Unilever is naturally treating virtual reality (VR) with caution but one area it thinks the medium could make a difference is using it to sell sustainability.
The business is further than most in turning sustainability into a commercial driver, with its sustainable living brands such as Knorr and Lynx delivering nearly half of its total growth last year. However, one barrier to maintaining this momentum is its ability to tell a more vivid story about how it is reducing its environmental impact.
VR could potentially help overcome that hurdle, according to Ukonwa Ojo, senior global director for Knorr, as the business tries to find a strategic role for the technology instead of getting swept up by the hype. “Earlier this year I went to Nigeria and got to visit a school where we helped people cook more nutritious food. How awesome would it have been to take people on that journey with us? That could be an example of how we could use it, allowing people to see certain initiatives in other parts of the world in a much more real sense than they could do today.”
It’s more of a theoretical outcome than a real one at the moment, with Ojo quick to clarify that there are no immediate plans to push VR forward in this way. “[VR] is something we’re investigating at the moment because I think it could be interesting to tell richer stories. But we have to be mindful not to go after it because it’s the shiny new object. It really does need to make sense. It’s an area we’re looking at right now to see where its relevant in the integrated mix to tell the brand story that is in line with the purpose that we’re trying to fulfil.”
VR is fast emerging as 2016’s standout technology for marketers, with the likes of Audi, the BBC and Manchester City, to name a few, all testing its long-term potential in recent months. For Unilever, any early experiments will no doubt inform its ongoing efforts to adapt to the ubiquity of mobile media.
“We don’t always see mobile as cutting down what we're doing on TV for mobile,” said Ojo at The Drum’s Future of Marketing event. For the launch of Knorr’s ‘Love at first taste’ we had the same long-form content we had on YouTube and other channels, but there were specific channels where we had related content but very different and a very different length. When we went about it [content creation] from a different perspective we found that it [the campaign] worked a lot better].
“There were times actually when we though that a five or a 15-second spot would work better but when we looked at the analytics people wanted to watch all three minutes. When we tested that long-form ad on Facebook it was a lot higher so we actually shut down the shorter version and ran the full length one.”