In preparation for the Collusion event at Cambridge Junction in February, we created Gary* and prepped plenty of interactive demo opportunities for Collusion meet up in February at Cambridge Junction. But best of all, we got miked up to talk about about why brands and businesses have so much to gain from Virtual Reality. 

You see, VR has been simmering on the commercial burners for a while now. Even as long ago as October 2015, the Virtual Reality Brand Power Index (commissioned by Forbes) identified an apparently compelling statistic that has been told and retold by many blog writers forever after: more than 75% of the top global brands already had VR projects in play. It’s our view that the statistic is out of date and significantly underestimates the true potential of VR to marketing and communications in the UK and around the world.

Even from our ivory tower (aka. Dales Brewery) in the heart of Cambridge, we can see that commercial interest in VR has gone from strength to strength. One of our clients, AsiaInfo, was an early adopter of VR at exhibitions, from the being the only VR exhibitor at at the Mobile World Congress in 2015, they are now one of many. If the playing field is getting full, it doesn’t mean our clients’ enthusiasm for VR marketing has dimmed.

The core reason for this growing appetite for VR is that it offers one of the strongest story telling techniques available to marketers. If you have a message to communicate, VR enables you to create a completely immersive environment where you can secure the full attention and focus of your audience. This isn’t television or even a 3D cinema experience: VR goes further and can deliver a complete sensory experience.

Of course, the audience has to be willing. It isn’t possible to force people wear a headset and demand that they surrender themselves to the VR experience. Fortunately, VR is a powerful draw for exhibition audiences. As well as being novel (it won’t always be novel) and fun (our VR is fun, but inevitably, someone will manage to create a dull VR world…) amidst the noisy and confusing exhibition environment, VR offers people an attractive opportunity to step away from the mayhem and enjoy a coherent brand experience.

At busy exhibitions, venues and promotional events, brands are only too aware of the clutter and distractions that competes for their audiences’ attention. Thanks to the power of smiles, laughter and general FOMO (fear of missing out, keep up at the back), VR is a powerful draw for people of all ages.

In our experience, VR travels much further than the already tech-savvy crowd. As a strongly visual experience – from seeing the headsets and seeing people’s reactions, to the VR experience itself – VR consistently proves itself to be effective in reaching a diverse, multi-lingual audience. Combined with motion sensor features, it’s surprisingly engaging even with VR virgins and people who self-identify as being ‘scared’ of technology.

The experience, as many at Cambridge Junction can attest, is rewarding. Participants get to enjoy other ‘worlds’ and feel uplifted by the immersive experience. When it comes to sharing and replicating that experience with a wider secondary audience, however, the creatives and marketers have more work to do.

One of the challenges to address in 2017 is to bridge the gap between VR worlds and the wider social media networks. We can do more to help exhibition delegates communicate in a post or tweet what the experience was about. Simply sharing photos of smiling, excited people wearing headsets is not enough to keep the CEO happy. Hosting happy people on an exhibition stand is all very well, but the drive now is to ‘bottle’ that excitement for future purchases and brand loyalty.

Our prediction is that the gap will narrow as voice and data technologies are brought into to capture contact and behavioural data from within the VR experience. Supported with strong 2D visuals, animation and rewards, the social networks will help communicate the brand’s VR experience, ultimately generating a stronger take-up of VR in home entertainment.

* Introducing Gary

We have worked with or supported Collusion on a number of different projects ever since the organisation’s inception. For anyone interested in the potential use of combining, collaborating or exploring the potential of art & technology being put to work together, we strongly recommend their events and labs.

Collusion met at Cambridge Junction on Monday 20 February.