What Content Marketers Can Learn from The New York Times’ Virtual Reality Efforts

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If 1992’s The Lawnmower Man (Rotten Tomatoes score: 38%) didn’t kill interest in virtual reality, almost nothing will. Marketers will surely try though, with rushed applications that feel more like ads than experiences.

Having worked as a marketer embedded with engineering teams in what is now Accenture’s R&D studio, I can tell you I’ve seen firsthand how wonderful a virtual reality experience can be when done right. When thoughtfully executed, it can transport you to places you never thought you’d go.

Oddly enough, some of the best VR experiences I’ve seen haven’t been produced by well-funded Fortune 100 marketing teams, they’ve been produced by “cash strapped” news organizations. Why are they so successful? Because their concepts are built around the person wearing the headset, not a product or service.

Just take a look at two of the many VR features recently produced by The New York Times. While the viewing experience without goggles can be maddening, you’ll get the gist (if you view on a mobile device, you’ll at least experience the 360º aspect):

What’s noteworthy about both of these experiences isn’t just how immersive they are, it’s how they allow viewers to experience something they never would otherwise. Brands, with a little planning, could offer the same. Instead of delivering a 360º view of a car’s interior, an automaker could film some of the world’s most stunning drives, giving people a truly compelling reason to look around the cabin.

So is VR too niche for most content marketers to consider today? Yes and no. While many consumers don’t own the equipment to view VR content, that’s changing. Two years ago there was the $350 Oculus Rift, but now headsets are plentiful and affordable. The Times alone has distributed over 1.3 million Google Cardboard VR viewers — and you can as well.

With a retail cost of $15 per Cardboard viewer and a likely volume discount for brands wanting to achieve scale, it’s feasible to work VR into your plans (especially since VR videos can also be outputted as normal 360º videos). There seems to be an appetite for this kind of content, too.

During May’s NewFronts, the Times said their NYT VR app was the most successful product launch in the paper’s history, with over 600,000 downloads. As such, the Times is launching six new VR series focused on the Olympics, travel, science, music, space exploration and important news topics. T Brand Studio has also been producing paid VR content as well and views it as a huge growth area.

Brands already embracing VR
Marriott
IKEA
Lexus
Mini
GE
U.S. Air Force
Patrón
Etihad Airways
The North Face

By 2025, the VR market is expected to grow to be 80X larger than what it is today. This will no doubt be driven by YouTube’s growing library and Facebook’s heavy investment in the space. So don’t discount VR as being some passing fad like Google Glass or the Apple Watch. It’s here to stay, and there are few who’ll show you the way better than the team at the Times [iOS app here][Android app here].