The range of possibilities in VR makes it an exciting time for those who are involved in content creation
Virtual reality has gone mainstream. At least, talk about it has. The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 recently ran news items on how VR will affect our TV viewing habits in the future and explained Pokémon Go to its audience. Sky has announced it’s built a VR studio, and plans to release a virtual reality app later this year. Companies are investing in the technology and it’s predicted that VR will become an $80bn market by 2025.
So what does this mean for content marketing? Well, it certainly inspires some creative thinking amongst those who want to try out the platform. The New York Times created an immersive film called The Displaced about how 30 million children were forced out of their homes due to war. It was sent out to subscribers, along with Google Cardboard viewers to raise awareness of the situation.
This work won in several categories at the recent Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, including the entertainment category, which was new for 2016 and celebrated advertising that demonstrates the ways talent and storytelling can elevate content into the cultural mainstream.
The campaign clearly shows that virtual reality can bring content to life in a new and exciting way. By offering an immersive experience, VR has the ability to enable brands to create stronger bonds with their audience by giving them an experience that they’re more likely to remember. However, anyone thinking of using this new technology needs to consider just how it will approach VR. Not only does the content have to look the part, but also, as the novelty of the delivery method wears off, the content itself has to be right. That is, right for its target audience – interesting, engaging and relevant to them.
Some brands have already achieved this. Thomas Cook offered people visiting its store in Bluewater the chance to fly over Manhattan – virtually, of course. This was unquestionably a step up from browsing through brochures and the possibilities for travel companies are almost endless – travellers can see inside hotel bedrooms, get a view from the balcony and ‘visit’ nearby tourist spots before deciding where to go on holiday.
VR makes sense for the travel industry. Beautiful images and great experiences are naturally associated with going on holiday. The Instagram influencers that have built careers off the back of posting pictures of themselves around the world are a testament to that. But other brands are also experimenting. McDonald’s recently launched a VR campaign to show consumers where its products come from and how they are made, and you can now shop for luxury homes in virtual reality at Sotheby’s.
The range of possibilities makes it such an exciting time for those who are involved in creating content, no matter what industry it is for. But it is important to remember, VR is another platform, albeit a new and interesting one. Companies using it in its infancy may gain an advantage in terms of being ahead of the competition, and could even win PR off the back of it. But ultimately, it’s the quality of the content itself that is important, and whether or not the message you’re trying to portray resonates with your target audience.
Steve Sponder is managing director of Headstream
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Image: Members of the German Olympic team react as they try out VR headsets in Rio. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images