Video Essentials

Make What’s Important Interesting: Lessons in Branded VR

Have a little discretionary funding in your marketing budget? Willing to take a risk? If so, take a note from RYOT and be bold with video technology.

At the Adobe Summit marketing conference, Molly Swenson, CMO for RYOT, explained how her company has grown by exploring cutting-edge video tech. RYOT started as a blog showing people how they could take action about causes they care about, then began making documentary-style videos around the world. Success led to an acquisition by the Huffington Post last year, so RYOT is now part of Verizon and suddenly has a team of engineers helping it out. It’s morphed into a mini-studio creating immersive experiences for major brands.

Molly Swenson

“How do we make what’s important interesting?” Swenson asked, identifying a prime concern for marketers. “It’s definitely easier when you believe what you’re doing is necessary in the world.”

Generating earned media is much simpler if you’re doing something that’s never been done before, she advised. A simple project RYOT recently created in Los Angeles brought the most famous works from the Louvre to inner-city kids using augmented reality (AR) video on mobile devices. The kids entered an empty gallery, then discovered the art by viewing picture frames through an AR app. That project turned into coverage by Forbes showing how one company is using new technology for social good.

Virtual reality (VR) video put RYOT on the map, Swenson said, and the company used VR because it made something important interesting. People responded enthusiastically to the new use of VR, and Swenson feels like she hacked the press. Not every RYOT experiment has been a success. Efforts with live streaming on Periscope fell flat. VR, however, creates such presence and urgency within the viewer that people are compelled to take action after experiencing RYOT’s immersive creations.

Huffington Post snapped RYOT up because it held the promise of creating real impact at scale. One of its projects now is reinvigorating print. A project with Hearst created AR experiences for Elle readers: For the Women in Hollywood issue, RYOT created an AR experience where readers could see exclusive videos when viewing the magazine through an app.

For marketers looking to stand out, be willing to take a chance with technology that hasn’t reached scale yet. Discretionary budgets are perfect ways to fund risky projects. The rewards are worth it: Non-bold project don’t get press, Swenson advised.

When creating cutting-edge projects, don’t be precious. Not every detail has to be perfect. RYOT’s AR Louvre video was assembled and shot over a weekend.

One other advantage in creating works for a good cause: People are more willing to join in for less money. RYOT has gotten celebrities to create voiceovers for videos because the celebs want to support the causes involved.

“If you’re doing something awesome and for a purpose, it’s much easier to get people involved for non-exorbitant sums of money,” Swenson said.

When creating a cause-related video, authenticity is more important than ever. Consumers are savvy and can tell when something isn’t true. Don’t find people to fit the narrative; instead, find a story that needs to be told. That’s reverse-engineering for most marketers.

“People can be incredible vehicles for your stories,” Swenson said.

For brands not sure where to start, Swenson says look within the organization. It could be that some part of the company is doing good work that not everyone knows about. RYOT told the story of Clorox helping create potable water in less-developed parts of the world, and of Pepsi funding recycling operations with micro-loans. Marketers can also turn to the company’s employees themselves. There might be a perfect story in-house, one that reflects the brand’s values.

Be bold, be authentic, and embrace the power of immersive video experiences.


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