Virtual Reality: Marketing Trick or Treat?

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Amber Osborne, CMO at Doghead Simulations (and @MissDestructo to her 40,000 Twitter followers) knows virtual reality. This Halloween, she reckons it’s time to open the Pandora’s box let the possibilities loose. It turns out the future of consumer marketing’s not so scary after all.

If there was a crowd here, I’d ask how many of you have used virtual reality (or VR) in the past. Probably, a few hands would nervously go up. You may be thinking of VR as a Pandora’s box – there’s plenty of fear surrounding this developing technology. People have many questions around the existence and uses of VR: “Will it make me sick?”, “Will it be too expensive? Where are the consumers?” and, my all-time favorite, “Isn’t it going to just be used for porn?” But are we, as marketers, scaring ourselves out of the reality that VR might just be one of the greatest new treats in our bag of tricks?

Most people have tried a form of virtual or augmented reality (AR) without knowing what it was. We’ve all played with a Facebook or Snapchat filter. Remember the Pokemon Go craze a few years back? Pokemon Go used a form of AR, and as marketers we saw something special happening. People were getting off of their couches and exploring their cities, all while playing the game. Thanks to this, businesses, especially small ones, had a new way to market, offering specials and discounts for players frequenting their locations in search of rare Pokemon characters – characters that only existed on their phones, and, in reality, might have been in the men’s restroom.

VR is becoming more than just a trendy new toy or entertainment system to play games on. It isn’t a future thing, it’s here and already being used in incredible ways. VR is a way to bring people together, to connect customers with products and experiences in the comfort of their own homes. It can create familiarity with products before purchase, and allow consumers ways to virtually try before they buy. In the near future, I believe we’ll even be A/B testing audiences in VR. Can you imagine being able to prototype expensive products such as cars, stores, and even theme park rides, and test them on consumers in a VR environment before building?

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Recently, Full Sail University (Orlando, FL) built a realistic 3D model of a full scale eSports arena called “The Fortress” before construction, displayed in VR meeting and collaboration software called rumii. It enabled them to give tours and have meetings in the venue before being built.

Believe it or not, VR is already being used in everyday business functions as well – companies are having daily all-hands meetings in VR and it’s popping up everywhere, from product training to human resources; as the price of VR headsets (better known as HMDs, or Head Mounted Devices) skyrockets to under $300, and standalone (without cords and the needing of a PC) headsets such as the Oculus Go, the upcoming Vive Focus and Oculus Quest HMDs become more affordable and available. You could easily have your next conference or networking event without the awkward coffee breath, or for less than it costs to rent a venue nowadays.

So, where’s the full sized candy bar of VR? If you’re a marketer and haven’t thought about VR as a powerhouse storytelling platform, hang your marketer hat up and find another job. VR allows us an endless landscape to create immersive and interactive experiences and tell our stories like never before. The ancients used to sit around campfires and tell tales of lost generations. Entire memories can be recreated in VR, transporting your customers back to times and places to create a focused experience. Now, not only can you tell your brand story in unique ways, you can literally bring the dead back to life. Imagine being inches from your favorite rockstars that have passed on, or being able to talk to loved ones that have gone before. The possibilities are endless when it comes to storytelling in VR.

Which brings me to my most important and overall point; the encore of this performance. If there’s one thing I want you to learn, it’s that empathy and emotion are the cornerstones of a successful VR marketing campaign. In our hands (and on our heads) we have the power to make people experience and feel emotions through VR as never before. 

Empathy as a marketing tool should be used wisely. We have a responsibility as marketers to use this technology properly, not to manipulate, not to just sell or promote, but to educate others on the human experience through the eyes of others; to bring light and perspective and connect consumers further – with causes, brand stories, and product uses. As Depeche Mode sang, “Try walking in my shoes”.  VR lets us do that. Excedrin’s Migrane Simulator experience, for example, allows the viewer to experience different situations from the point of view of people who suffer migraines with the use of disorientating auras, light and sound. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it enables empathy for someone with this affliction.

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And, on the topic of feeling, haptics has added a whole new layer to VR. You might have seen it in the movie Ready Player One, where the VR users wear haptic suits that allow them to feel touch. (I know, get your mind out of the gutter for this one.) We haven’t got that far with the technology at the consumer level yet, but what is being developed is pretty darn cool. A company called HaptX has developed haptic gloves, that let you grab and touch in VR environments. Livestreaming product announcements will no longer mean waiting to feel and try products. Consumers will be able to put on a headset and pair of haptic gloves and be able to feel and hold the newest piece of technology, without having to fight through crowds or worry about dropping and breaking expensive prototypes.

I’d like to think these early VR days are like the first days of rock and roll. People were unsure and almost scared, but when they heard it and let it make them feel something, they had to get up and dance. Don’t be a square when it comes to virtual reality, grab a headset and start creating VR marketing experiences that’ll make your audiences scream in delight.


Amber Osborne is CMO at Doghead Simulations – the company behind rumii, a social-virtual reality space that enables collaboration in VR.

Find out more about Doghead Simulations.

Read more from Amber.

Or follow her on Twitter.


Get your inner ghoul on with our Halloween issue and explore the thrills of marketing, including the adrenalin, fear, love, shock and disgust of the ride. We also have the usual straight talking advice for you and take a peek backstage with our newest rockstars.
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