Virtual reality’s role in experiential and content marketing

This post is contributed by Aaron Schneider, Creative Director at Epsilon

SXSW Interactive is the place for experiential and content marketing.  At this year’s conference, virtual reality (VR) is coming to the forefront. Brands are proving that there are  new, creative ways to utilize virtual reality in experiential and content marketing. Making VR accessible and going beyond passive experiences is increasingly important as brands look to use VR for immersive storytelling that connects with consumers on a deeper level.

If you haven't experienced any of the VR apps yet, there are a few different experiences in play. The "movie theater" experience is completely transporting. Within seconds, you are in a room with menu items allowing you to choose a destination, fly over a city, or stand in a 3D-rendered environment. There are also new point-and-click games leveraging the technology, allowing storytelling to become immersive in a whole new way. Adding headphones to the mix further enhances the feeling of being transported. As manufacturers expand the types of peripheral inputs available for interaction, the curated experience quickly moves from "wow" to "wow, you've got to DO this."

I was able to try out two new branded VR peripheral devices at SXSW 2016. Here’s what I experienced:

The brand: McDonald's

The setup: tethered headset in a walkable cube space, headphones and two handheld remote-type devices with triggers and thumb swipe functionality.

The experience: You’re standing in the middle of four floating walls, which resemble the inside of an oversized happy meal box. Designed to inspire creativity, it's your blank canvas with a couple spinning targets added for fun and a place to focus.  You start the experience by creating your paint masterpiece with a paint ball shooter. You can swap colors and then choose between painting tools—shooter, line laser or broad paint brush. The laser and brush allow you to paint in 3D space. No longer tied to a flat surface, you are literally walking around in your creation. When complete, you're invited to snap a flat photo of your favorite composition, which is printed on the spot for you. A kiosk invites you to socially share a time-lapse gif of yourself walking around the cube, as if you were a spectator at the space, not what the user was seeing.

The brand: Samsung 

The setup: Samsung 7, an Oculus Gear VR headset, noise-canceling headphones and a video game controller.

The experience:  After tweeting at #VROnDemand a member of the Samsung street team brought virtual reality to us. Once equipped with the aforementioned gear, you’re transported in to a video game. You’re sitting in the machine gun pod of a space ship, looking around to target fly-by enemy ships using your controller. The added functionality is second nature for gamers with the triggers and buttons of the game controller in your hands. This helps ease the navigation and enhance game play with the familiar. While not as immersive as the McDonald’s VR experience, this accessible form of VR was arguably equally engaging.

While these are just two examples of the endless possibilities VR can create – what should marketers and content creators consider when creating these experiences for your brand?

  • Understand what role  VR has on the story you are trying to tell
  • Give the user a role to play, whether that’s creating something new or customizing the world around them.
  • How does your story unfold in a 3D space? Provide or curate moments of discovery to engage the user on a deeper level.
  • Consider the output and shareability of these experiences. How can a user share what they just created, learned, or experienced?

Consumer excitement is high when the headsets come off. Marketers must capitalize on this in a responsible, brand appropriate way that provides a highly individual and emotional experience for consumers.  It’s important to avoid the obvious applications that simply explain or sell product features. If a consumer has committed to putting on a headset and wants to interact with input devices, we need to enable them to unfold a rich story that is memorable and shareable.