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Ipsos Connect UK

How to do VR well, in two steps

Brands will take the bold move and plunge into the unknown, futuristic world of virtual reality...but they must remember two things

How to do VR well, in two steps

I’ve spent the past year helping to create a new brand – Ipsos Connect. Why, when we had perfectly good specialist media and advertising businesses? We did it to align ourselves with people themselves. The fundamental belief that underlines our philosophy is the importance of understanding brands, media, content and communications at the point of impact with people. 

Given the hyper-competitive media environment that brands now operate in, the challenge is to be present, relevant and remembered in the moments that matter. 

But with all the technology and channels available to marketers, the overwhelming issue is making the right marketing choices. Which brings me to this: at what point is it right to take the bold move and plunge into the unknown, futuristic world of virtual reality?

In April, Ipsos conducted a study on consumers’ interest in VR. In a word, they are unconvinced: 66% of our sample felt current VR devices available are too expensive, while 68% said they would need to experience VR first-hand to form an opinion. 

So what’s a brand to do to avoid diving in head first?

Brands need to recognise that VR storytelling is harder than linear, non-immersive video storytelling. The more space you give to audiences with their 360-degree views, the less they are concentrating on your story and the more they are constructing their own. 

Budding VR marketers need to think carefully about the balance between wowing consumers with all the possibilities of VR and the benefits of a more minimal approach. Less can be more; audiences may work harder to create meaning the less information you give them. Brands also need to beware of the "shiny new tool" syndrome and throwing the kitchen sink at consumers. 

Thinking more carefully, there are two fundamental characteristics that make VR special and that brands need to keep in mind.

1. VR is ideally placed to feed and play with our empathetic curiosity.

2. VR has the power to make rare experiences reachable for most of us.

Experiences that would usually be expensive (travelling to Antarctica), scarce (Glastonbury tickets), risky (a sky-dive), or that convey desirable information efficiently (think house-viewings, test-driving a car, choosing paint) seem likely to resonate. 

Humans are empathetic beings. We have an amazing ability to put ourselves into the shoes of others to understand how they may be thinking or feeling. For mass appeal, consumers need to see the tangible benefit of the experiences brands provide, otherwise they won’t be clamouring to buy headsets.

One VR experience I feel would be a winner is that which puts people in the shoes of celebrities. One of life’s interminable wonders is what are their lives actually like? Well, how about spending a week walking in the shoes of your favourite celebrity? Swimming in the pool with David Beckham? For many, this may be the hook that is needed to transport VR into homes. Then brands might get in on the act through smart product placement. 

Brands should embrace VR and take the plunge. But let’s move past the hype phase and make some relevant, immersive and innovative experiences that consumers will be drawn to.

Liz Landy is CEO of Ipsos Connect UK

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