VR is the shiny new toy of the marketing world. All kinds of brands have experimented from food to fashion to travel, so it’s by no means limited to tech geeks. In a world where we’ve seen it all, this is a jazzy new way for brands to dazzle consumers and show they’re ahead of the game. Boiled down, VR is essentially another storytelling tool, but due to high costs, there’s even more pressure for the narrative to be effective.

A recent study found that people are more likely to buy from brands that use virtual reality. Primarily, this is because people like brands who have the balls to give it a go. A Greenlight VR survey revealed 71% of people thought VR makes brands seem “forward-thinking and modern.”

So when does this work best? For high-end products or experiences that seem almost unattainable: enter aspirational VR. Travelling is personal, often emotional, and damn expensive, so it’s no surprise that planes, trains and automobiles have been some of the first to play with VR. The average consumer may never afford to drive a Mercedes along Pacific Coast Highway or fly business class on a United Airlines flight, so these brands gave them the opportunity to do so. Marriott has also been dabbling in VR where users were enveloped by full-body experiences, including a sprinkling of water from the Hawaiian coast. VR provides consumers with a titillating taste of luxury without the price tag. If it’s done right, VR can awaken something in the most stingy of customers and they’ll be itching to try it for real.

Brands also use VR to present another dimension to their company. For fashion lovers, Topshop’s ‘Catwalk Experience’ gave consumers the chance to watch from the front row with the industry’s elite. This takes the fashion label beyond a new Saturday night outfit into an unforgettable experience; once the dress has worn out, the memory will remain. With TOMS, for every product purchased they help a person in need, but it’s hard to get this message across through a pair of shoes. So, through VR, users could travel to a remote village in Peru and witness one of TOMS ‘giving trips’. This really pulled on the heartstrings and was a reminder that a TOMs purchase is also an act of altruism.

 

VR is also a great way to show that a brand has a sense of humour (regardless of whether they even need the PR). Ikea’s virtual kitchen meant that users could poke around someone else’s home (a voyeur’s dream) and also have a go at slinging meatballs. Whereas Oreo created an animated ‘Wonder Vault’ that took users through a Willy Wonka style land full of gushing milk rivers and chocolate canyons. Why? It doesn’t even matter – both went viral.

It’s also important to remember that VR can be wonderfully creative as an art form beyond the ridiculous and plain absurd. Last year, Somerset House worked with Icelandic singer Bjork to curate an exhibition around her new album. Users were treated to a 360-degree Bjork immersion as she danced around each viewer. In one room, users were plunged into the dark pink depths of Bjork’s mouth, where her pulsating vocal chords and tongue undulated above.

The overarching goal of VR is to provide an empathic experience so consumers can really ‘feel’ a brand in a tangible way. For any brands looking into VR, remember quality is of the utmost importance; the stunt won’t work if the VR doesn’t feel authentic. Brands can’t cut corners with VR – they need to spend the cash. Something else to consider is distribution as these experiences require consumers turning up to an event, or at the very least, downloading an app. Getting the word out is more important than ever, and the experience has to be enticing enough to convince an RSVP or the click of a ‘download’. Brands have to shout loud and make access to the experience as easy as possible. I mean, without an eager audience ready to delve into the world of VR, what’s the point?