Using VR to tell your brand’s story

From cave drawings by our Neanderthal ancestors 30,000 years ago, to Instagram Stories featuring Sunday morning jogs and #smashedavo, humans have been sharing stories since our time on this earth began.

It’s an intrinsic part of our nature – a tool we use to teach life lessons, build emotional connections, facilitate understanding and compel action.

But the platforms we use to tell our stories have evolved over time, through ever-changing mediums and technologies, allowing us to communicate in more connective and immersive ways.

Virtual reality (VR) storytelling is the next step in this evolution.

With VR gaining significant mainstream momentum over the past five years, it’s something we’ve been excitedly researching at Fuller – so when a range of immersive VR storytelling experiences came to town as part of the 2020 Adelaide Fringe, we were keen to explore the potential of the new technology first-hand.

With open minds and motion sickness pills at the ready, we tried two immersive VR experiences – Fire Escape and Gloomy eyes – as part of the Fringe’s three day Electric Dreams Conference.

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One contingent of Team Fuller ready to immerse themselves in VR experience, Fire Escape.

These experiences provided our entire team with a valuable opportunity to extend our thinking beyond traditional storytelling methods, and to consider how the use of technology is changing the user experience in entertainment and marketing.

But if you’re thinking VR is far too futuristic for your brand, think again – the future is already here.

According to Hypergrid Business, 75 per cent of the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands have created some form of virtual or augmented reality experience for customers or employees – and predictions suggest that over 200 million virtual reality (VR) headsets will be sold by 2020.

The University of South Australia is even running a virtual reality storytelling course.

But what exactly is VR, and what is its potential for your brand?

Understanding the difference between VR, AR and mixed reality

Immersive technology is like a hypothetical group of multiple universes (a multiverse) where virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) exist together – each with their own potential for brand storytelling.

VR immerses users in a fully artificial digital environment that is generated by a computer. To experience virtual reality, you need to wear a VR headset that’s connected to a computer, like an Oculus Rift. There are standalone devices too, which work in combination with smartphones – Google Cardboard is one of the most popular.

Like its name suggests, in AR, virtual objects are overlayed on a real-world environment, “augmenting” the reality – the Pokemon Go craze of 2016 is an excellent example of this.

Mixed reality (MR) is the most recent development in reality technology, and takes the concept of AR one step further. MR doesn’t just overlay – it anchors virtual objects to the real world. Mind blown!

Software Development Consultant Julia Tokareva explained to Forbes that MR can either start with the real world or start with the virtual world.

“In mixed reality that starts with the real world, virtual objects are not just overlaid on the real world but can interact with it.

“In this case, a user remains in the real-world environment while digital content is added to it; moreover, a user can interact with virtual objects,” she wrote.

“In mixed reality that starts with the virtual world, the digital environment is anchored to and replaces the real world.

“In this case, a user is fully immersed in the virtual environment …digital objects overlap the real ones, whereas in conventional VR the virtual environment isn’t connected to the real world around a user.”

The potential of VR in communications

As marketing and communications professionals, we all know the importance, and power of storytelling for brands. And while it’s still in its infancy, it has become clear to us that VR’s immersive nature has already made it an incredibly powerful storytelling tool.

VR is exciting, as it allows an audience to be directly involved in a story – no other medium exists that can provide the viewer with a fully-immersive, narrative-led experience.

This is powerful for brands, because it means you can immerse your audience in a sensory experience that forms the centre of your brand story – allowing you to forge a meaningful connection, and drive engagement, like never before.

Through storytelling, VR also has the power to help brands connect with their audiences in a more authentic way – something that is becoming increasingly important for brands in the 21st century, according to VR expert Jason Bentley.

“Authenticity is really important. Many people distrust big brands, seeing them as just there for profit, but VR can demystify and create a deeper connection with that brand and that product by immersing them in that experience.”

And luckily for us as marketers, as barriers to adoption (like price, availability and internet speed) for brands disappear, VR storytelling can become a more accessible communications tool.

VR for brand storytelling

Whether you are trying to choose a splashback for your kitchen or tour a university campus, the potential of VR in brand storytelling is almost limitless, with many Australian brands harnessing the technology to impressive results.

At the 2017 Australian Open, ANZ used VR to build on their mobile payments marketing campaign, ‘Keep Moving’, continuing their tradition of creating exciting brand experiences at the annual event.

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ANZ Breakpoint at the 2017 Australian Open. Credit: Campaign Brief.

By creating a digital installation, ‘ANZ Breakpoint’, that centred around three projected game booths on large-format screens, they provided a virtual experience where players could hit flying balls with their tennis racquets and unlock achievements.

The installation generated strong media interest, physical audience engagement (with attendees waiting in line for 45 minutes to have a turn), and significant online engagement through social platforms.

Another leading Australian brand, home builders Metricon, developed the Metricon Virtual Display Experience, the first of its kind in Australia to enable house hunters to “virtually” tour display homes, through a headset.

Qantas is another iconic brand embracing VR, with its VR app allowing users to explore destinations before their arrival – whether landing on Hamilton Island, diving the Great Barrier Reef or climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge – without leaving the comfort of their seat!

Former Qantas Group Executive, Brand, Marketing & Corporate Affairs, Olivia Wirth, said the technology gave Qantas customers a powerful way to preview destinations and experiences.

“Whether the user wants a virtual tour of our new Los Angeles First Lounge or experience an A380 landing from the tarmac, this technology gives us a completely new way to connect with our customers,” she said.

“It’s also a fantastic tool to feature our network’s destinations, inspiring travel and promoting tourism.”

VR for social impact

VR isn’t just limited to brand storytelling – it can also be used as a powerful social impact tool, with the ability to increase empathy for others, by bringing causes to life, and creating an emotional connection that will entice someone to donate.

Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, recently told NPR that “experiencing something causes you to have more empathy than imagining it or watching it.”

This was demonstrated by Alzheimer’s Research UK, who developed VR experience, A Walk Through Dementia.

Accessible via Google Cardboard, A Walk Through Dementia enabled viewers to put themselves into the shoes of someone living with the condition, by experiencing difficult yet routine scenarios, such as struggling to read a grocery list and count change.

Another organisation that took advantage of the inexpensive Google headsets was the New York Times. Known for their innovative and compelling storytelling, they collaborated with Google to send out over one million Google headsets to their print subscribers, encouraging them to wear the headset while watching a virtual reality film called The Displaced.

The film focused on three children across South Sudan, eastern Ukraine, and Syria, whose lives had been uprooted by war. The first batch was sent out to print subscribers, and achieved 600,000 film downloads.

We’re excited by the potential of VR storytelling for brands now, and into the future, and are already working with clients to explore possibilities. If you would like to discuss VR opportunities for your brand please contact Paul Kitching.

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