Making Waves with Mixed Reality Storytelling

Virtual reality is uniquely suited to help advertisers target consumers in a more personalized, and non-invasive way.

As businesses tackle the process of creating experiences that go beyond the screen, there is a fundamental change in the way brand stories are being told. From virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to platforms we haven’t even imagined yet, this exciting new area of branding is challenging creatives and marketers to bring the best stories to their customers in a natural and non-invasive way.

We call this organic marketing, and it’s a big change from the way brands have approached the customer experience in the past. Emerging technologies like VR are fast becoming consumer favorites, yet many marketers don’t have marketing plans in place to deliver relevant messages that are targeted and highly immersive.

Experience era customers expect brand messages to be delivered in ways that don’t interrupt the VR experience. But putting the technologies and teams in place to design and offer targeted, real-time, and non-intrusive ads across the virtual-reality platform doesn’t happen overnight.

Captivate your customers with VR

If there’s one thing we can learn from ad-blockers, it’s that most consumers will go out of their way to avoid a sales pitch.

The availability and widespread use of tools like ad-blockers have led to a growing intolerance for traditional advertising online. As consumers increasingly ignore traditional ads via ad-blocking adoption, publishers and brands must find a new way to capture consumers’ attention.

Enter VR, which is uniquely suited to help advertisers target consumers in a more personalized, real-time, and natural way. Many brands are already taking advantage of this burgeoning advertising platform in new and exciting ways, which is creating a revolutionary re-engagement trend that is going to change the way a consumer experiences a brand, says Cathy Hackl, VR and AR expert and author of “Marketing New Realities: An Introduction to VR & AR Marketing, Branding, & Communications.”

Cathy points to several companies that have already deployed mixed reality campaigns that give consumers the ability to interact with brands on many different levels. For example, Sephora and Estee Lauder are two cosmetics mega-brands that are putting a virtual spin on the concept of try before you buy.

“These brands have augmentation in their apps where you’re basically able to use their apps to take a picture of yourself and try on the different types of lipsticks and different blushes,” says Cathy.

She says this augmented spin on consumer interactions gives brands the ability to send more offers based on previous engagements — adding value to the entire customer lifecycle while presenting app users with a way to try out new products in a virtual world.

The value mixed-reality experiences will add to retail isn’t limited to mobile apps, either. Augmented reality mirrors are already a success in countries, such as Japan and China, and Cathy expects to see this technology begin to blossom in the U.S. within the next year or two.

“You’re going to start seeing this happen in more places, so when you go to the store you’ll experience the brand in a very different way. Instead of trying on every dress,” Cathy says, “shoppers will soon be able to model in front of AI-powered augmented mirrors, giving them the ability to try on apparel without ever having to loosen a button.”

Such immersive experiences will allow advertisers to tap into emotion-driven and highly targeted storytelling to cut through the noise of a saturated and often-ignored ad space. Brands deploying augmented technology will also have the opportunity to re-engage past customers that may have previously grown numb to traditional advertising channels, like display ads and 2D signage.

Create immersive VR experiences by bringing teams together

Delivering natural and targeted VR ads takes a village. But the lack of integration between marketing and creative teams has created a knowledge gap that inhibits brands from creating and delivering VR experiences that are natural and non-disruptive to customers.

Every company looking to bring teams together to create targeted yet non-disruptive design VRs needs to start by uniting engineers with creatives, says Campbell Foster, marketing director for Adobe Primetime.

“Those are the two key groups that coordinate on those true, deep, interactive, immersive experiences,” says Campbell. “Once brands move a little further down the road, they’ll also want to add media planners and ad-operations teams to ensure that ad incorporation into VR experiences is smooth and seamless.”

Once teams are united, it’s important to adopt a policy of inquiry and learning to determine the best way to shift organizational structure to prepare for VR-delivered advertising experiences. “I would look at finding examples of who’s doing it well and talk to them. Events like Adobe Summit are perfect because you have the CMOs of all the companies interacting and chatting, which is a great way to discover what’s working for similar brands and what isn’t,” says Campbell.

With so many enterprises still trying to figure out what the best approach to the mixed-reality experience is, Campell recognizes pinning down the right solution for any brand is still an uncertainty that’s “kind of like the Wild West.” Still, one thing’s for certain — without integrated solutions in place from both a technological and best practices standpoint, disruptive marketing messages could end up doing more harm than good. That’s why working with an integrated solution across creative and experience platforms is a must.

Don’t disrupt your customers, delight them

The best highly-targeted VR messages will immerse customers in a fun and engaging world that’s completely free of in-your-face advertisements. That means using integrated technology that gives creatives and marketers the tools they need to incorporate ads that are non-disruptive and a natural fit within the overall experience.

To do this, marketers will need technology that’s not only innovative, but clever, too. This is exactly what Kevin Smith, a senior research scientist at Adobe, had the chance to demonstrate at Adobe Summit 2017. The sneak technology called MktgVR combines the power of Adobe Experience Cloud and Adobe Creative Cloud to help brands create ads that organically fit inside virtual worlds.

The presentation featured a demo of a 360-degree virtual experience on the Las Vegas Strip, giving audience members an opportunity to see just how targeted ads in VR could promote brands in a natural, non-intrusive way. It also showed how marketers could use billboards, screens, and other signage in the surrounding environment to market to users across the 360-degree landscape with ads that can easily be replaced based on marketing needs.

Explore endless marketing possibilities with VR

While it’s still early for VR technology, many researchers think the best is yet to come. Kevin says that while the excitement around this immersive tech has traditionally revolved around gaming circles in recent years, more and more brands from diverse industries are coming forward and expressing interest in the business opportunities surrounding VR.

“Virtual reality completely takes over two of your senses,” says Kevin “creating a completely immersive experience.” Smith also points out that many brands are currently experimenting with the idea of engaging senses other than sight and sound by adding movement and touch features. This complete immersion is what separates VR from 2D channels like television, and is where the opportunities for better storytelling arise.

Smith cites several virtual experiences that could very well be advertising disruptors, like hotel walk-throughs from anywhere in the world courtesy of a VR headset and a reliable Internet connection. Opportunities aren’t limited to service industries, either. Hands-on products, like golf clubs, could be tried out prior to purchase. In fact, a player could walk into a store and test a club using a VR headset, and take practice swings at their favorite golf course. Plus, with IoT sensors connected to the club feeding into the VR experience, the player could potentially see how the ball flies and keep experimenting until they find the perfect club.

When it comes to creating completely immersive and realistic virtual experiences, says Kevin, the sky’s the limit.

Coming soon — mixed reality

Without an integrated system to deliver across VR, marketers would be missing out on a growing channel that’s expected to reach more consumers as time goes on. The proliferation of VR headsets, along with dropping prices, is reason enough to begin developing a plan for immersive VR experiences right now.

Cathy says when it comes to the mindset of marketers, failing to understand the shift in content is something that needs to change soon. “We are going to move away from content that is just 2D flat to concepts that are 3D and 360-degrees.” Cathy doesn’t believe 2D is going to completely go away, but says that content is slowly shifting in a more immersive direction.

Ultimately, storytelling beyond the screen is about more immersion and less intrusion. Win back your customers with truly enjoyable ads and messaging that doesn’t feel forced or salesy — which means bringing creative and marketing teams together to create and deliver emotion-driven messages that resonate with customers. It also means taking risks. Don’t be afraid to step outside the traditional marketing box to create captivating messages in a new medium. If you tell a great story, your customers are sure to stick around for the ending.

Read more about immersive advertising in our Beyond the Screen collection.