September 1, 2017

How Brands Can Use VR to Transform Storytelling

Topline Summary

Marketing has undergone drastic changes in the last 100 years. At the start of the 20th century, advertisers started hooking consumers in new ways, appealing to the psychology of storytelling to sell products. With the recent birth of social media, marketers took this strategy up a notch by further personalizing those messages.

Now, we are on the brink of another marketing revolution. Virtual reality, or VR, seeks to fully immerse consumers, figuratively and literally, providing 360-degree story experiences. Google’s Zoo, which is their creative think tank, initiated a study on VR and is now working on ways to discover its full potential.

Abigail Posner, Head of Strategic Planning for Zoo, boldly claims that storytelling is evolving into storyliving through VR. A student of anthropology, Abigail sees great promise in VR’s ability to connect people and brands on an essential level. Even though VR is more or less in its infancy stage, it may play a critical in both marketing and culture in the near future. [Note: Drew saw Abigail speak at this year’s PSFK conference, a must-attend event for any renegade thinker!]

On this episode of the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, Abigail shares her expert VR insights with host Drew Neisser. She describes some unexpected use cases for the platform and discusses ways in which marketers may soon be able to capitalize on this new technology. You can listen to the episode here. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, check out these sample Q&As from the interview:

Drew: VR has been talked about for years and years and years as the next thing. Are we finally at the point where this is going to become at least semi-mass?

Abigail: I think it’s a combination of a number of things. One is that we have enough experiences under our belt to recognize the value of it, whether it’s gamers playing it, whether it’s porn, whether it’s the fact that doctors are using it. All of a sudden, there’s a range of different worlds that are recognizing its value and it’s hitting mainstream. That’s number one. Number two, as we brought up before, the actual physical headsets themselves are becoming more accessible, whether it’s accessible that we can wear them or accessible price-wise. That helps. And then finally the technology itself is evolving. So it’s becoming finer tuned. It’s becoming more accessible so that we can use it on a number of different platforms integrated into our phones and so forth. It’s a combination of a number of different factors. And then I just think generally we are becoming just more comfortable and agile with what it means to create a story in this space.

Drew: Are there any brands that are using this immersive technology right now that you can talk about and that are paving the way for others?

Abigail: Yes, we’ve seen it in a couple of different genres or categories. One is what R/GA recently launched with Guinness, which is an experience that you can experience inside a convenience store, inside a store that sells beer. And so instead of just giving you a message about the beer, you actually get to experience the shapes and the smells and the angles of beer in a way that you never would have thought of before, really giving you the essence of beer. So that’s one example. I mean whoever thought of getting to the essence of beer in that way?

Drew: How are brands going to learn how to use VR?

Abigail: I think it’s going to be about brands recognizing the role they play and how they want the user / consumer / human being to respond to them. Here’s another example that we created. This is like the ultimate PSA. We worked with The National Transportation Highway Safety Board, and they are trying to do something quite important, quite serious. It is not entertaining whatsoever, and that’s about preventing drunk driving. Probably one of the most critical endeavors that we have today, especially among young people. And so instead of creating the same type of story over and over again, which is, “Here’s what you do when you drive drunk, you hurt people or you hurt yourself.” It wasn’t effective. It just wasn’t doing what it needed to do. The results were just not in, that it was positively stopping drunk driving. Contact lawyers from They said we’re going to create a VR 360 experience where people would themselves experience as sober people, what happens to themselves as they get increasingly drunk.

Drew: How does that work?

Abigail: Where you’re playing bar games for example, and all of a sudden you don’t have the same trajectory you used to, or the sounds that are penetrating your brain are now more muffled and you come across as really funny to your friends. And all of a sudden you realize, which you wouldn’t realize being drunk, how affected you are as someone drunk. And so your cognitive side of your brain goes, “I don’t want to get behind a wheel now because now I can see how affected I am.” So it’s not entertaining as much as it is educational.

Drew: If I’m a brand, and I’m looking at VR right now, what are some of the things that I should be trying to do to capitalize on this burgeoning channel?

Abigail: Recognize that this is not a story-like experience that we’ve ever had before. In other words, it’s not a linear story. It’s not a place where you can message something that has a beginning middle or an end. It is not a space that a marketer can control. Rather, it is a highly sensory highly visceral place, so leverage senses. Recognize that people are going knee-deep in. It’s highly immersive, which is wonderful. It’s highly absorbing, so therefore you cannot be distracted by anything else. But in that experience you have to realize that this is not a place where you can distract them with stories and language. Let them go and experience a world by themselves. There are so many different nooks and crannies for them on Earth, and people want to do that. Let them do that. Give them the opportunity to just kind of see everything from different angles.

Meet the Guest

Abigail is the Head of Strategic Planning and Head of New Business Development for the Zoo, Google’s creative think tank for agencies and brands. As a thought leader, author, manager and corporate executive, Abigail has spent her life catalyzing change and ensuring impact. Whether it is leading brands at DDB and Publicis to new strategic spaces; guiding teams to reinvent themselves with new tools and practices at Google; stimulating organizations to adopt new cultures and modes of behavior; challenging the cultural conversations around beauty; or motivating audiences to reexamine themselves, Abigail sees it her quest to spark novel thinking and lead people to take action on it.

Thanks to her degree in Social Anthropology from Harvard University, Abigail shines a unique, humanistic lens on culture, business and technology that brings fresh perspective to corporate culture, product development, branding and marketing.

What You’ll Learn

  • What virtual reality is and its potential value to marketers.
  • How brands are using VR right now.
  • How VR is changing the ways in which we experience stories.
  • Why VR may be on the verge of a major breakthrough.

Quotes from Abigail Posner

  • We’re evolving from storytelling to story living.
  • If you go back to the essence of branding and brands, it’s all about the role and meaning of a product in people’s lives—giving it something beyond just the functional benefits to a human being.
  • [VR is] going back to the fundamentals of what’s so valuable about brands, which is really getting to the essence and meaning of a brand, of a product in people’s lives.
  • Recognize that this is not a story-like experience that we’ve ever had before…Rather it is a highly sensory, highly visceral place.