When thinking about how to apply VR to your next marketing plan, what’s the first application that comes to mind? Immersive MOA experience? Cool booth driver?

VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), and MR (mixed reality, a hybrid of AR and VR) provide a mechanism of long-form storytelling that is an incredible immersive experience. Physicians are already using VR to learn how to talk to patients about their condition, and studies have shown that the experience can actually reduce pain. However, if you look at the way pharma companies are implementing this technology in the real world, many are using it solely to showcase the MOA at conventions.

What VR technology truly offers is the opportunity for more effective and lasting influence on consumer habits, but without a compelling narrative, the executions can fall flat. It’s time to move beyond the traditional “fantastic voyage” MOA narrative and step into a real story, one that inspires the user to think differently.

Here are a few ways that pharma can take VR, AR, and MR to the next level:

Introduce Metaphor

The story-telling language of film varies from director to director, but the elements are tried and true: Camera movement, zoom, and cuts all help to build visual stories through film. What is the narrative language for VR, especially in pharma?

Introduce metaphor. Whether it’s a gamified representation of how a drug responds to cells or an immersive, hapticically responsive digital world designed to create understanding of the patient or caregiver experience, leveraging metaphor in the design of your VR concept can elevate the technology from a place for amortizing content to a place for creating new, life-changing, experiences.

Gaming Design & Structure

The story format and structure of a video game make it an ideal medium for translating new information in order to inform and influence behavior. Further, gaming design can be applied to the interactive elements of a VR execution to encourage more intuitive and effective engagement with the user, providing a more memorable education environment.

And VR isn’t the only digital reality format for gamification. As popularized by the instant popularity of Pokémon Go, AR has deep roots in gaming and provides an incredible opportunity for greater applicability of this immersive technology. In fact, the future of AR gaming looks much like VR in the form of wearable technologies with AR glasses, similar in functionality to Google Glass, on the horizon.

The level of interactivity of gaming technology can also be leveraged to improve overall connection to content. Studies have shown that daily VR use by those rehabilitating from stroke can lead to increased quality of life, lesser isolation, feeling more secure, fewer tiring transportations, more frequent exercising, better compliance to training, and lower cost for transportation.

“The Empathy Machine”

VR has been proven to have a measurable effect on empathy and understanding. When there is a disconnect between patient experience and the world around them, VR technology, which is making strides in haptic feedback mechanisms, is an effective and memorable way to achieve shared understanding.

In April 2016, Excedrin released “The Migraine Experience,” a powerful VR experience that allows others to see what they see when having a migraine. By creating a unique, customized experience, Excedrin was able to deeply influence the user by allowing the user themself to experience the story rather than have it told to them. Another example: Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab conducted a study in 2015 that showed young people put through a VR simulation from the perspective of an elderly person resulted in reduced signs of ageism.

Allowing HCPs or caregivers to experience these virtual hallucinations can help create empathy, increase diagnosis and prescriptions, and ultimately improve the standard of care for a patient.

In Conclusion: Technology as a Healthcare Solution

As VR/AR technologies steadily improve and costs decrease, brands should consider broader applications and go beyond the MOA for a grater impact on their target audiences. The applications and capabilities of these technologies are expanding rapidly, offering a myriad of creative ways to better influence behavior through highly customizable, fully immersive experiences with lasting impact.

  • Anna Chelak

    Anna Chelak is a Channel Strategist at DDB Health. Her background in media publishing (Wired, The New Yorker, Forbes) has provided her with a unique perspective on marketing solutions in the pharmaceutical space.

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