5 Ways Brands and Agencies Can Use Virtual Reality

By Guest Comment

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This is a guest post by Craig Dalton, CEO and co-founder of DODOCase.

It’s been a mere six months since Google announced Cardboard—their playful, smartphone-based VR platform that takes an inexpensive cardboard constructed viewer and transforms your everyday phone into a brand new immersive experience. The reaction was magical and immediate. And as a result, Google has expanded its platform and hired even more virtual reality makers to join their team.

Brands and agencies have taken note of Cardboard too, because they recognize it as an entrée into the next generation of storytelling mediums. The passion for connecting with users in unique, innovative ways has given rise to new marketing and experiential activations that take advantage of smartphone-based virtual reality.

We asked digital agency of the year, R/GA, top VR shops Jaunt VR, Tactic, and Framestore, and Elle magazine about how they became “trailblazers” in smartphone virtual reality.

Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Be True To The Medium

Mike Woods, Global Executive Creative Director and Head of Framestore’s VR studio, advises, “The first step is not to shoehorn any kind of existing thoughts or content into VR. VR is a very natural thing. It’s not a camera, it’s a person. So here’s your opportunity to put customers inside your brand.”

Scott Broock, Vice President of VR Content at Jaunt adds, “In terms of an experience that can transport someone in a completely unique new way, there is nothing like this.” Last month, Jaunt VR partnered with Elle magazine to bring readers onto the set of a photo shoot with Jacquie Lee, the acclaimed singer from NBC’s The Voice. Kevin O’Malley, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Elle Magazine, added, “It’s really all about the story you are looking to tell—all about the content. Yes, it will be more immersive, but how do you tell a story with VR in a way that makes it most compelling to your users? That starts with a strong creative concept and comprehensive storyboarding to make sure you are maximizing the impact.”

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To supplement the print article in the November issue, Elle and Jaunt used 3-D cameras to capture what it was like to be on set at the photo shoot. O’Malley said, “With our first VR experience for Elle, we wanted it to relate to our print piece, but use the material in a totally new way. For example, on Elle.com we created a flipbook of images that enhanced the static article in a more traditional way; with VR, it’s a 360˚, completely immersive experience. There is no photograph in Elle magazine of Max Vadukul shooting Jacquie Lee, but with VR, our readers can be on set with a renowned fashion photographer. The user gets to experience everything that comes with that, the kinds of things they’d never get to see otherwise.”

And, he continued, “We can highlight that the leather jacket is available from this brand, the shoes are from that designer, and so on. So not only are we are serving up more information to the consumer, but we are also delivering great service plugs and drives to retail for our advertisers.”

Scott Broock offered even more advice. “Elle and Hearst have been leading the way in publishing, and now we’re seeing more brands developing stories using VR. In terms of experiences you are developing, remember to focus on your demographic. First and foremost, you are taking them somewhere or telling a story that is going to be meaningful to them. Don’t lose sight of the fact that 99% of people have never experienced virtual reality. When they do, each of them is going to enjoy what you create and have this experience of ‘wow, this is amazing — I want more.’ Once you see how they react to it (smartphone VR), you’ll really begin to understand its impact.”

For those who haven’t tried it — check out the free Google Play app from Elle and Jaunt VR. It’s so convincing that the next time someone asks if you’ve ever been on a fashion photo shoot, you are likely to answer yes.

  1. Know The Players, Know Your Partners

As a brand or agency, you might know how you want to use VR to extend your strategy, but you may not know who can help bring your vision to life. You’ll need developers to design, capture, and code experiences—and hardware that allows users to consume your content. Here’s a short rundown of key players in VR development—if you know of any that we missed, please share it with us in the comments.

VR Development Shops:

Tactic: Specializing in immersive experiences across digital platforms and real world installations. Highlighted by an emphasis on gesture recognition, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Tactic’s work includes mobile AR with Jose Cuervo and the “Throttle Up” holographic jet engine experience with GE & BBDO.

Jaunt VR: Specializing in cinematic Virtual Reality, with a unique, comprehensive platform that enables creators to film, edit, and process live-action content for Virtual Reality viewers. Recent projects include concerts by Paul McCartney and Jack White, as well as a journey to Middle Earth to promote The Hobbit.

