3 Brands Wow Crowds With Experiential Marketing in AR and VR

By Heather Fletcher

Augmented reality and virtual reality both promise to put customers into deep, experiential marketing scenarios. But how many brands have been able to make that happen in a way that actually left an impression? More than you might think. Here’s how three brands are using augmented reality and virtual reality strategically for the marketing win.

IKEA In Your Room

It’s a lot easier to imagine IKEA furniture in your home when it’s already assembled. Otherwise, the joke remains that you can’t tell if you’re assembling a desk, bookshelf or dresser. So in September 2017, the Swedish furniture company introduced IKEA Place. The augmented reality app puts armchairs or coffee tables in consumers’ homes in 3D and true-to-scale. The mobile option was a hit. It was No. 151 in the Lifestyle section of iTunes as of presstime in February 2018.


From sofas to armchairs, the IKEA Place augmented reality app shows consumers how furniture would look in their homes. Using the app, they pick areas where the furniture might go and visualize it in real-time.

Back in 2017 when announcing IKEA Place, Michael Valdsgaard, the leader of digital transformation at Inter IKEA Systems, said: “Augmented reality and virtual reality will be a total game-changer for retail in the same way as the Internet. Only this time, much faster.”

IKEA's experiential marketing via virtual reality pillow toss

IKEA opened its 47th store by allowing customers to experience virtual reality, like this pillow toss.

True to his word, when IKEA opened its 47th store in the U.S., customers at IKEA Grand Prairie, Texas, experienced virtual reality. In December 2017 in the store near Dallas, about 300 customers played with pandas inside the available-for-sale bamboo lamps, as well as letting the feathers fly in a “pillow toss” experience.

KFC the Hard Way

Fans know KFC is wacky on Twitter, but now the marketing team’s leveled it up. Instead of just commemorating one fan’s tweet with an oil painting of Colonel Sanders catching a piggyback ride from him, now all consumers can feel the KFC founder behind them. But this time, he’s got a demonic voice and he’s ordering them to learn how to cook the secret recipe chicken or never escape his virtual reality training room.

KFC's experiential marketing virtual training escape room "KFC the Hard Way"

In “KFC the Hard Way,” virtual reality allows users to learn from Colonel Sanders how to make the chicken.

“Step up to the work station and start making chicken,” Sanders orders in the Facebook Oculus Rift experience dubbed “KFC the Hard Way.”

In the Dec. 21, 2017, Rift blog post about the escape room-esque “VR job sim category … that’s both original and extra crispy,” the Oculus VR writer wants other brands to take note.

“Fun, engaging and highly memorable, we hope this clever use of VR inspires other companies to leverage the technology to their advantage.”

The game does appear to be popular with consumers. A 2D version of it, posted on Aug. 23, 2017, by PC Gamer on YouTube, had 62,418 views as of presstime.

“We developed an interactive virtual reality gaming experience, ‘The Hard Way,’ as a way to celebrate our existing restaurant employee training program,” a KFC spokesperson tells Target Marketing. “Nothing can replace the in-depth training our nearly 19,000 cooks throughout the country experience via e-learning and through hands-on training in our kitchens across the U.S. Our goal was to create a fun, engaging way for people to get a glimpse at the comprehensive process that goes into making our world-famous Original Recipe fried chicken.”

Acura Raises Pulses

Shown to the audience with absolutely no obstructions, an Acura navigates a sunny parking lot. But viewers then see through one driver’s goggles that she’s twisting and turning through a virtual snowstorm. Another driver passes through a simulated jungle.

Acura Experiential Marketing

Acura livestreamed a race between four social media influencers who navigated virtual snowstorms and jungles while they were, in reality, driving on a sunny bit of asphalt in California.

“There’s a difference between what I’m seeing and what I know I should be seeing,” a breathless social media influencer and driver says on the video Acura posted to YouTube on July 10, 2017, after it was livestreamed.

Acura writes: “In the world’s first live augmented reality race, the 2018 Acura TLX A-Spec with Super Handling All-Wheel drive is presented with a first-of-its-kind driving challenge. Broadcast on Facebook Live, Twitter and YouTube, this event merges the precise nature of SH-AWD with the unpredictable nature of an ever-changing racecourse.”

Facebook post for Acura's AR raceOn Facebook, where the video’s been viewed 221,000 times, Acura told consumers they could influence the race in real-time.
“Join the live event and you can help change the landscape of the course in real-time by clicking Like, Love or Wow. You won’t just be watching, you’ll be a part of the groundbreaking action.”

The post showed 2,600 like, love and wow reactions.

In the comments, Justin Gaudreault writes: “Great job, Acura! Totally entertained!! Excited for the next one! Run the course again!!”Acura responds: “Love to hear it, Justin! Thanks for watching our live AR race. We look forward to launching more unique initiatives like this in the future.”

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