Is Virtual Reality Just Frothy Topping In Advertising?

The other night, as I was watching Silicon Valley – HBO’s satirical take on tech start-up culture – one of the show’s more memorable characters, the obnoxious Steve Jobs-wannabe Erlich Bachman, said this about the tech world’s latest obsession, Virtual Reality:

“It’s a VR play,” Bachman scoffs. “That’s the frothiest space in the Valley right now. Nobody understands it, but everyone wants in. Any idiot could walk into a f#%king room, utter the letters ‘v’ and ‘r’, and VC’s would hurl bricks of cash at them.”

“By the time they find out it’s vaporware,” Bachman mutters. “It’s too late.”

And just like that, Bachman pretty much summed up my feelings on VR – especially as it relates to traditional advertising.

Virtual Realty Is A Slippery Slope

It’s a conversation I feel is long overdue in an industry infatuated with what’s new and hip and cool, and not always with what makes sense. When it comes to advertising, the topic of VR is a slippery slope: because rather than having an honest conversation about what the client’s goals are – and whether the use of VR technology is the right approach to accomplish those goals – the conversation tends to fixate on the technology itself.

Nobody understands it yet everyone wants in because it’s the new shiny toy in the room. But is that reason enough to use it? My position is: it’s not.

For a while now, I’ve held the belief that Virtual Reality – though effective in certain sectors (namely, video gaming and porn) – is not the right tool to use in traditional advertising. In fact, when it comes to advertising, VR is one of those hip trends that generates lots of excitement for its novelty and potential, but rarely does it move the needle on actual business objectives.

A Few Case Studies

To test my theory, I began looking into examples where Virtual Reality was lauded as a successful tool in a clever advertising campaign.

Straight up, it was hard to find really successful examples of VR in advertising. No doubt, there are many press worthy examples but nothing that links the VR experience with increased sales or brand visibility.

Here are a few “success” stories I found in my preliminary research, which centered around YouTube’s easy-to-see pageview metrics. But as you’ll see, their success appears to center more around execution than number of impressions, at least online.

Patron

The luxury spirit maker takes the audience on a journey of how its iconic tequila is made. The VR tour gives the viewer a bee’s eye view of the entire process, from harvesting and distillation to bottling and packaging. It’s beautifully produced and interesting to watch but, after more than a year, has garnered less than 25k pageviews. Hardly a viral sensation.

The same could have been done without the use of Virtual Reality.  See for yourself:

Mountain Dew

Here’s a “more” successful” VR production for Mountain Dew. What this one does is it allows the viewer to be “immersed” in the experience while giving him the ability to rewind, making something that is impossible in the real world, possible in VR. The reason why I feel this is more successful is that it doesn’t just treat VR as a new screen, but it brings in a level of interactivity, which immediately create an emotional experience for the viewer.

Still, as of June 2017, the video’s only amassed around 200k page views.

A Singular Experience

When I started researching brands that were using VR successfully, I was amazed there weren’t a whole lot out there. The “wins” seemed to boil down to how the technology was being used creatively, with little mention to how many customers it reached or how many sales it generated.

I think this may have something to do with the “immersion” aspect of VR, which allows for a certain WOW factor but doesn’t allow the experience to be shared. Immersion is always a good technique to use when you’re looking to create visceral, memorable experiences. But in the case of VR, it’s a very singular experience. No two people can share the moment at the same time. And so you run into the problem of scaling.

The Multiplier Effect

How can you reach the most amount of people in the most authentic and emotional way possible to obtain the most results with the least amount of investment? The answer most likely is not found in VR.

Don’t get me wrong: I think VR is a great technology, in and of itself. But you can’t sell stuff just by using it. And I have zero faith that it’s going to be more than a just stepping stone for Augmented Reality (AR), which we’re already starting to see in the realm of advertising.

As far as Virtual Reality is concerned, I think it’s a great applications for other things, just not for traditional advertising.

Article by Nick Losq

As the Founder & Chief Creative Officer at StarBeast, Nick thrives on pushing the boundaries of digital technique to create visual stories that draw audiences in. He’s honored to have worked on campaigns for clients including Disney, ESPN, Vox Media, Blizzard, Overwatch League, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Porsche, Acura, Honda, Guinness, HP and more.