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Framestore: A fully immersive, interactive, and experiential Virtual Reality content studio from the Oscar-winning shop that did the visual effects for Gravity. Framestore is known for conceiving, creating, and executing for some of the biggest brands in the world. Recent work includes a promotion for Marvel’s Avengers at CES, a virtual vacation with Marriott’s “Teleporter,” and a VR experience for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

  1. First To Market Matters: Don’t Wait On The Sidelines

VR is no longer a thing of the future. It’s happening right now. And if you think your competitors are already developing VR experiences for their next campaigns, you’re probably right. Jaunt VR has seen a swift rise in visibility since they released live concert experiences with Paul McCartney and Jack White for Cardboard VR, as well as their work with Elle, and a custom activation built for Warner Bros. The Hobbit.

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Scott Broock works with brands every day and had this to say: “Put your stake in the ground right now. There are major brands, networks, studios, sport leagues, and travel companies all planning their first VR activations. What you are going to see in the next three months are the first movers going at it aggressively and making clear that they are going to play in this space. And what they will find is that the market and users will reward them for getting these experiences out there first.”

Like the early movers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook before them—being first to market in VR means you’ll gain the benefit of leading the pack, while simultaneously owning the unique space your experience will inhabit. Your marketing will benefit from the added PR, and you’ll receive attention for the mere fact that you are creating opportunities where none existed before. Mike Woods of Framestore VR agrees. “You are pretty much guaranteed to generate a few columns and media impressions just by being brave enough to throw yourself into virtual reality—there is even a story around that because it’s such early days.” A month, season, or year from now, innovation in VR will still be happening, but being first to market is a one-time opportunity—if you don’t act now, it’s going to pass you by.

  1. Think Beyond Oculus, Get To The Masses

Oculus Rift is an important part of the future of VR, but it’s still just one piece of that future. Oculus (now owned by Facebook) has developed an incredible engine for virtual reality that specializes in long-format, highly interactive gaming VR—but it’s not for everyone. The fastest, most affordable way to get shorter-timed, accessible VR experiences to people everywhere is through smartphone-based, cardboard viewer VR. Mike Woods says, “As an entry level thing everyone carries around a smartphone in their pocket, so the idea that you can generate brand experiences and excitement around VR with just some cardboard and the computer you carry around in your pocket all day — it’s a no brainer.”

Jay Zasa is the SVP, Executive Creative Director for campaigns at R/GA, and he recently led the development of a virtual reality test drive with Volvo. He had this to say: “The future is more like Google Cardboard than it is separate, expensive devices. I think that stuff [like Oculus Rift] will probably exist in some higher-end niche, but as a way for the masses to experience VR, it will have to be done in a way that uses existing devices like smartphones.”

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One of our founders, Patrick Buckley had this to add: “Cardboard VR is a new, fundamentally different way to tell stories that are more immersive than any other digital experience people have known. It’s more immersive than an IMAX film, and it’s in your pocket already. As a brand, it’s an amazing new marketing opportunity to have something so affordable that you can hand it out to your fans at events and they can immediately have an ‘IMAX on steroids’ experience with whatever story you want to put them in. It’s really exciting—and we are seeing brands and agencies opening their eyes to these opportunities on a daily basis.”

  1. Realize VR is Here To Stay

In the past, inaccessibility to revolutionary devices has been a major obstacle in widespread adoption—but with Cardboard VR for smartphones, that obstacle has been removed. Patrick Buckley says, “radio took 38 years to reach 50M users, television took 14 years, and the Internet took 4 years. As current technology news indicates, VR is on a much quicker trajectory. Given the existing technology infrastructure, within one and a half years we’re likely to see 50M VR users in the world. It’s a huge opportunity.”

Just as with social media, mobile, and video before this—understanding the capabilities of VR technology will help you reach users in new and compelling ways. “Virtual reality can do so many things,” added Mike Woods. “Marketers can use this technology to drive attention, make a splash, show customers a side of the brand they haven’t seen before, or even in retail positioning. VR [as we know it] is only about a year and a half in, and it’s already quite an adaptable form.”

Peter Oberdorfer, the President at Tactic, a new agency that is already making waves with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality built for smartphones, agrees. One of their most recent projects was with McCann NY, where they created an AR mobile app experience for Jose Cuervo Tequila’s “History in a Bottle” TV campaign. He had this to say about VR as the new ‘what’s next’ platform in storytelling: “In a way, it represents the convergence of mobile, gaming, and traditional Hollywood spectacle—but people are still trying to discover how to author it. Some people take a more filmic approach, while others are designing game interactions—but it isn’t directly analogous to either medium. It’s a hybridization of the two, and that’s really mind-blowing. As people experiment, the storytelling will only evolve…and it’s going to impact everything.”

The Future Is Already In Our Pockets

In order to start experiencing VR, educating your teams, and building innovative stories for your brands, you need only to reach into your pocket, open your app store, and dig in.

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