by Mike Silver (@stretchmike) As we enter the busy festive period, we as marketeers are once again faced with selecting the latest and greatest trends to try and entice the modern consumer. As with any trend in marketing, clients get whipped up into a frenzy about what their friends at another corporate are doing. They might compare themselves to their compatriots abroad, self-conscious of the ‘developing’ tag that gets attached to our economy. Reactively, agencies around the country will receive briefs to do ‘x’.

Previously ‘x’ has included flash mobs, vending machines and the elusive other Vs (viral video). Today, VR marks the spot for many brand teams. Before we as agencies take the ‘red briefing pill’ this festive season, for the sake of ourselves and our clients, I implore you to pause and ask two simple questions:

VR: Why, why, why?

Questioning the reasons for why we do what we do is rarely done in the ad game. In a world of shrinking margins and hyper-competitiveness, most of us are just grateful to receive the brief. Truth be told, we are also not too dissimilar to our clients, wanting to jump on a marketing trend at the earliest opportunity to help with the development of a slick case-study video.

If we look at the first widely circulated (dare I say viral) VR campaign, it’s clear to see how the concept, medium and execution worked perfectly for the brief. When the hotel chain, Marriott, wanted to engage millennials needing to consider a honeymoon getaway, it cleverly waited outside New York City Hall to send newlyweds on virtual honeymoons and entice them with vouchers and global hotel options — after all, if the groom was cheap enough to get married at City Hall, he had no excuse not to splash out on a trip! This worked perfectly: engage target market in need (just married), provide incentive in a feel-good moment (vouchers), and create and distribute unique content globally (viral video).

Marriott knew it had a winning formula and didn’t stop there. It looked at creating a real CRM and digital platform that you actually wanted to access (VR postcards), as well as becoming the first group to offer in-room VR entertainment (VRoom Service in partnership with Samsung).

You might say I’ve just contradicted myself as it’s kept using VR, almost for the sake of it. I’d disagree. It was first to market with VR and it then used VR in two very different ways to solve very-specific engagement challenges.

And how?

So what else can we take out of those trailblazers at Marriott? They clearly answered the “why” part. But they also got the “how” right. Clients saying “use VR” is a little like them saying “use radio” or “use magazines”. Don’t get me wrong; clearly media trends are there because of how consumers feel about them (warm and fuzzy). With flash mobs, though, there have been some very underwhelming ones, and simply making use of a channel is not the end in itself. For a great use of flash mobs as a medium, see the Tic Tac “Worst Breath Ever” campaign.

Going back to Marriott, it answered “how” three times:

  1. Use a medium no other brand has used properly (VR)
  2. Continue innovating for cross-channel use (VR postcards)
  3. Be the first to offer VR consumption on demand.


Moving away from hotels, Jaguar tapped into what I call the ‘anti-trend’. Everyone was doing VR so Jaguar thought it’d poke fun at the trend (taking a page from the Kit Kat No-WiFi Zone when everyone was giving away free wifi) with its Actual Reality campaign, where it (literally) pulled the wool over consumers’ eyes on an actual test drive it told them was VR.

So, there you have it. Some easy pitfalls to look out for when your client is looking for some extra-festive VR cheer. With Deloitte estimating that VR will have its first billion-dollar year in 2016, any agency worth its salt is quickly incorporating it into their offering. Unlike the headset content you produce, though, consumers are very real (and so are our KPIs).


Mike SilverMike Silver (@stretchmike) is managing director of Stretch Experiential Marketing ( He established Stretch — a communications agency specialising in developing strategies and concepts for integrated brand-experience campaigns — after working in sponsorship consultancy and experiential marketing in the UK. He contributes the regular “Brand Experience” column, focusing upon broader integrated ‘brand experiences’, to MarkLives.

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