How Businesses Used Virtual Reality to Enhance Their Marketing

By C&EN Media Group

Experiencing VR

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Virtual reality has reached a tipping point in recent years. Advances in computer processing and graphics quality, coupled with a concerted effort to make science fiction into fact (not to mention significant investments from some of the biggest names in the tech sector), has given this nascent technology the boost it needs to go from pipe dream to certain reality.

Many have even dubbed 2016 “The Year of VR”. But with all the media attention this new tech is getting, we have to wonder, is virtual reality reserved just for gamers and hard-core computer enthusiasts? Or, more to the point, can it be adopted by science companies so that they can enhance their marketing efforts?

The answer to the latter is a resounding, “Yes!” Already, leading brands like Red Bull and Volvo have used virtual reality to create some seriously impactful campaigns. But before we see how far this technology can go, let’s go back to the beginning and see how far it has come.

Virtual Reality Defined 

At the most basic level, virtual reality is a technology that creates the illusion that we are occupying some alternate space. The earliest attempts at transporting viewers goes way back to mid-nineteenth century panoramic paintings and stereoscopic photos and viewers (the precursor to the View Master toy many of us grew up with).

With the advent of the computer, virtual reality took on a whole new meaning and began making giant leaps forward. The rise and improvement of mobile technology in the 21st century brought about rapid advancements in the development of virtual reality and tools like depth-sensing cameras, natural human interfaces, and motion controllers, making the experience more accessible to the general public.

But while it might be great for games, why would a science company want to embrace this new technology for marketing purposes? Let’s find out.

Why Virtual Reality?


By nature, virtual reality is meant to be an immersive experience. Because users are completely surrounded by your content (at least as far as their sight and hearing go), there are less distractions to pull them away from your message.


Virtual reality provides an intense experience that is more impactful than “basic” marketing efforts and stimulates emotions that may have otherwise remained dormant. It gets the viewer involved in a way that few forms of marketing have before. This new experience can move viewers of virtual-reality marketing to make changes in their product and service choices by creating a more positive association with the brand.


The novelty of virtual reality means that the public will be clamoring to see examples of good marketing that makes use of the newly-developed technology. Taking advantage of this fascination with, and desire for, VR at an early stage means that you can gain exposure for using what could soon be a ubiquitous technology.

It’s all well and good to talk about hypotheticals, but how is virtual-reality marketing being put to good use right now?

How Brands Are Using VR

University of Illinois

The Theoretical & Computational Biophysics Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is developing a molecular visualization program dubbed VMD (for Visual Molecular Dynamics). The program is designed for the modeling, visualization, and analysis of complicated biological systems such as proteins, nucleic acids, and lipid bilayer assemblies. More specifically, VMD can act as a graphical front end for an external MD program by displaying and animating a molecule undergoing simulation on a remote computer.

In the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, researchers outline how “this is relevant to drug discovery since molecular models are frequently used to obtain deeper understandings of, say, ligand–protein complexes”, and unveil their Molecular Rift tool.


Last year, GE produced a virtual-reality experience that took viewers to the bottom of the ocean and gave them insight into the efforts and technology that it takes to collect gas and oil deposits. More recently, in an attempt to reveal what goes on behind closed doors, GE created a VR experience that both entertains and educates. Dubbed “Neuro”, the animated interactive program takes viewers inside the human brain to see what effects music has on thoughts, ideas, and memories. At the same time, the VR experience gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at remote U.S. manufacturing locations that produce GE’s Tier 4 Locomotive and 9HA Gas Turbine.


Volvo took the release of their XC90 SUV and coupled it with a VR experience that lets users test drive the vehicle without having to actually drive the vehicle. Why is this important? Because Volvo is using this advanced technology to get people to experience their brand and product in a new way. They’ve also established themselves as the first to produce a virtual-reality test drive and will likely now be the benchmark by which all other virtual test drives are compared. You can’t get much better exposure than that.

Science Marketers Need to Get Creative

Virtual-reality is poised to become the next big thing as companies rush to incorporate it into their marketing toolbox. Now is the time to get involved with virtual reality because the technology and its marketing applications haven’t been sufficiently utilized up to this point—companies have just scratched the surface of the virtual-reality marketing possibilities.

Furthermore, virtual reality is something that science companies can take full advantage of to entertain, train, and allow exploration of a process that may be inaccessible to the majority of the population. Perhaps virtual reality can be used to show the work your company is doing for the environment, like GE’s approach, or you could get much more technical and experiment with VR as a product demo tool. All it takes is a bit of creativity to enhance your marketing with virtual reality and get the boost you’re looking for.

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