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Eric OliverDirector, Digital MarketingThe North Face
For the past several years, outdoor apparel brand The North Face has been creating content around athletes going on expeditions to test out its products. In 2015, the company launched 360-degree video to develop an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience with the aim of bringing people closer to those expeditions. The goal was to create a stronger connection with the brand. eMarketer’s Bryan Yeager spoke with Eric Oliver, The North Face’s director of digital marketing, about the success of its campaign and some important takeaways from its first experiments with the medium.
eMarketer: Tell us about The North Face’s first foray into creating an immersive, 360-degree video experience.
Eric Oliver: We put a team together with a couple of our climbers, VR media company Jaunt and one of our trusted production partners, Camp 4, who had shot a ton of photography and film for us. We went to Moab and Yosemite—two amazing iconic American places. Our intent was to shoot a quick pilot alongside our climbers to share what their day is like when they go out on a day of adventure.
eMarketer: Where was the video shown?
That three-minute film was shown internally, then green-lit to be a pilot at our retail stores, first in New York and San Francisco and later in Palo Alto and Chicago, in spring 2015. What customers can do is work with an associate to get chaperoned through the experience. They watch the film, and they usually say things like “Holy [blank]!” or “Can I try that again?” or “That was so amazing!”
We’re very encouraged by the reaction of the users who do it. For us, it’s really about getting that kid in Manhattan who’s never been to Moab or Yosemite to see that and maybe they get inspired to plan a trip or get outdoors locally.
That’s really the highest order of what we’re trying to do in the stores: If we can engage somebody in the natural world, we think that it inspires.
eMarketer: What are some learnings from your first experiment with virtual reality video that you applied to subsequent initiatives?
Oliver: In our Nepal piece, the shot of the airplane landing at the airstrip was originally later in the piece. We were trying to be sequential. But what we discovered and advised the production company was that the plane landing forces you to turn your head.
What happens with a lot of people when they experience VR for the first time is that it doesn’t register that they have a 360-degree field of view.
Another thing that we did in Moab and Yosemite is hiding during filming. The camera can see everything, and if you’re trying to stage a scene that feels natural, you can’t violate the fourth wall. We were hiding behind rocks and trees and trying to be super quiet.
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eMarketer: Beyond in-store experiences, what is your distribution strategy with the Nepal piece to ensure the 360-degree video reaches your target audience?
Oliver: We had a distribution setup with Outside Magazine in November 2015, which I think is a good example of us investing in distribution of that content. Some 75,000 subscribers of Outside Magazine received a branded Google Cardboard viewer polybagged into their delivery and were encouraged to download the app to check out the experience, and then learn more about the story at the magazine online.
It’s similar in both timing and intent to the massive project that The New York Times Magazine did with [Cardboard] viewers and their story called “The Displaced,” about refugee and orphaned children. That’s another good example of the ability of the power of VR to generate empathy.
eMarketer: What is it that you expect from the person viewing the video?
Oliver: In The New York Times video, the viewer feels empathy for kids who are living unimaginable lives.
For us it’s empathy for the outdoors. These places are awesome. Go visit them. Be respectful when you go. Think about your own relationship with preservation and conservation and the way that you live.
I think that gaming will have its own category in VR. But I really think that the way that this will take off is empathetic storytelling, either intentional or as a result of these videos.
Additionally, part of the reason we worked with Jaunt is that they developed iOS and Android applications, in which our content fits as part of their library.
eMarketer: How are you measuring the success of the VR experiences you’re putting out there?
Oliver: A lot of digital marketing is super trackable, but this is not a straight line to a sale kind of thing for us. This is [spending] a little bit more time in our store, and if a purchase happens, that’s cool.
I can’t necessarily prove that watching the VR experience sold an additional jacket or had any contribution to sales. But we do hear anecdotally from the associates that the people who try it love it.
It’s been a universally positive thing for the hundreds of people that have tried it in the store, and the thousands of people who have downloaded content to their phone.
eMarketer: How do people react?
Oliver: We hear very little detractor commentary. It’s mostly, “That’s awesome” or “These places are beautiful” or “Good for you for doing this.” In that way, it’s certainly brand positive. It’s not paid search.
It’s way, way higher in the funnel, way closer to advertising and engagement than it is trying to catch somebody with purchase intent.
At retail, in a lot of our stores, if you’re going to the store, you’re going with at least the intention to browse. So we’re just hopeful that as retailers try to figure out more and more ways to get people into their doors, to shop in the physical world, this is one way we can inspire people for three minutes while they’re in one of our stores.
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