Academic study explores VR’s effectiveness in marketing

Aside from gaming and training, marketing and advertising is perhaps the area where VR’s transformative potential has business tongues wagging.

The technology’s ability to immerse consumers in branded experiences or allow them to explore products more comprehensively before purchase is widely heralded, but at this point still largely theoretical.

Researchers at Milano-Bicocca University have analysed the experience users had while having a VR experience. The users tried Urban Up – Milan Virtual Experience, a Vive-powered journey through the beautiful Italian city created by Proxima Milano.

The study

The research looked to identify the emotional, cognitive and behavioural effects of the content on the user, and gain useful information for the effectiveness of future campaigns.  

The study was made up of one HTC Vive and one Samsung Gear VR and over 120 users. More than 30 hours of video recordings were analysed for user movement and facial expressions, while the participants were also questioned before and after the experience.

The participants were all between 35-70 years of age.

The results

The researchers divided up their results into a number of different categories:

VR knowledge

The knowledge of the user base was quite high, with 51% reporting having previously tried VR, primarially at events or promotional booths. The knowledge of the specifics of the VR device market, however, is still relatively low. Playstation VR was the most well-known device among participants.

Emotional effects

The researchers recorded a ‘statistically significant’ increase of the intensity of positive emotions such as fun, curiosity, happiness and surprise. There has also a decrease in feelings of boredom decreased after the experience.

One of the clearest emotional responses recorded was a high sense of presence – or the ‘sensation of physically being in the presented virtual environments’. The report notes that this is important because it is clear demonstration of ‘the peculiar and most effective characteristic’ of the emotional responses that VR can produce.

Cognitive effects

On usability, users reported that:

–          the HTC Vive was easy to use and interacting with virtual content was straight forward

–          cybersickness was not a major issue for the majority

The experience was tailored around educating users about the main tourist spots of Milan. A majority of users reported feeling that they had learnt something through the experience and that they would be willing to visit the tourist locations in real life.


Users made on average six spontaneous comments during the experience, mostly related to positive emotions.

In terms of non-verbal behaviour, 60% of users were smiling for the majority of the experience, while signs of negative emotions were not observed at all. 70% of users actively explored the virtual environment, a key sign of engagement.

The researchers conclude that VR is an effective marketing instrument “thanks to its unique characteristics of immersion, interactivity and induction of positive emotions, virtual reality offers exceptional opportunities if compared with other more traditional promotion instruments.” 

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