One of the greatest challenges in developing branded virtual reality campaigns is determining the value and ROI. Yes, VR technology is awesome but what exactly is the justification for spending valuable marketing money on VR at such an early stage of this new innovation?

“Show me the money!” as they say. So, where is it?

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Virtual Reality for Global Brands 2016 Conference in London last week. Although I had no idea what to expect, the event turned out to be a cozy round table of major brands and leading agencies sharing their knowledge on their efforts with producing successful VR campaigns for their clients and companies.

A lot of information was shared, and the general consensus from both brands and agencies boiled down to a few critical factors, which I found very valuable.

simon_VR_Brands2016 (A photo of Simon Lajboschitz, Ammar Haj Ahmad & Lennart Roosendaal, speaking at Virtual Reality For Global Brands 2016)

VR Engagement & Experience Time

VR & AR is the next logical progression of the internet and content consumption.

However, until VR platforms and devices become more widely used by the general public and become more utilitarian, we still have to focus on campaigns that target the “wow” effect.

This is why, currently, when selling a VR campaign concept to clients, stakeholders and decision makers, the biggest quick wins are Engagement and Time.

VR offers a level of engagement that currently does not exist with traditional media. We live in a world of prime time social media, distraction and shrinking 2 second attention spans. A majority of all digital marketing efforts these days are spent trying compete for this very limited window of opportunity to both, capture attention and deliver a message.

Traditional 2D content, regardless of how strategic or engaging it is, must be viewed from a distance and only offers a limited level of engagement.

When someone engages in a VR experience, however, they are completely immersed, which means that they are completely engaged. Their attention is 100% focussed, you have the ability to both capture 100% of the customer’s attention, and to immerse them in an engaging story from a first person perspective. If the experience is decent, you can be guaranteed to keep their attention for as long as you want the experience to last.

So, getting back to the ROI and Value aspect, this really boils down to how we place a value on an emotion? What is the metric for a positive, physical memory? The answer is difficult, but to formulate this concept into some sort of pseudo-scientific equation, it might look a little like this:

I / E + T + EX = ROI

Basically: Investment / (100% Engagement + 100% Total Immersion Time + Compelling Experience) = ROI (Brand Affinity + Emotion + Probability to Return)

Compelling VR Content

If you have ever experienced VR, you will know the power of how it can create instant emotions. To optimize the engagement and immersion time, it is important to create compelling content that instills positive emotions that align to the brand message. Here are some examples of how brands are applying the formula:

  • Coca-Cola – One of the speakers at the conference, Guido Rosales, presented VR content for Coca-Cola Europe. Coca-Cola’s core marketing strategy is to create happiness. It is no secret that in the 1950’s, Coca Cola was responsible for rebranding Santa Claus into his modern image. When we see Santa, we feel happy. We also equate the red color of his suit and Christmas to the color of Coca-Cola branding.To take this a step further, Coca Cola created a Virtual Sleigh Ride, where users could sit in a real sleigh, put on a pair of Oculus Rift headgear and take a ride with Santa as he flies through the night delivering presents. The experience lasts only a few minutes but gives the user a happy roller coaster ride in the snow and at the end, delivers a positive “wow effect” that had never before been experienced with traditional media.
  • Travel & Tourism – The tourist industry is jumping on VR big time! Several travel companies, such as Thomas Cook and Failte Ireland, were using content channel apps combined with 360° video and branded Google Cardboard headgear to showcase tourist locations that had never before been experienced. A swim with dolphins, climbing sea wall cliffs in Ireland, exploring historical locations where travelers might have a difficult time accessing, such as environmentally protected or limited access areas.
  • Music & The Arts – PsychFi Lab created a musical, Google Cardboard VR experience called #HackthePlanet which showcased an original musical track featuring samples by Simon Boswell (composer for the counter culture movie Hackers) The app takes the user on a psychedelic joy ride into the machine which plays in sequence to the track.The app was launched at the 2015 MCM London Comic Con, and during the event, the app was synced with a live musical performance and the audience was invited to watch the shared experience. The event was documented as a world record holder for the largest shared VR viewer experience by an audience and received a lot of PR.

Educational VR Content

Compelling VR content also has the opportunity to instill emotion and empathy through education. For Example:

  • Social Causes – A Walk Through Dementia by Visyon & ARUK featured a series of VR apps that allowed the user to experience what it was like to have Alzheimer’s and dementia. By using simple Google Cardboard apps and Leap Motion hand controllers, the user is made to feel similar feelings of confusion, disorientation and social anxiety that can be a result of the disease. The experience creates empathy, emotion and awareness that could never be achieved by traditional media. The strong emotion combined with experience time was amazing!
  • Real Estate & Construction – There were several real estate companies that used VR to show customers what it would be like to navigate through a home, a building or a factory from a first person perspective.
  • Industrial Education – There were training apps that allowed oil rig companies to teach it’s employees where the safety valves were and where to navigate in case of emergencies.
  • Military – IC3D Media created an app for the military that taught soldiers sensitivity training by creating social experiences in the battlefield. The soldiers had to engage with people from different cultures and determine how to interact through conversations that could lead to both positive and negative results.
  • Automotive – Luxury automotive companies were showcasing how to build car configurations in VR, how to repair vehicles and to take high speed test drives on the racing track.

Make it Easy

The best experiences are both easy to use and easy to deliver. The technology is new and still not widely distributed, so don’t expect your customers to purchase expensive hardware or go through complex software installations to experience your branded campaign. To get the biggest impact, it is important to put the experience right in front of the customer in the least complicated way possible. According the the attendees at the conference, three efforts had the maximum results.

  • Google Cardboard – The easiest delivery method for VR is on a mobile app using simple Google Cardboard headsets. Usually the devices were branded and handed out for free. Google Cardboard can be easily assembled and works with most up to date mobile phones, so it is the easiest way to deliver content to your customers.
  • Pop Up Displays – For experiences that required more complex hardware, accessories & software, pop up displays were used in strategic locations such as in-store, conventions or shopping malls. This way the experience could be controlled, monitored and guidance could be offered.
  • “How To” Content – Surprisingly, one of the highest traffic sources for the campaigns were when they included tutorial content such as additional websites and videos that showed the user how to use the apps and headgear. A lot of users are still unaware of even the simplest aspects of VR so educating the users is critical.


The final critical factor was that we are still in the very early twilight years of VR, so there are no rules and not many benchmarks. Experimentation is critical and analyzing data and results will lead to some very important understandings. Unfortunately, unless you try new things and take some risks, you will miss opportunities.

Now is really the time to experiment and wow your customers in new ways. At this stage in the game, VR is still new and the results will usually be immediate and positive. The trick is just to be there first and make a great, memorable and emotional first impression.