I’ve heard more than one Ted Talk over the past couple of years focused on how Virtual Reality is about to “revolutionize everything.” I even read an article prior to last year’s U.S. presidential election with the thesis that VR was on the verge of “changing everything” in the political campaign world as well. Now, you may have already guessed this, but I don’t think VR is going to change everything. At least not anytime soon. 

But virtual reality is an emerging field that we as campaigners shouldn’t scoff at. Like any new technology, it’s important to learn how we can adopt it to better serve the needs of our clients. While it may not revolutionize your next campaign, it’s certainly worth testing, and that’s something you can do now.  

VR is Big Business

Let’s start with a basic overview of where VR sits in the marketplace. There is a ton of money pouring into VR right now, and the tech world is buzzing over the possibilities. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to live up to the promise. We’ve seen enormous amounts of money pour into app development, and we saw something similar before the first IT bubble burst. What more money does mean is that the technology is improving and it’s becoming more accessible. So in that sense, the market is fairly quickly pushing it forward. 

One of the biggest challenges when discussing this technology with those new to it, is the terminology itself. VR is actually a sloppy term. When people hear VR most of them think of the headset rather than the format. There are really three kinds of VR: the first is what I call actual virtual reality, the second is augmented reality, and the third is 360 video.

True virtual reality refers to completely computer generated worlds—an immersive experience disconnected from real life. This is actually pretty far from reality. Augmented reality is when we’re able to add a layer of virtual reality on top of the real world. And immersive or 360 video is what you experience in a VR headset or on a smartphone (that you put in a box). The last one is at least cheap and useful, and is likely the future of this medium.

So is it going to help you win the next election? Probably not, but the potential for more dynamic content creation is there. 360 video is getting cheaper to produce with more mass market tools like Samsung Gear now readily available and not prohibitively expensive. And we already have research to show that immersive video leaves a more lasting imprint than regular video.    

Working With Immersive Video

There are three critical things to understand when you’re working with immersive video. The first is that you are no longer the director. That means you need to be willing to give up some control. In this new environment, you create the framework, but it’s the viewer who decides the angles, the focus, and makes the ultimate determination on where to center their attention. 

Second, the story needs to be told in 360 degrees. Literally. Since you cannot control where the viewer is, the story need to be coherent…everywhere. It should not be setup in such a way that if the viewer’s attention isn’t focused on one singular part of the action at a specific time, they miss something integral to understanding the story.

Third, don’t be boring. It’s a new format, and as a result of that people do expect new things. Just make sure they know where they are when viewing. 

Here’s an example our firm produced for our client IOGT International on the impact of drugs and alcohol. The concept for this video was to immerse the viewer in a family Christmas celebration from 1982 and tell the story of a young boy’s experience of alcoholism. The video surpassed 880k views on Facebook with more than 5000 shares. 

So what’s the best way to get going? Here’s an Immersive video starting kit:

Get inspired
Look at some examples of 360 video and explore some VR applications. See what inspires you.

Buy
Purchasing a GoPro or Samsung Gear is a good starting point. Samsung is cheap enough to buy without a plan just to try it out.

Start Experimenting

Livestream an event in 360. It can be an attention-grabbing bit of experimentation for your campaign or organization, or simply use it as a conversation piece that helps immerse people who may be already supportive of your campaign or cause.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid. It won’t be perfect the first time, but viewers aren’t expecting that it will, at least not yet. And that means you have the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, and learn how this technology can best work for you.

Jakob Ohlsson is the founder of Reform Act, Scandinavia’s only agency focused on political campaigns.