GE’s First Stab at Virtual Reality Takes You Under Water

Exec sees big opportunity for storytelling

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Virtual reality is starting to take shape for brands. Coming off of buzz at CES and Detroit's North American International Auto Show, Whirlpool and Toyota are already betting on the technology. And on Thursday, an executive from GE explained how it wants to create a catalog of content for storytelling using virtual reality.

During a keynote presentation at Mobile Marketer's Mobile FirstLook: Strategy 2015 conference, Katrina Craigwell, global manager of digital marketing at GE, showed off a 3D experience that her brand has created at a recently-launched research center in Rio de Janeiro.

"One of the challenges that we have is that we operate in locations and environments that not many people get to go to," Craigwell told conference attendees. "With things like the visual content on Instagram, video and now virtual reality, we have been able to take people to these environments and bring them into the world of GE."

The 3D experience mimics GE's subsea oil technology, used to collect and discover gas and oil deposits in the ocean. People at the research center strap on an Oculus Rift headset and sit in a vibrating chair while the headset simulates the underwater experience.

Craigwell also said GE plans to build on its current work by creating a catalog of virtual reality content for Oculus and Samsung Milk VR. That includes using virtual reality as a training and sales tool.

The Next Generation of Social Content?
Craigwell also talked about why GE—which arguably not many see as a consumer-facing brand—is bullish on digital and social content.

"Most people know us for things like light bulbs, appliances and things that they see and experience in their homes—they're not necessarily aware that we make jet engines, that we make power generation [and] health care technology," she said.

GE claims to have 4 million monthly followers across its social properties (which include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Yo).

But to gain those followers, GE works with a number of influencers—some of who have worked with the brand on multiple campaigns, per Craigwell.

For example, one program called #GEInstWalk enlisted a handful of Instagram influencers and fans to photograph a GE test facility in Peebles, Ohio. The campaign generated 200,000 social engagements.

"It's a very short list of people that are going to buy a jet engine, but the group of people who influence those individuals is maybe not as traditional as we thought," Craigwell said.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.