The Right Way to Use VR at Events

If you’ve watched mainstream media recently, there’s a good chance you’ve caught one of Samsung’s many VR-related ads. The premise in these ads is simple: a diverse group of people put on virtual reality headsets to experience VR for the first time—while others watch in amazement.

With this kind of public perception of VR, it’s not surprising that there’s been a big push to toward VR integration at event experiences. But unlike what you see in the commercials, the reality of consumer engagement with VR is not as straightforward as unpacking a christmas gift. People have a range of reactions and takeaways when engaging with VR and adding it your event requires more than just inserting the latest headset into your activation.

Here are 5 ways to successfully integrate VR at your next event:

1. Manage Expectations

Go to any event and there’s a good chance you’ll see multiple VR-enhanced activations. But just because VR integration is becoming more common, doesn’t mean that attendees are comfortable with the technology. As Samsung’s commercials show, by and large, the general population hasn’t had much interaction or experience with VR. And that means they don’t know how it works, what to do, or even what to expect once they’re wearing a headset.

To use VR effectively at your event, it’s important to manage the expectations of both you and your attendees. Remember, VR is like any other new medium. A VR experience on its own may not be as big of a draw as you expect, and event guests will most likely need guidance and help to figure out how the technology works. To deliver on expectations, you’ll likely need dedicated brand ambassadors to promote, explain and facilitate your VR-powered activation.

2. Offer Interesting and Relevant Content

When it comes to using VR the right way at events, marketers need to specifically design dynamic content that work for the VR medium. After all, if you don’t quickly hook attendees with something compelling and interesting, they’ll move on to another experience that does. On the bright side, ‘interesting and relevant’ may be something as simple as delivering a new perspective or adding an unexpected element in a way that only VR can offer.

Some of the best VR event experiences I’ve been a part of add an element of surprise or thrill that bring to life a brand’s story. Case in point: the Anheuser-Busch Immersive Reality Budweiser Brewery Tour at SXSW 2016. Attendees donned VR headsets to take a multisensory tour of A-B’s St. Louis brewing facility where they saw, heard, smelled and even tasted how Budweiser is made. By using VR in a clever, creative way, something as seemingly simple as a factory tour became an exciting, immersive experience.

3. Make it 4D

Many unsuccessful VR event activations offer a few VR headsets and a couple of spinning chairs. In these activations, attendee activity is typically limited to rotating around on the chairs to check out a 360-visual.

A more successful way to use VR at events is to make it 4D – that is, using all the senses, not just sight and sound. For example, at the Samsung Gear VR lounge at SXSW 2016, attendees wore VR headsets and were strapped into motion/rocker seats arranged on risers. Then a VR roller coaster experience took attendees through a series of drops, twists and turns so realistic that their screams could be heard outside the lounge. I’m an avid roller coaster rider and it couldn’t have been any more realistic!

A 4D VR activation doesn’t have to be as big and bold as Samsung’s to be successful. There are less splashy ways to involve multiple senses to make your VR experience more effective and positively affect participation in a big way. At events like E3 and SXSW, I have seen attendees lined up for hours to partake in 4D VR experiences.

4. Keep it Accessible

VR integration at events comes with a series of challenges. One of the most important hurdles is to make the VR experience accessible to more than one person at a time. Even with multiple headsets, there’s a limit to how much throughput can be achieved. One solution is to simply use VR as a fun experience enhancement, like an arcade game at an evening event.

Using VR the right way at a large-scale event, like at a tradeshow, just requires additional preparation and planning. One way Sparks has helped clients expand their VR activations is to create a separate viewing area equipped with monitors and mirrors. This kind of set-up gives attendees a glimpse of what to expect and entices visitors to participate.

But the biggest benefit is that it allows the VR experience to extend to passersby or those waiting to participate – making a traditionally one-to-one VR experience both accessible to a larger group—and extending the length of the total encounter.

5. Don’t Let the Technology Overwhelm the Message

Just because your VR activation is successful in engaging high volume attendees, it doesn't mean VR integration was successful at connecting your brand with that experience. How many times have you told a friend about a hilarious advertisement and then had trouble remembering who the ad was for? The same pitfall exists for VR.

Make sure your dynamic, 4D content is also interwoven with your branding message so that the experience doesn’t overwhelm the message.

Any way you slice it, VR integration is heating up in a big way, so much so that major amusement parks , home gaming consoles and even movie theaters are getting in on the game. With all this attention, it makes sense that you would look to VR to add flare to your event. But when you do, just make sure that you are using it correctly. With a VR activation that is thoughtfully designed, you’ll be more likely to achieve a return on your objectives when the headsets come off.

Posted by Barry Walton | Request as a Speaker