Virtual Reality

How VR Could Cut Toilet Roll Use

LONDON -- VR & AR World -- Marketers ignoring virtual reality (VR) are missing a vital tool in their toolkit, according to Greg Furber, VR director at content creation agency Rewind. Speaking at VR & AR World, one of eight tracks at the TechXLR8 event in London this week, Furber said VR content can better drive home messages and get stronger, more emotional responses from consumers than TV or other media.

"It's the only medium where users are 100% focused, 100% engaged," he said, arguing that the TV experience is constantly interrupted by smartphone and tablet usage. He offered the example of a VR experience that Rewind created on cutting a tree. Users were able to see the tree and also to cut it down, and understand the impact that cutting it down had on the forest. According to Furber, those who experienced it had a far greater sense of the environmental impact and became far more conscious about their own usage of wood products. So much so, that they were more likely to be careful with their consumption of toilet paper rolls.

And it’s not just toilet rolls, Furber was quick to add. He listed a number of examples, including Clouds Over Sidra a film about Syrian refugees created for the United Nations (UN). It resulted in more than twice the donations gained from other UN and UNICEF advertisements.

"It really makes people feel," said Furber, also citing the emotional impact that viewers had watching a VR video created for Icelandic singer Bjork. The video for the song "Stonemilker" is shot along the rocky Icelandic coastline, and would have been quite dull in 2D, but had a powerful effect on viewers in a 360-degree format.

Other examples he quoted included the launch of the Jaguar I-PACE, a new concept electric car introduced to the media via a VR experience. Seventy prominent automotive journalists were brought in to try on headsets and experience the car (which was yet to be built) via VR. Furber ran through a series of reviews from attendees, all of whom praised not only the car, but also the VR experience. The launch was covered in more than 600 articles, got 596,000 views on YouTube and had an "audience reach" of 263 million.

Rewind has also created a VR spacewalk experience for the BBC which has won numerous awards -- though it is yet to be released. But it has been screened at more than 30 events, and been seen by 3,000-plus viewers, according to Furber.

Rewind is now looking at augmented reality (AR) as well. Furber pointed to a new project using Microsoft's HoloLens glasses to generate excitement and value for Red Bull's Air Race.

The Red Bull Air Race is perhaps the fastest sporting event in the world, pitting the world's best race pilots in specialized lightweight airplanes that reach 370 Kmph on a low-altitude slalom "track." For those unfamiliar with the event, here's a quick look.

Despite the speed and risk associated with the event, it's actually quite dull when seen live, according to Furber. That's because safety regulations mean that the planes can't fly together -- they have to go one at a time. So viewers don't get to see how they compare while they are in the air. Rewind solved this problem by using telemetry information to create graphic images of the planes on the HoloLens. Viewers could see how fast each plane was going compared with those that had gone before it, making the experience feel more like an actual race.

Furber was outspoken in his support for VR, offering some compelling examples of VR and its impact. According to him, "VR is a powerful tool [for marketers], and should be in every marketer's toolbox."

The challenge for marketers wanting to use VR is the same it has always been with any new technology. It's fine for the occasional stunt, but for it to become mainstream it needs a broader ecosystem in place. Brand managers would need to know how to use this new medium in the most effective way, how to distribute it and how to ensure that it looks good from production to delivery. They also need to know how to measure it, and they need to know how much it’s going to cost and whether it's worth it.

Right now, the industry is still learning how VR can be used. It's not always going to add value, and you can't just take concepts from 2D video and move them into 360-degree. VR is a medium in its own right, and content needs to be created with its unique attributes in mind.

Distribution is another challenge. High-quality VR uses up a lot of bandwidth, several times that of a 2D video stream. And then there are device limitations: A really rich VR experience needs a headset, and penetration is still very limited.

But as Furber showed, VR can be very effectively used for specific events or commercial messages built around a more conventional advertising campaign. In the short term, those are probably the most likely use cases for virtual reality.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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