Issue #15

Empathy VR

How brands are making emotional connections through immersive VR.

As the novelty over virtual reality begins to wane, event marketers are thinking more strategically about how they leverage the immersive technology. They’re incorporating multisensory elements like moving chairs, wind and scent. They’re creating group virtual reality activations that give an experience an extra boost of energy—and fewer queue lines. And they’re taking advantage of the principles of storytelling to bring campaigns to life and, as a result, creating virtual engagements designed to move audiences. VR to generate empathy is the latest trend wave to hit the space.

For Sierra Club, VR has created an entirely new medium for communications, because the natural world—its beauty and its challenges—begs to be experienced in person. The organization recently reported on a study by researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of Connecticut and Stanford University who created a virtual reality experience complete with physical touch and vibrations to bring to life the plight of deteriorating coral reef (a technique they called “body transfer). The participants and a control group (which “imagined” the issue) each took a survey, and those who participated showed more compassion and “active concern” for the environments than their peers. “The effects also lasted for at least one week,” the report reads. Lasting impressions? Top of mind? Check.

Also taking on environmental empathy is Häagen Dazs, which created a VR film (set for release in June) focused on the impact and plight of honeybees called “The Extraordinary Honey Bee,” which supports the brand’s Häagen Dazs Loves Honey Bees CSR mission. The footage was shot in Chowchilla, CA, at an orchard where the brand sources the almonds for its flavors, and features dramatic narration, stunning up-close shots of honeybees at work and then, visuals of shrinking flowers and environmental impacts.

Excedrin leveraged VR to eliminate a pain point (beyond the physical pain) among its consumers who suffer from the debilitating headaches and their effects. Excedrin wanted to help its consumers help others understand what it feels like to have a migraine, an often-misunderstood affliction. It created The Migraine Experience, VR content that replicated symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound, disorientation and aura visual “disturbances.” For the program, migraine sufferers were invited to nominate a friend, colleague or family member to experience it, and an augmented reality technologist programmed the simulator to replicate that person’s specific symptoms. The footage of the VR trial was filmed for content. The results? Emotional.

At the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting, Aqua Pharmaceuticals had dermatologists step into the shoes of their teenage patients to experience the stress of “picture day” for a teen with skin issues, like acne, through a VR experience. The content follows a female student’s journey through the halls of a high school as she laments her skin problems in front of a locker mirror, and tries to ignore looks and whispers she feels are directed towards her as she approaches a classroom door and realizes it’s yearbook photo day.

It may have been decades since some of the dermatologist-participants had walked the halls of a high school, but the content, with its realistic scenarios and audio, helped transport them right back into those teenage insecurities—and then consider Aqua Pharmaceuticals’ products for the patients afterwards. Content the supports the bottom line? Success.

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