Is virtual reality really for brands? Watch industry insiders try it out and debate the commercial opportunities

The Drum’s Jen Faull joins a group of brand builders at the offices of VFX studio Framestore to try Oculus Rift and find out how it might work for brands.

“I’m quaking, I’m shaking, I have proper adrenaline rushes and mentally I can’t tell myself it’s not real. It’s not about the fidelity; once you’ve bought into something that’s locked off your senses then you quickly forget where you are and what’s in the room with you.”

This was the reaction of one tester – Rachelle Denton, a community lead at Th_nk – to Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset that Mark Zuckerberg recently purchased for $2bn.

Denton, alongside Abi Ellis, creative director at DigitasLBi; Ariel King, content strategist at Arena; Amy Keane, head of futures at Havas; and Sonia Carter, head of digital and social media marketing at Mondelez, experienced a scene from cult TV show Game of Thrones.

Taken up hundreds of meters in a rickety lift, they walked down a pathway to the edge of a cliff before fireballs hurtled towards their heads.

It wasn’t the 4D experience creators Framestore had originally built it for – with a rumbling floor as you ascended and icy wind blowing in your face – but it was enough to shake knees as well as the misconceptions of some first time users that it might be a bit “crap”, and inspire ideas of how it might be used commercially.

Using it for life's mundanities was out – a heightened experience of a conference call? “That’s just Skype on your face”. A version of Facebook where you could physically experience a friend’s photo? “God, I hope not”. A virtual Tesco where you can do your shopping without leaving the room? “I wouldn’t get that”.

What those who experienced it agreed on is that an application for entertainment, significant moments in people’s lives (such as virtually attending a wedding on the other side of the world) or giving you access to an experience you otherwise couldn’t have are viable routes brands could explore.

King added that, with the limited adoption of Oculus Rift in people’s homes, the main opportunities are in creating places where people can experience it, such as the cinema and amusement parks.

“There are commercial opportunities, but we shouldn’t be looking at the consumer version first, it would be better to look at B2B,” she explains.

Ellis similarly suggests the sponsorship model is one way, in the immediate term, for brands to get involved. For example, Robinsons could sponsor the Oculus Rift screening of the Wimbledon final where users could virtually sit in the umpire’s chair.

“I imagine Coke will use it first. I want to see what it’ll do, because you know it’ll be good,” laughs Keane.

But on a more serious note, Denton muses: “Lots of food and drink brands have these ideal scenarios for enjoying their drink. It is interesting when you think about how Oculus Rift could be used to create a culinary experience.”

However, the potential uses will inevitably change with the evolution of human behaviour.

“This tipping point is something brands need to look at more. Rather than just how to make something VR, it needs to be something that will actually shift and change behaviour,” says King.

Keane and Denton also paticipated in a challenge to design new advertising products for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder and Oculus Rift.

This article featured in the 1 October issue of The Drum, guest-edited by BBH New York founder Cindy Gallop. You can purchase a copy here.

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