According to Information Theory, our senses are bombarded with over 11 million bits of data every second. The average person’s working memory can handle 40 to 50 bits at a push, which means we ignore 10 999 950 bits of data every second we are awake.

Finding ways to meaningfully engage with customers using approaches that cut through the content clutter is for this – and many other reasons – increasingly challenging. We live in an age where the white space around us is saturated with messaging and, although there is no definitive, researched-based figure to support how many advertising messages we are exposed to on any given day, the numbers are, at best, staggering.

Five thousand is a figure often quoted for the number of ads the average American sees each day, with more conservative estimates pegging this figure at 300 to 700 marketing messages per day.

It’s tempting to overcome this challenge by simply adding more budget to our campaigns to shout louder (even though there is no more guarantee of success than with a smaller investment). But with most marketing budgets under pressure, there is no wiggle room for trial and error. Finding new ways of inspiring and engaging consumers is a real challenge.

Using technology to grab a consumers' attention

More and more, marketers are turning to technology to solve consumer attention deficits – tech like virtual reality (VR), which is changing the relationship between brands and consumers in a meaningful way.

This is particularly true in the activations environment where VR can add more impact and provide a more immersive experience when marketing products and services. An efficient way of creating short-term brand experiences with long-term benefits – once considered as emerging technology and the future – is with VR, which has emerged and is an established reality.

A big part of VR's success is linked to the fact that the human brain retains information better when there is an emotion associated with the experience. Emotion affects how the brain stores memory. So on occasions that stimulate the senses with evocative imagery, emotions are retained and, if more senses are engaged in the experience, the emotional experience is elevated even further. A stronger emotional response equals a stronger brand connection.

Not just conjecture – emotion increases our ability to remember by affecting activity in particular areas of the brain involved in emotional processing, the amygdala, and striatum. The same holds true for the hippocampus – the region of the brain involved in encoding new experiences.

Immersing consumers in a positive experience

Studies also show that emotion increases the strength of memories over time – a process called consolidation. It stands to reason that brands that immerse consumers in positive, unique, and emotional experiences will have more success when it comes to establishing connections, recall, and retention.

Imagine wearing VR glasses and experiencing the sensation of warm sunshine while driving a high-end car with the roof down through the Alps at high speed; an emotional connection that becomes a firm memory is all but guaranteed.

With VR, the traditional test drive has never been safer. Yet, it’s equally delightful and still brings the brand to life through emotional connection. The same holds true in an FMCG environment.

Consider tasting a cold wine while sitting on a deck overlooking a beach in Camps Bay. Listen to waves crashing down and smell the ocean. It’s quite a different picture to simply sipping and staring back at the in-store promoter – it’s an experience made possible with VR.

The creative opportunities with VR are seemingly limitless and, where traditional channels are confined to a certain way of operating, with this new technology marketers can create 360-degree worlds that previously didn’t exist. It’s a marriage of technology and creativity.

Reaping the benefits of VR

For all these reasons, VR is offering a contemporary solution to marketers in the activation and sampling environment where building a multi-sensory experience, that isn’t a run-of-the-mill sampling roadshow, is the ideal campaign medium. More than that, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, it’s scalable, it is a great way to cut through a saturated market, and it has great potential for social media amplification.

On average, 1.8 billion photos are posted on social media every day, 17 million of which are selfies. Living in the age of the selfie makes the inclusion of shareable (social media) content generated at activations fundamental to their success. We are social media obsessed, so making sure activations offer personalised, unique experiences that consumers want to share will make all the difference and VR ticks this box.

Marketers need to give consumers something that will heighten their in-the-moment experience and later continue to connect emotionally with the event or brand. VR perfectly plays into experiential marketing and activations by doing just that.

It develops physical experiences that are merged with digital experiences to encourage participation while creating long lasting memories. It’s also a great brand differentiator – until it becomes commonplace. Remember – once you see a bandwagon, you're too late.

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Read more about how marketers can use technology to engage consumers in our article, Gamification in marketing – the fun way to engage.