food-focused. The eating-out market is growing but this passion for food is masking a lack of understanding around how food is produced and the vital role our farming and food industries play in growing, sourcing and producing quality ingredients.”
He added: “By bringing together tech developers with farmers and food experts, we have created an immersive virtual reality experience that will allow people to follow in the footsteps of farmers, suppliers and our crew, bringing the best of UK food production from the countryside to communities across the UK.”
“Our hope is that it will help build pride in British and Irish farming, challenge outdated stereotypes and celebrate the best of food and farming in the UK today.”
Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss added: “McDonald’s is a fantastic example of the vision, creativity and innovation running through our food and farming industry today. As a nation we are now far more plugged into where our food comes from.”
Saks Fifth Avenue teamed up with MasterCard for a 360-degree VR video to show off 30 different beauty brands in its “Glam Gardens experience” as part of the #PricelessNY campaign. Customers can travel can stop at each Saks window to check out a different beauty brand. To interact with the video, a web user can drag around the video with their cursor, while a mobile user can drag a finger on the screen or pivot the mobile device.
Saks is using VR to bring 30 of “the most coveted beauty brands” to users around the world. A virtual camera leads the user on a journey through the Secret Garden from 50th Street to 49th Street. The footage combines still imagery stitched together in After Effects and assembled in a 3D environment using the Mettle 360/VR software.
To watch 360° videos, you need the latest version of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, or Internet Explorer on your computer. On mobile devices*, use the latest version of the YouTube or Facebook app for Android or iOS.
“The addition of 360-degree videos further enhances our celebrated Saks experience, and our customers have only responded positively to our advancements in digital communication,” said Mark Briggs, executive vice president, Creative Center of Excellence, at Hudson’s Bay Company, Saks parent company, according to Luxury Daily.
The #SaksGlamGardens VR experience runs through May 24, both in-store and on saks.com.
Alibaba released a VR experience to attract China’s consumers on May 20, a romantic holiday in the country, when Alibaba gave out virtual dream dates to its Taobao mobile app users.
The dates invited users to users wake up in the morning and enjoy a virtual breakfast and spend the day with one of two Chinese celebs: actress Dilraba or actor Yang Yang. Bloomberg notes that China’s Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are all investing heavily in virtual reality.
As Engadget points out, “when one of the world’s largest online retailers goes out of its way to get people donning headsets, you know it’s important.”