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Is this the future of entertainment? Pepsi thinks so

A man wears an Oculus VR headset as he plays a video game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June 16, 2015.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
A man wears an Oculus VR headset as he plays a video game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June 16, 2015.

Few people will actually have the opportunity to ride along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. or skate with pro skateboarder Paul Rodriguez. But thanks to virtual reality technology, fans can experience what it would be like firsthand, brought to them by Mountain Dew.

"There is tremendous power in virtual reality as it gives PepsiCo a way to engage with consumers on a much deeper level," said PepsiCo's director of brand marketing for Mountain Dew, Sadira Furlow. "We're proud to be among the first users adopting this technology, helping to shape the future of creative storytelling and enable more immersive experiences for consumers."


Pepsi is just one of a number of brands creating VR content, turning the company from just a consumer packaged goods producer to a media company. Volvo let consumers test-drive its XC90 SUV without leaving the showroom floor using the technology. Patrón took customers on a virtual tour of its Mexican factory, seen through the eyes of a bee. O2 allowed fans to train alongside the English rugby team.

"VR is very much the new frontier," said production company Unit 9 founder Tom Sacchi. His firm produced the O2 VR content. "I think it's as big as TV, when TV disrupted the print advertising model."

Sacchi said that what's drawing brands in is the fact that instead of just watching a commercial and looking at a print ad, VR allows a consumer to be drawn into the world. While it isn't a communal experience, being a first-person experience only helps drive in brand messaging.

"When you put it on your head, you are teleported to wherever it is you are seeing, and your brain believes it," Sacchi said. "The power of that is something we haven't had before. We've been talking about it for millions of years. Movies are powerful because you feel connected. This is the next level."

Digital agency Firstborn developed the VR content for Mtn Dew and Patrón. It's also worked with brands such as Audible to create virtual book previews. During New York Comic-Con this year, it rendered a chapter from graphic novel "Lock and Key" into VR for readers to peruse.

"It's arguably more immersive," said Firstborn CEO Dan LaCivita. "When you put on the goggles, it's different from seeing it on your TV. I think a lot of the previous (marketing content) experiences have been passive. We believe that everything is moving from a passive to a more interactive experience."


Companies may be touting VR's ability to bring a potential customer in their content, the fact remains that not that many people own the headsets. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserted that he believed that "this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people" in a Facebook post announcing the purchase of Occulus, but that day hasn't come.

At the TechCrunch Beijing Summit on Nov. 1, CNET reported that HTC chief content officer Phil Chen said he thinks it will still take three to five years before VR becomes a mass medium. Still, Chen projected that there would be about a billion headsets sold in the next seven to eight years.

There are other issues, LaCivita points out. There's currently no hub like a Netflix for VR content, although many companies, like Milk VR, NextVR and Vrdeo, are attempting to be that platform.

Sacchi believes the consumers will come. Facebook is backing Oculus. Google has enabled 360-degree VR content on YouTube, and is giving away its Cardboard holder — which allows people to watch VR content as long as they download an app on their smartphone — for free. Others are working on ways to view the content without headsets on your phones, which will take away that "dork" factor, Sacchi added.

Right now, LaCivita believes the biggest problem is that there isn't a lot of VR content for people to consume. He said smart brands are realizing that if they start creating content now, they can become the go-to-name in VR content since there are so few media companies now. Brands can only win by getting ahead of the game because a VR future is inevitable.

"Nobody wants to buy a gaming console and just have one or two games to play," said LaCivita. "Brands have an opportunity to create interesting and immersive content in the space. They should worry about that and not about the number of headsets that are going to be sold."

The folks at Pepsi agree.

"The power of virtual reality is in giving PepsiCo a way to engage with its consumers on a much deeper level, immersing them 100 percent with cutting-edge experiences that places them everywhere and anywhere — from Dale Jr.'s driver's seat, to being in the shoes of Bryce Harper at the plate and even on the streets of Lima, Peru, experiencing community work that aims to make the world better," Furlow said. "We believe that we'll continue to see more and more consumers engaging with virtual reality and the introduction of new equipment and opportunities that will make the immersive experiences accessible for the masses."