When Virtual Reality (VR) first came to mainstream market, it was thought its best use cases would be for jazzing up the entertainment or education sectors. However, as years have gone by, we’ve discovered another important use case for VR – it actually helps build empathy. Although timely, given that half of Brits feel that empathy in culture is declining, how can turn this insight into an opportunity?
Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, tested multiple hypotheses surrounding empathy using VR. One of these was to see whether showing a 65-year-old avatar of yourself in the future encourages you to save money for retirement; it does. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the marketing industry has cottoned on to its power to drive social change.
In 2016, ‘Charity: Water’, a charity which aims to bring clean drinking water to developing counties, showcased their immersive VR story to donors. The footage allows prospective donors to see through the eyes of a 13-year-old Ethiopian child named Selam, who spends her life struggling to provide water for her family while studying at school. However, as the simulation progresses, we see the transformative power of the donors’ money has on Selam and her community. Raising $2.4 million in one night, it can be argued that, through VR, this campaign has effectively used immersive storytelling to evoke empathy among its audience.
Another application of VR can be seen in the Toms ‘A Walk In Their Shoes’ campaign. To prove their commitment to social change, Toms used VR to follow a consumer’s trip to Colombia to meet a child who benefited from his purchase. The footage allowed consumers to witness the brand’s dedication to helping others, through tapping into our emotions.
Ultimately, when combined with effective storytelling, the positive outtake is that VR has the potential to make us more empathetic. Whilst we may still be some way away from VR being widely available for brands to use, it is exciting to envisage a future where we can experience new and unique perspectives through technology to better understand others as humans.