Who Cares About VR and Can You Eat It?

Janne Itäpiiri, Creative Director, Zoan

Brand Canyon is an imaginary place where you can find all the brands that fell when they couldn’t combine marketing, brick & mortar stores and internet – not to mention social media. Plenty of large department store chains around Europe have ended up this road. Working in an advertising agency 10 years ago, I was trying to get the customers to see this approaching pitfall. Others did see it, while others continued like they used to – and look what happened then. Marketing evolves in cycles. Now is the time for virtual reality.

Virtual reality (VR) is an excellent marketing tool. Often people have their doubts about it. The same doubts have existed about radio, TV, internet and social media, before people started understanding how to use them in marketing. You produce content for the VR glasses, like for internet or television. It’s all about how the person experiences the content. There’s nothing new about it.

In the TV era, you used to be alone with your own thoughts with marketing, or at least the social groups were smaller. You had the news and marketing. Advertising was supposed to make you laugh or cry – you were supposed to feel something. You believed in advertisements, you bought things based on them.

In the social media era marketing has been about entertaining, sharing your own vision, telling others who are you. Communications, kitchen sink psychology, friends, entertainment and marketing – all nicely mixed up together. I stopped believing in anything, because there are so many corny marketing campaigns and nobody falls for that anymore. Nowadays, marketing that actually works is hidden, a part of the web. Getting noticed requires surprisingly a lot of money and contacts from the brands in the beginning – but once you get the ball rolling, marketing feeds itself.

Now, at the start of the virtual reality era, you are again supposedly more alone. VR isn’t social, they say. I disagree. VR is essentially a social and emotional experience, that is shared because it’s new and different. It’s the starting point for sharing material to social media and friends in the form of WoM and paid marketing communications.

In the beginning people were sharing things just out of amazement caused by the new technology. VR felt amazing, a bit like a bungee jump at the first time. You would tell everyone about it. Now you need something more that the user would their experience. The content matters again. As the technology evolves, VR will become soon like a teen in puberty, requiring all the attention.

Used along with other media VR is already now a powerful marketing tool. Its power lies in being me-centric. What else would I rather talk about than my own experiences? In social media, in my blog, at work, while having that café latte in the morning… We tend to recommend others the things that made us feel something. VR feels like something your own. It frightens you, makes you laugh, puzzles you and makes you excited. Like you had just done something courageous in real life. We don’t understand everything, but we share it anyways because of the opportunities provided by social media. We also share our opinions.

Virtual technology development also grows VR as media. The growth is driven by Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook amongst others – these companies are investing billions in 3D content. The devices are getting better and better but the content is still the key. 3D models and 360° videos are the core of VR. Smaller, wireless and more affordable devices will make the consumption of the content easier. Today VR multiplay is possible, but in marketing it’s not taken advantage of even though VR is becoming an automatic part of social media.

VR can produce content to other medias. For example 3D, video, still images, stories, blogs and vlogs are amongst the possibilities. What’s slowing down VR-based marketing is the cautiousness caused by lack of information. People want numbers and proof of customers sharing their VR experiences. The evidence already exists. Only the point of view needs a change: VR is not a new invention, it’s a stage of development. TV advertisements were also part of campaigns that needed supporting media to function.

However, its nature was different as its public grew up in a different era and was used to different kind of content. With the use of VR you can create marketing content for other medias, from social media to TV and outdoor advertising: for example a video with VR content, a recording of the VR experience or parts of the experience in 3D or picture form. Word of Mouth is a part of VR marketing, people share their different experiences, and discuss them. The amount of devices is also increasing, so if you still don’t have technology that would enable a VR experience at home, within a year you most likely have.

I strongly believe that VR is social entertainment marketing, when understood and used correctly. It’s hard to picture a bigger change in moving image. Stories, social media, VR and artificial intelligence are the pages of the same chapter. Finding a right way of thinking to utilize this is important. We can find solutions by cooperating with professionals from different fields. The meaning is to entertain, influence and help users, regular people, to share their stories and also help companies to avoid falling to the Brand Canyon.

Janne Itäpiiri
Creative Director,

Original article (in Finnish)