The Future of VR Marketing

5 min read

In August of 2012 I became a backer of an ambitious project on Kickstarter called the Oculus Rift. This device is a Virtual Reality (VR) headset you wear like a pair of ski goggles, allowing you to freely look around and explore a 3D world as if it’s right in front of you.

When I first tried the Oculus Rift the experience blew me away! I played a demo where you simply ride on a roller coaster through a medieval castle. The turns, hills, and dips all made my stomach drop just like the real thing. It was amazing that this device could provide an experience that brought forward those feelings and emotions so easily.

It was a big surprise when Oculus (The creators of the Rift) announced that they had been acquired by Facebook for $2 billion dollars. At first it seemed like a strange acquisition, but when you consider some of their other recent purchases1 it makes perfect sense.

Facebook is looking for ways to best communicate with captive, engaged audiences. They are aware that as people grow, their interests, devices, and the apps they use shift. As a company they need to follow the trends, and their purchase of Oculus is a bet on where the future is going.

Oculus At GDC

What Is Virtual Reality?

VR is a platform that shares similarities with 3D video and games, but has an added layer of immersion. In movies and television you are often shown the experience of another person and are expected to identify with them through their words and actions. VR allows you to actually become that person, and through your own actions actually create your own personalized story.

An ideal VR experience strives for a feeling of presence. Presence is achieved when the experience of exploring the 3D space is natural, and you truly feel like you are there. This level of immersion comes with a wide range of emotions that you normally can’t achieve in other mediums. The effect presence has on an individual makes it easier for them to empathize with the stories a creator is trying to tell and the world they have built.

Oculus Rift Developers Kit

Marketing With Emotion

Advertisements are inevitable in the world of VR. In its earliest stages advertising will serve as a great way to offset initial costs when first exploring VR development. Many people will consider putting up a virtual billboard on a race track or sporting arena, which is an extremely short sighted way of integrating advertisements.

With the immersiveness that VR provides, we should strive for advertising efforts to be more integrated into the experience. Traditional content marketing is an effective model, so why not make a VR experience the content you are providing?

Movie studios can create interactive trailers, putting you in the shoes of the lead character as they progress through their story.

Realtors can provide virtual walkthroughs for vacation properties, helping you review your options from the comfort of your own home.

A city could use VR to present realistic concepts of how a new sports stadium will integrate with their existing urban planning.

All three of these experiences are unique to the VR platform and provide value beyond what a billboard, poster, or brochure could offer. The promise of a unique experience will help catch people’s attention. Once they interact with the experience, they will feel much closer to the story you are telling. Due to the realistic nature of VR what you are marketing will feel infinitely more real than if simply viewed on a piece of paper.

Game of Thrones Experience

VR Marketing In Action

HBO has been utilizing the Rift to promote the popular TV series Game of Thrones. They partnered with the multimedia agency Framestore to create “Ascend the Wall.”

In this experience you person walks into a giant wooden elevator and put on the Oculus Rift. You see yourself in a rickety wooden elevator, which slowly climbs up a 700ft tall wall of ice. You can look out over the land of Westeros as the snow gently falls in front of your face. Once you get to the top of the wall you have a few moments to take in the fantastic view before the wall is attacked. A catapult launches a firey ball which crashes into you, making you see a bright white light before your virtual self is presumably dead.

Take a look at how Game of Throne’s actress Maisie Williams reacts to her time with “Ascend the Wall”:

You can hear the fear, enjoyment, and wonder in her voice as she clutches on the bars of the elevator. The level of immersion provided by VR makes her feel like she is actually on the top of the wall. The combination of the virtual world, audio, and the physical environment surrounding her achieves the sense of presence that brings VR to the next level. It’s even more amazing when you consider that this project is using outdated prototype hardware, which means the quality of experience is only going to move going forward.

VR Is Just Getting Started

Facebook’s purchase of Oculus shows how much they believe in VR as a big part of our digital future. It’s unlikely that VR will hit the mainstream in the scale of mobile phones, but due to the novelty and quality of experience will be quite popular with certain demographics.

VR marketing is in its infancy, which is a great time to learn about any new technology. If you could create a VR project right now, how would you use it to enhance the stories you are trying to tell? Send a tweet to @levineuland and let me know.


  1. Facebook’s purchase of Instagram for $1 billion and WhatsApp for $19 billion. Both standalone products that had a large user sbase that continues to grow. 

Article images by Sergey Galyonkin, Lars W and Do512 Published on March 26th, 2014

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