6 ways virtual reality can bring brands to life

Now is the time for brands to dive into virtual reality to engage, entertain, and educate consumers.

Photo from Oculus Facebook page

Virtual reality company Oculus unveiled news about its upcoming products and partnerships on Thursday, and – in addition to just being cool – the information should excite brand marketers who can tap into the futuristic technology in imaginative ways.

In the announcement, Oculus discussed its new Gear VR headset that will work with any Samsung phone and start at $99. The company also mentioned strategic alliances with video game publishers Sega, Midway, and Bandai Namco Entertainment, and movie studios 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate.

And let’s not forget its partnership with Netflix, which includes a virtual reality app.

But the video game, TV, and movie industries aren’t the only ones who can leverage VR – it can be used to engage, entertain, and educate consumers across all walks of life.

Here are six ways brand marketers can jump on the VR bandwagon:

1) CSR and good causes
My first (and only) time using a VR device was during the New York International Auto Show in April as part of Toyota’s TeenDrive365 safety initiative. Using Oculus Rift technology, the automaker installed a distracted driving simulator at the show, which allowed me to virtually drive a vehicle while being faced with a deluge of distractions, such as loud passengers and text messages. It was a really fun experience, but more importantly, it was memorable and made me more mindful of focusing on the road while driving. 

At the time, Marjorie Schussel, corporate marketing director at Toyota, told me 80% of people who have tried the simulator said they will drive more safely going forward.

Similarly, on Wednesday, Unite Corporation brought its Arrive Alive Tour to The College of New Jersey, inviting students to virtually drive while experiencing the effects of being intoxicated.

This sort of VR technology can benefit beer and liquor brands seeking new ways to ramp up their responsible drinking efforts, or it could be used as part of a nationwide driver’s education program.

2) Education
Earlier this year, I saw an article about the Savannah College of Art and Design launching a really cool virtual reality program that allowed prospective and current students to experience the school’s locations around the world, including Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, Lacoste, France, and Hong Kong.

And then I saw that the University of British Columbia in Canada recently held a virtual reality lecture for students.

VR technology can open doors for colleges and technical schools to create innovative programs. Organizations, such as Sylvan Learning, could also integrate it into their educational efforts to engage younger generations.

In addition to using VR to inspire engineers and designers, schools can use it for training and safety initiatives. National Grid in Boston, for example, uses virtual reality in maintenance training programs.

3) Fitness
For brands trying to get more involved in wearable technology and fitness, virtual reality is the way to go.

At CES this year, Oculus Rift revealed Runtastic, a virtual personal trainer and exercise program that tracks users’ movements. Along the same lines, Glassfit for Google Glass takes users through workout routines, such as yoga or circuit training.

Zumba also used VR this year to introduce prospective participants to the dance class with a short demo experience, and the creators of the program said almost every person who put on the headset started dancing within minutes.

More brands and retailers, such as Under Armour, Nike, and Sports Authority, continue to dive into fitness technology and VR can help break through the clutter.

4) Hospitality and travel
Marriott launched a VR test program recently in two hotels – one in New York and another in London – called VRoom Service. As a way to bring travel stories to life, the program allows guests to virtually travel to three locations around the world, such as the Andes Mountains in Chile, using a Samsung Gear VR headset.

Virtual reality was also used this summer to give New York commercial tenants a tour of a building being renovated for $60 million that won’t be finished until next year.

This technology can be incorporated into programs for real estate companies or travel agencies as a way to tell current and prospective consumers immersive stories and showcase products and places.

5) Gaming
Gaming – which is how I initially learned about Oculus Rift – is another really important VR sector, and it extends way beyond computer or TV games into the brand realm.

While launching interactive games is not new for companies, VR can add a creative spin to it and engage new audiences. For instance, Wells Fargo has been connecting with consumers around the country with a virtual maze game, which uses Oculus Rift technology. The game helps position the somewhat stodgy banking industry in a more innovative light.

Brands looking to spruce up their image or appeal to a younger, more tech-oriented audience should consider ways to include VR in their next campaign. Even companies people may not expect could jump into the VR mix, such as a food brand launching a virtual cooking game.

6) Entertainment
Last, but certainly not least, virtual reality can be used for pure entertainment. Across the board, VR is about entertaining users, but brands, such as Red Bull, have taken it to the next level.

The energy drink brand launched a 360-degree virtual reality program that gives fans an up-close-and-personal experience of the Red Bull Air Race. Not only are users virtually positioned in the cockpit of a plane, they get to feel what it’s like to go around the turns of a race track at high speeds.

Also, over the summer, the Natural History Museum in New York City showcased a virtual reality documentary that plunged visitors into the depths of the ocean. The immersive film, created in partnership with Samsung, is a great way for the museum to gain media attention and attract new guests.

With virtual reality still maturing and gaining traction, now is the time for brands and organizations to experiment with the technology and take creative risks.