When problems plague our society, consumers turn to conscious consumerism to do their part in saving our world. As people begin to ‘purchase with a purpose’, it becomes the business’s responsibility to convince the customer that with their brand, people’s dimes make a difference, and the most convincing of all appeals is one that is emotional. Chris Milk, film director and CEO of virtual reality company Vrse, has described virtual reality and related technologies as the ultimate empathy machines. Imagine two different narratives. A salesperson comes to your doorstep bearing a speech about the oncoming extinction of honeybees and different graphs depicting their disappearance over the past 50 decades. Halfway through the presentation you lose interest, realize this is just another capitalistic sales gimmick, and close your door. Imagine the second narrative, when a salesperson comes to you with a simple headset, asks you for just 5 minutes of your time, and within those 5 minutes lets you experience the plight of an endangered Honeybee named Alex. With this VR headset, you step into the wings of Alex, and see your dying colony, and your livelihood being snatched from you. Within the five minutes, you experience the cause that the salesperson is pleading you to donate to, and for the first time you have found a reason to empathize. This is what Häagen-Dazs’ ‘Save the Bees’ campaign did, and they managed to secure customer loyalty by branding their product using a social cause, which they advertised not as a gimmick, but as an educational endeavor and an emotional appeal to people. Not to mention the long lasting impact of being a Bee for five minutes of their life!
Many brands pledge their support to environmental issues. Coca-Cola’s efforts include the ‘Arctic Home’ campaign to save the Arctic polar bear in association with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Coca-Cola initially spread awareness of their Arctic Home campaign by product branding adjustments, such as launching cola bottles with white bottle caps instead of their iconic red. Since 2011, Coca Cola has made large donations to the WWF
and encouraged customers to join in. Each customer could individually donate $1 by texting a packaging code to the number 357357, or make online donations at ArcticHome.com. Their marketing efforts included the regular print ads and social media marketing, until 2013 when they used literal ground-breaking augmented reality technology (pictured above) to show the consumer the cause that they had been fighting for. It is a common practice for organizations to air thirty second emotional montages during ad breaks on Nat Geo to gain sympathy for endangered wildlife. Now imagine being face to face with these creatures. Standing on the same ice as them, made possible through augmented reality, and then watching the ice break away, taking mother bears and cubs apart, and more importantly, creating perceivable distance between polar bears and visitors. This AR installation at London’s Science Museum invited visitors and stakeholders from large organizations such as Greenpeace and allowed them to be a part of the heartbreaking experiences of polar bears by virtually bringing the disintegrating Arctic to their feet. The event was a success gaining 388 pieces of media coverage, generating more than 900 comments and gaining traction for their campaign. The feeling of empathy that the consumers of Coke had for the polar bears visibly increased. Delighted children who were interacting with the holograms of polar bears surrounding them would immediately grow sad as the animal drifted away, enabled by LED floor technology.
The power of lived experience for conviction and empathy is one that only mixed reality technology can bring to you. The magic of things materializing before our eyes that we can interact with in physical space is far beyond the scope of words printed on paper and moving images. They say that the best novels are the ones that take you to a different world. With AR, MR and VR, technology brings this world to you, and makes you a first person participant. One of the most remarkable evidences of virtual reality’s exceptional ability to generate empathy is the film ‘Clouds over Sidra’ produced by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk for United Nations Virtual Reality (UNVR), the UN’s newest fundraising strategy. ‘Clouds over Sidra’ is a mini-documentary of a 12 year old girl, Sidra, living in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The film gives the users a 360° experience of Sidra’s life, allowing them to feel as if they’re sitting on the same floor as her, eating alongside her, sitting beside her in class, and most importantly, allows them to see her world through her eyes. This immersive experience doesn’t require any third person to tell the viewer of the plight faced by the refugees and show statistics to prove their misery, it simply lets the viewer live the reality for themselves.
Source: ‘Clouds Over Sidra’
During the film, screened through a VR headset, there is not a moment’s escape from the life of a young Syrian refugee. No matter where the viewer turns their head, they will only see through the eyes of Sidra. The UN uses this medium to generate greater empathy and new perspectives on people living in vulnerable conditions. The film was screened to top donors and decision makers on the eve of the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria. Commitments originally projected were 2.2 billion USD pledged, however the film outdid the projection by 70% and the conference ended up raising 3.8 billion USD. A similar effort, Waves of Grace, a film shot again by Arora and Milk for Ebola awareness, was integrated into the Secretary-General’s International Ebola Recovery Conference which raised $5.2 billion in pledges. Preliminary evidence that VR is twice as effective in raising funds has been proved right by the success of these films, which use empathy and compassion to drive action.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon watching ‘Clouds Over Sidra’ on VR Headset. Photograph: UN Photo
Brands need not always create highly emotionally churning narratives such as the UN does to inspire action. There are also light hearted yet impacting ways to engage people with social causes. One great example of this is the UK’s National Healthcare System’s (NHS) campaign to acquire more blood donors. The NHS installed an augmented reality billboard in London that was connected to a special iPhone app which would use augmented reality to replicate the process of blood donation on the big screen. The user would place a sticker on their arm where the needle goes, scan the sticker with the help of the marketer’s iPhone, and watch their virtual blood trail away from the iPhone, onto the big billboard where a blood bag would fill up alongside a photo of a patient in need of a donation who would slowly return to health as the bag fills up with blood. This fun and interactive representation (pictured below) reminded the user the need and joy of donating blood. Upon completing the ‘virtual’ blood donation, the user could sign up for the real deal! The split second, the moment of virtually seeing the impact of their decision play out in real time, was enough to get many new donors on board with the NHS.
NHS Augmented Reality Blood Transplant. Photo from Ocean News
The ability of mixed reality technology to drive split second decisions makes it useful in campaigns. Not only marketing campaigns, but also political ones! Modern Nigerian politics have proved their progressiveness by inculcating the most modern technology in their campaigns as a way to reach out to the people, especially the youth. With the youth spending most of their time on their phones these days, Nigerian presidential candidates General Muhammadu Buhari and Professor Yemi Osinbajo of the All Progressives Alliance (APC) decided the best way to connect with them would be through their devices. The party launched an app called Next For Nigeria through which the user could scan any printed logo of the party and be presented with many features such as watching a special message from the candidates, being able to take a selfie with either candidate, and most importantly, being able to message the candidates back through the app giving their own ideas and comments. This allowed the youth to feel directly engaged with the party, and the augmented reality technology made this experience fun and exciting. The app won them the Auggie Award for Best Augmented Reality Campaign, and most importantly, the elections!
In a world where people are being blamed for spending increasing amounts of time immersed in technology, and disconnected from others and the real world around them, these technological advancements have found a way to turn tables. The time has finally come when technologies such as AR, MR and VR can be used to connect people and social causes in ways that were not possible before. It makes the sharing of experiences more effective than ever, and makes empathy inevitable. As businesses, we must understand the potential and function of these technologies, and use them in ways to inspire good, spread awareness, and lead with empathy rather than use them irresponsibly just as gimmicks. When used appropriately, these tools will help every organization with a cause gather support and start a movement by tackling lack of empathy. As this technology unfailingly demonstrates its ability to affect human emotion time and again, our move to mixed reality for campaigning becomes all the more required.