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VR and AR: Three brands bringing it into focus


Who says brands are still hazy about the benefits of VR and AR in their customer outreach? Early brand adopters continue to learn, and they say a clearer picture is coming into focus as to its best uses.

Here is a look at how three marketers are using VR and AR technology.


With one of the most beloved in-store experiences, Starbucks sees the value in AR. “It provides so many opportunities to engage and delight customers in unexpected ways,” says Emily Chang, SVP and CMO for Starbucks, China.

For example, Starbucks locations in China celebrated the Year of the Dog during Chinese New Year by featuring merchandise in the store of cute characters that customers could then bring to life via AR.

By scanning the Starbucks Siren logo upon entering a store with their smartphones, one of 12 tailor-made greetings would welcome customers to the store. “A little dog would appear on their phone, and extend the customary New Year’s gift of a red envelope or ‘hong bao’ with money it,” Chang says. “The digital cash from this gift would automatically slot into the customer’s digital wallet, available for use on the next purchase.”

Starbucks is also using AI in its new retail concept, Reserve Roastery, which aims to provide an immersive, all-sensory customer experience.

At 30,000-square-foot Reserve Roastery in Shanghai customers can use the “Starbucks AR Experience” and “take a self-guided tour, simply by pointing their mobile devices at key features like the two-story copper cask. They’ll virtually see the beans resting inside, and learn about the process of coffee roasting,” says Chang.

She says the app is really “about crafting delightful, online-merges-offline customer experiences. This is really how our customers experience the world today.”

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) has been using VR since March 2016, when it introduced the Vegas VR app.  It features 360-degree mobile video of dozens of only-in-Vegas scenes. But viewers can also strap on a cardboard viewer or VR headset for a more immersive experience, such as zip lining down the Fremont Street Experience.

Cathy Tull, LVCVA CMO, says in giving people the closest thing to being there, the travel authority is attracting new visitors to the city. In terms of engagement metrics, “the Vegas VR app ended up being a really successful tool for us,” she says.

Vegas VR can be downloaded on Google Play and iTunes, and the LVCVA uses the app for B2C and B2B activations.  In partnership with Virgin Holidays this year, the LVCVA opened a pop-up experience in London offering a sweepstakes to Vegas.  The pop-up included velvet-draped pods where consumers could experience the app.

Devin Aaron

“There is a tendency for brands to overthink and overcomplicate VR,” says Tull. “But the London activation was simple, yet one of our most successful.”

LVCVA also uses the app at trade shows for travel buyers, plus AR to create GIFs of attendees in virtual Vegas backgrounds, which can be shared on social media. Tull says AR mechanisms are easy to deploy, popular with attendees, and allows for additional measurement tracking via social.

She shares a word of caution, though: Be sure you have content chops before creating your own VR app. “We had a base of content to get our app started, but it was so successful that we ended up on this hamster wheel of content creation for awhile,” she explains. “You don’t want to realize you don’t have enough content to feed it. You need a library of content.”

FM Global

Given the media attention around VR and AR, you might think the technologies are largely a consumer play. Not so. FM Global, a commercial property insurance company, partnered with Ogilvy on an AR experience called “Resilience is a Choice.”

Launched at a conference put on by the Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS) in San Antonio earlier this year, the AR activation simulated what the damage would look like if the room you were in was suddenly rocked by an earthquake.

FM Global Earthquake Simulator from Michael Paterson on Vimeo.

“We didn’t set up the scene that was about to unfold for people, so it really became this visceral experience for them. They thought they were looking through a regular window in the FM Global booth, when suddenly the conference wall in front of them appeared to be collapsing around them,” says Rob Davis, Ogilvy USA’s head of digital capability. “It was a great way to bring home the message of how unexpected a catastrophe can be and the damage it can cause.”

The app was a hit for the company, creating sales leads and driving earned media engagement. As a result of the AR earthquake simulator, FM Global emerged as the most talked about insurance company at RIMS by far, with a 70% share of voice on Twitter.

Meanwhile, a video of the experience, which captured people’s reactions to it, racked up 500,000 views in just two days.

Why to use VR and AR

For its utility. “It can allow you to harness the power of the smartphone and help consumers imagine using or experiencing your product,” says Ogilvy’s Davis. “That to me is where we see a lot of excitement, especially with AR because it is very much digital behavior and we know how to track it.”

To delight. “Make sure you are leveraging AR and any other tool, digital or not, with strategic consideration, always putting the customer first,” explains Starbucks’ Chang. “It’s not about a shiny toy, it’s about deeply understanding the customer, gaining insight into what might delight and surprise, and then bringing just that and more to life.”

To highly target. Especially for B2B marketers with big-ticket products and services. “It can really work well in a narrow field with a core, expert audience,” notes Michelle Carney, VP of original content and branded entertainment at Ketchum. “For instance, a medical imaging manufacturer, could use it to target radiologists at trade shows and conventions, in a way that sets them apart from the rest of the field.”


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