Durant image: Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA via Wikimedia Commons
When you’re 6 feet 11 inches tall and shoot three pointers with a silky-smooth touch, you’re bound to get lots of attention as an NBA free agent. That was certainly the case for Kevin Durant during this offseason, who famously spurned the Oklahoma City Thunder in favor of the ultra-powerful Golden State Warriors.
Persuading high-value free agents to join new teams is one of the biggest marketing plays in all of sports. In fact, when the New York Knicks were courting LeBron James during free agency in 2010, they created a celebrity-filled video featuring Reggie Jackson, Spike Lee, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Rock and even James Gandolfini in character as Tony Soprano. (It didn’t work.)
So what lured Durant to the Warriors? A big part of the marketing effort was virtual reality. Using VR goggles, Durant was able to check out the Warriors home court, walk around the arena and marvel at San Francisco attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sure, Durant saw all that stuff in person, but being able to return to San Fran anytime — from the comfort of his sofa — gave the Warriors a technological edge over other teams.
“Virtual reality is not what closed the deal in and of itself, but its role within a successful pitch does point to a lucrative and relatively untapped marketing frontier. If the Warriors sold Durant — a global brand himself — by using virtual reality technology, why can’t other brands do something similar with their audiences?” wrote Adam Deflorian, the founder and CEO of digital marketing firm AZDS Interactive Group in a recent Forbes article.
The role of virtual reality in marketing is in its infancy but its use cases seem countless. Brides planning weddings can explore ballrooms they’d like to rent. Travelers can check out hotel rooms they want to book. Car buyers can go on virtual test drives.
“All of these scenarios have one thing in common: marketers are now able to tap into customers’ emotions in an entirely new dimension,” wrote Deflorian in Forbes. “And since empathy plays a part in driving conversions, the potential ROI fully justifies what is currently a relatively high price tag for production. Considering virtual reality companies are seemingly launching new innovations every week, associated costs can only be expected to decline over time.”
Meanwhile, at the Cannes Lions advertising festival in France in June, virtual reality and branded content were all the rage.
“VR was a popular talking point among ad agency executives, tech companies such as Samsung were demonstrating their latest hardware, and online services such as YouTube were showcasing the content now available on their platforms,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Publishers and media companies also were joining in, pitching marketers on the idea of branded virtual reality content, which they hope to produce and distribute on behalf of paying brands in the latest frontier for marketing.”
Of course, where there’s new technology, there’s bound to be new ways to advertise to consumers. Gannett’s USA Today Network is piloting a new VR TV show which comes with a cubemercial — “that effectively places the viewer inside a virtual-reality room. Brands will be given the opportunity to showcase videos or products on each of the cube’s six sides.”
How do you incorporate VR into your marketing strategy? Entrepreneur offers this comprehensive list, suggesting that brands make 360 videos, create a branded Google Cardboard, or turning your packaging into VR glasses.
Curious about how marketing is changing in a world that’s becoming increasingly visual? Check out our Complete Guide to Visual Commerce.