In 2015, virtual reality slowly began its emergence from Gartner’s “trough of disillusionment” after early hype—embodied by names like Second Life, There and Vivacity—proved to be too much, too soon for many users and brand marketers alike.
Today, other names, like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard, have driven a whole new wave of 360-degree experiences that do more justice to both “virtual” and “reality”—with immersive, photo-realistic or full-motion video environments that are famous for throwing off equilibrium. Indeed, so far tending to be less like a first-person videogame, and more like a wrap-around-movie, VR can be an out-of-body experience as users' brains try to make sense of the virtual verisimilitude.
But once they do: WOW—to the point that investment bank Piper Jaffray predicts the market for VR content could top $5.4 billion by 2025. And brands have taken notice of all the buzz in a very big way.
While VR’s cousin AR (augmented reality) has seemed to momentarily lose a little altitude in recent campaigns, virtual reality marketing is ascendant—and accelerating.
Not that it has all been pure magic. But it’s been “magic enough” to point to promising things in the year ahead.
For now, some outstanding initiatives from what has been a very big year for VR.
GEN WOW AWARDS: TOP 10 VIRTUAL REALITY CAMPAIGNS 2015
10. OCEAN SPRAY: 'THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HARVEST'
Ever wanted to experience a cranberry harvest up close? Me neither. But the bright red spectacle of flooded cranberry bogs is a breathtaking, if rarely seen, event. Enter: Ocean Spray’s “Most Beautiful Harvest.” It’s online for now, and apparently optimized for Oculus headsets. But still worth checking out.
9. DIOR: DIOR EYES
The House of Dior goes high tech with a virtual reality experience—provided through, one must note, a Dior-branded VR headset—that drops you into the backstage world of a runway show. Of course, the thought of fashionistas wearing geeky headsets is fun in and of itself.
8. MINI USA: 'BACKWATER' & 'REAL MEMORIES'
MINI USA is big on short online films featuring its cars, so it made since that the brand would be among the first to take 360-degree video for a test drive. Two such films, “Backwater” and “Real Memories” are definitely worth a gander. For whatever reason, I and a few other people I know found the video slightly out of focus, requiring that I pull the viewer away from my eyes. More importantly, while the 360-degree view was more immersive than standard video, IMHO it doesn't add much to the proceedings. On balance, however, this is a noteworthy effort that could mean great things ahead—as does a new 360-degree trailer (released today, but specifically made for the new Samsung Gear VR headset that launched today) for the upcoming VR companion to 20th Century Fox’s hit film, “The Martian.”
7. NEW YORK TIMES: VR CAMPAIGN
MINI USA released “Backwater” as part of an ambitious VR promotion from the New York Times. The campaign was part of an effort to launch a new series of virtual reality news videos that have included an 11-minute documentary called “The Displaced,” about the global refugee crisis, and a VR film released earlier today on vigils in Paris in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks. My favorite: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of a New York Times Magazine cover. In a way, this campaign has done more than any other to push VR into the mainstream. How? By sending more than 1 million Cardboard VR viewers to subscribers. Respect—and a heartfelt "thank you"—to The New York Times.
6. PATRON: 'ART OF PATRON'
Hell, Patron is more likely to have many of us seeing double, let alone bothering to futz around with VR goggles at the same time. Throw in a bee’s eye, 360-degree camera view, and this is an immersive experience that is perhaps better enjoyed before the imbibing begins. But worth it, all the same.
5. TARGET: 'THE HOUSE ON HALLOW HILL'
The idea behind this VR experience (along with Target’s “Ghoulish Graveyard and “Candy Carnival”) had me thinking a lot about “Hotel 626,” that super-creepy online game from Doritos' Snack Strong Productions several years back. In my second book, THE ON-DEMAND BRAND, I talk about how this photo-realistic haunted house came complete with hair-raising moments like finding your photo on a wall of victims (due to a photo slyly snapped at a surprising moment using your computer’s own camera) and mid-game calls to your mobile phone to truly freak you out. Target’s family-friendly, purely 360-degree video-based VR is nothing like that. But it still made me think about how gobsmackingly terrifying “Hotel 626” and its sequel “Asylum 626” could be in the VR age. Not that anyone’s hinting, Doritos.
4. MARRIOTT HOTELS: 'VIRTUAL POSTCARDS'
Marriott Hotels continued its "Traveling Teleporter” initiative this year, with a VR booth that included "4D" elements—not just visuals, but heat, wind and mist. And it launched a new, cross-selling “VR Postcards” series that enables guest at the chain’s New York Times Square and London Park Lane locations to order up "VRoom Service" for a Marriott-branded headset that helps them “visit” Beijing, the Chilean Andes and more.
3. AT&T: 'IT CAN WAIT' DRIVING SIMULATION
AT&T has been getting a lot of buzz in recent weeks as one of the first advertisers to take advantage of Facebook’s new 360-degree advertising solution. Its entry put viewers behind the wheel of up-and-coming race car driver Ben Albano. But I liked this moderated, public service-oriented VR experience, which showcases the potentially deadly consequences of even glancing at your mobile phone while driving. A nice (or more accurately, chilling) complement to the campaigns’ immensely powerful “Close to Home” TV spot and its longer-form online video.
2. VOLVO: 'VOLVO HOLOLENS' & 'VOLVO REALITY'
Okay, I'm cheating a bit on this one. Volvo just released this video promoting a cool new AR/VR initiative with Microsoft HoloLens to help sell more cars. But the far simpler Google Cardboard “Volvo Reality” experience (above) works at a more emotional level. Technically this came out late last year, but I first tried it out in early 2015 and it has remained one of our favorites throughout the year). In talking to Framestore, the company behind this experience, I learned that developers have discovered having some kind of set track versus full autonomy, and anchoring the user with a “vehicle” of some kind, helps the brain orient to the environment far more easily. If this app is any indication, they couldn’t be more right. A virtual test drive that’s virtually amazing.
1. QANTAS: 'VIRTUAL DESTINATIONS'
This is either instant justification for the VRevolution, or a sure sign of the Apocalypse. Perhaps a bit more intuitively than Marriott’s cross-selling effort, Qantas whets your appetite for exotic locales by planting you there in 360-degree splendor. My simultaneous wish and fear: Once companies start producing VR content like this that lasts not minutes but for hours on end, the human race may just opt out of the “reality” part of the equation all together—at least when they aren’t physically going to these amazing locales.
This gamified VR experience promoting "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" launched Dec 2, after, we'd posted our roundup. And it might have forced a revision in our list, pardon the pun, if it gave us just a little bit more in this first installment. But we can't wait to see what unfolds next, nonetheless.
Which VR campaigns made your list? Which should we add to ours? Please share!
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