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Experiential marketing has come a long way from traders in roadside markets, says Yaw Dwomoh, CEO of Idea Hive. Dwomoh says that by using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and gamification, we are able to create multi-sensory experiences that evoke powerful emotions that make us essentially human.

Our first experiences define us: Our first kiss, our first day at school, the first broken arm, our baby’s first smile and that first broken heart. Whether bitter or sweet, first experiences are what make us who we are and set the example against which we measure all our life experiences.

The technological revolution and the COVID-19 digital disruption has injected new life into the old. The New York Times has done this well, for example, adding an array of tech-related companies to their publishing platform that makes the best use of their biggest asset: telling great stories.

On their website, you can find a collection of immersive storytelling features, including AR and VR experiences. In their quest to modernise, they have positioned themselves as the overwhelming authority on all things tech, stepping out of their traditional publishing grave clothes and into the future.

Thanks to a reduction in the cost of hardware and software as the years go on, and an increase in local skills, South Africa is now more than capable of providing immersive and interactive digital experiences with quantifiable results, which ultimately creates the love for a brand.

Think, for example, of buying your first car. What went through your mind? Maybe the sweat and tears that went into paying for it? Or the leather interior you had mapped out in the back of a schoolbook years ago?

Recently, Volkswagen partnered with New Reality to create a ‘demo’ experience their customers won’t forget. Prospective buyers were able to check out and test-drive the new Polo SUV (the T-Cross) months before it could be physically test-driven in South Africa. Customers were able to play with interiors and features and even order their vehicle — all through using VR.

Virtual and augmented reality and gamification is effective when it takes the customer on a journey they never expected. In fact, it’s when brands find a way to become a part of the customer’s life journey like first cars, having a baby or choosing your next renovation project that brand love is born.

It allows us to overlay a digital lens onto the real world. Traditional advertising does an excellent job at providing awareness at its different touchpoints, but in some ways, it tells the consumer how to feel and keeps them passive.

Creating moments of immersion builds experiences that what will leave the customer changed forever and elicits emotion that money can’t buy. Coupled with clever activations, the technology available to us is able to activate every one of the senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste.

And depending on the mode of immersion used, the experiences can be directed at 100 or 100 000.

Here are four examples of experiences created using VR, AR or gamification that really worked:

1. Martin Garrix’s music show for the deaf community: Tactile audio systems and projectors

In 2016, Dutch DJ Martin Garrix partnered with 7 Up to host an extrasensory concert for the deaf community. The resulting Music Lifts You Up video premiered during Ultra Fest in Miami and received viral media coverage.

Together with immersive experience artists Fake Love, they incorporated motion, vibration and stunning visuals to help the concert-goers ‘feel’ and ‘see’ the music. With walls of speakers, LEDs boxes of water that moved with the music, platforms to stand on that vibrated to the beat and even a special backpack that vibrated the sound right through their chests, his guests were euphorically happy.

What did 7 Up get out of it? A phenomenal amount of brand capital, as well as a moving comment from one of the attendees, who said, “It really was the best night of my life.”

The 7 Up gig taught us that the experience doesn’t need to have anything to do with your actual product. Communicating the personality or character of your brand can be enough to create magic.

2. Glenlivet tests the palates of whisky connoisseurs: Gamification and AR

AR-enabled product packaging can double as a brand’s owned media channel that is speaking directly to their consumer. In 2018, would-be whisky connoisseurs jumped at the Glenlivet augmented reality whisky-tasting experience in partnership with Shazam.

When customers opened the app, master distiller Alan Winchester came to life, challenging users to mini-games to identify and isolate ingredients by selecting the four aromas for the nose and flavours of the whisky.

He also engaged and immersed them in the mysterious back-story behind Glenlivet’s distinctive taste. Tasters were given a score that they could share to social media.

Because of the extra value offered to customers post-purchase, they upped the brand loyalty and reached a completely new demographic to boot.

3. Samsung and NASA Moon Walk: VR and 4D

The experience, titled ‘A Moon for All Mankind’, opened to the New York public in July 2018 through to July 2019. The experience was in honor of the 50th-anniversary celebration of the moon landing in 1969.

An extensive support rig and flight suit supported participants. They were attached to a load-bearing system similar to the Active Response Gravity Offload System used at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to train real astronauts.

Wearing a helmet with Samsung’s Gear VR goggles, users went on a mission to explore the moon surface and plant their own flag. The experience combined tech, awe and an emotionally charged moment in history to create an unforgettable experience for those who tried, as well as plenty of the right kind of coverage.

4. Merryl Trailscape Experience: VR, motion capture and tactile elements

Merrell created a VR experience called Trailscape to launch its newest hiking boot, the Capra. Participants could walk along a stage set that simulated a mountainous trail, mapped to the virtual experience to create a new level of immersion.

There were tactile elements like rope walkways and shaking wooden planks, while motion capture allowed adventurers to explore the mountainside. Merryl created such a powerful immersive experience that it was showcased at the Sundance Film Festival.

The brands that inspire us are those who tell stories that we can relate to. The brands we love and remember tell stories that cast us as the main character. Using technology, we can create unforgettable experiences and bring customers on board as co-creators. It’s an exciting time to be a digital marketing agency.

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Source: AR, VR and gamification is becoming more effective in brand story telling