Companies everywhere are finally honing in on the immersive power that virtual reality (VR) offers, including in the design, entertainment, education, and retail industries. VR heightens the customer experience, leading to greater engagement and ultimately, a deeper emotional connection with the brand. Taking this to the next level now, are non-profit organisations, who have begun using VR in effective and impactful ways to highlight their causes.
Imagine scrolling online and coming across a news video about a natural disaster that’s just occurred. Maybe a journalist is explaining what has taken place, detailing the devastation, and what is needed to restore the community. Now imagine going into VR to view the same aftermath, but this time standing on the front lawn in front of what used to be a family home. Houses are in ruins; cars have been tossed; trees ripped out by the roots. It’s a different experience, isn’t it?
VR takes you there. It gives you an insider’s perspective, and makes the experience your viewing, yours. This emotional bond to a story, this prompted empathy, that VR has the potential to forge makes it the ideal engagement tool for non-profit organisations. VR is raising awareness to causes often overlooked, and in turn, has become a new kind of revenue-generating tool for a new era.
Attendants at a 2016 fundraiser gala hosted by charity: water were shown a VR film entitled The Source which takes place around a rural Ethiopian village. The film follows Selam, a 13-year-old girl who’s tasked with going on the long trek to fetch water for her family’s use. The journey alone is memorable, due to its length and remoteness, but then we see up close the unhygienic state of the water source from which she’s fetching. VR ensures viewers get a very real sense of the conditions Selam’s family lives in, where she goes to school, and what her daily chores are. After a group of aid workers installs a clean-water well, we see the hope and enthusiasm this addition brings the community. We discern the impact it will have on the lives of those who live there. The charity: water gala raised over $2.4 million (USD), which far exceeded expectations.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has often used non-traditional (sometimes confrontational) means to tell their story and draw attention to their cause. Their use of VR has generated a great deal of conversation. One video is shot from the perspective of a chicken on a factory farm. Another piece of VR content takes viewers into the concrete orca tanks at SeaWorld. The material is graphic and will likely make you feel uncomfortable, and that’s the point. The emotional reactions VR prompts – like life – aren’t always happy.
Made in partnership with the United Nations, Clouds Over Sidra is a 2015 VR film that highlights the refugee crisis in Syria, as narrated by a 12-year-old girl in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The film depicts the daily lives of the people who live in the camp, who’ve fled their home country merely to survive. It’s the first film shot in VR for the UN, leveraging the medium to tell the important stories of this vulnerable population, and generate greater awareness of their cause.
VR is the difference between watching something happen from the outside, and nearly experiencing it for yourself. Currently, there is an estimated 171 million VR users worldwide – a number that’s growing every day. 81% of people who try VR tell others about it, because it is a storytelling medium and we are storytellers at heart. The onslaught of the technology for marketing purposes may still be relatively new. But as long as VR continues to generate an emotional (sometimes uncomfortable) reaction in viewers, we’ll see non-profit organisations leveraging the medium to tell their stories in impactful ways.