Understanding the real world through VR experiences

Sabrina Medora, Tom, Dick & Harry’s Social Media Manager

Empathy is a powerful emotion that advertising often taps into. With the rise of reality experiences — virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360-immersive videos — brands are now finding new ways to create consumer empathy to make their point.

These immersive reality experiences have the ability to place users in someone else’s shoes and connect them to causes in a very real way. Take a look at these examples:

Virtual Reality: simulation of a 3D environment or image that the user can interact with using sensor-fitted electronic equipment. The environment experienced is one that can be fully interacted with and is highly realistic.

Our favorite case of virtual reality marketing to inspire empathy came out earlier this year. Alzheimer’s Research UK and a virtual reality company called VISYON created an Android app called “A Walk Through Dementia.”

The app assigns everyday tasks like pouring a cup of tea while suffering from the symptoms of dementia, allowing non-sufferers to understand the hardships of the disease.

An example of true virtual reality, this app transports the user into the life of a dementia sufferer and enables the user to shape the virtual world.

Augmented Reality: a view of an existing, real-world environment that is enhanced, modified, or augmented by computer-generated sensory input. The user has limited interaction capabilities, and the environment alters existing perceptions of reality.

Weber Shandwick’s Excedrin AR work is a leading example of augmented reality’s power to inspire empathy. The agency set out to change the misconception that a migraine is nothing more than a bad headache with “The Migraine Experience.”

This app replicates the symptoms of migraines (disorientation, blurred vision, aversion to bright lights, etc.). Their spots portray the emotional reactions of users as they realize what sufferers experience.

360-Immersive Videos / 360-Degree Videos: videos that record every direction of an environment at the same time, ideally using an omnidirectional camera. The user is in control of which direction they want to look but cannot explore further. There is no change to the reality of the environment, only an all-directional look at what exists.

A good example of a 360-immersive project is this moving project done by Wieden + Kennedy for the National Muscular Sclerosis Society. It allowed a lifelong surfer to see the ocean all around him after years of being confined to a wheelchair.

Immersive reality’s ability to inspire empathy has the potential to cause major change. As with all powerful experiences, however, brands must exercise caution when choosing this as a tactic to deliver a message.

Sabrina Medora is Tom, Dick & Harry Creative Co.’s Social Media Manager. Amber Cline, a member of the agency’s Social Media staff, contributed to this article.