Art Haynie

What does every political campaign need to accomplish? To some degree that depends on what kind of campaign it is. Basically, “no” is a voter’s default, and it takes a lot of work to get them to “yes.” You may need to do several things.

  • Get voters to understand the issues
  • Help them get to know the candidate
  • Dominate the discussion
  • Appeal to voters’ sensibilities
  • Find something meaningful to voters’ lives.

But there is only one specific factor that is key to achieving any of the above: you need to get people to pay attention. That’s where VR will help your campaign.

Talking points and great creative aren’t enough any more. Traditional media is commonplace. We’ve been there, seen that, we’re doing it now and we’ll do it again tomorrow. But VR is not a passive experience like almost any other media. It doesn’t allow you to look away. Just watching a VR application means engagement, because you have to turn your head, or move your phone, or click and drag a mouse — but you have to, and then you want to, because you are there. You can look all around, see and experience new things, and listen to whoever is there with you.

This project was completed for public affairs consultancy AZ Highground.

Engage a Captive Audience

Why is canvassing such a big deal to campaigns? Because it’s a more personal touch – you can meet voters and tell your story up close and intimately. And, let’s face it, because the audience has a harder time running away. They’re captives. What if you had money to load every single voter onto a bus and take them, one by one, to see for themselves the the old waste facility you want to get rid of, and then what if you could by magic actually show them the new stadium that will be built there? Or drive a road that’s full of potholes, or visit a school that needs new classrooms? Or imagine standing right in front of a candidate as they deliver their impassioned speech to you, personally. That’s the power VR has.

I did a VR project last year for the public affairs consultancy AZ Highground. After it was over, seasoned political veteran Paul Bentz told me they’d done a zillion traditional web videos in the past — I’ve done many with them — and each time, people watched for a few seconds, then stopped paying attention and moved on to the next conversation. But, he told me, that once people started watching the very simple VR spot, they didn’t stop watching until it was over. He’d never seen people engage like that. And Highground has a trophy shelf that would hold a midsize rental car.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a case in point to back the engagement claim. Fiat Automobiles does traditional Facebook videos regularly, earning around 2,000-5,000 views. Sometimes one might get some traction with 10k-50k views. I saw one really take off at 350k views. That’s success, right? Hold on. I worked on a VR Facebook video for them. Simple idea. Inexpensive. Same placement. It hit 4.2 million views in less than two weeks.

Seniors Will Watch VR

Will seniors watch it? Yes. Many traditionalists in politics believe direct mail is the only way to get to seniors. But do yourself a favor and just google “seniors” and “VR” and see what you find. Not only are there tons of pro seniors & VR headlines, but they’re empowering, and incredibly touching. An MIT tech start-up is creating a VR platform that gives residents in assisted-living facilities the chance to explore the world virtually, something that they can no longer do in real life. Their platform then provides cognitive therapy and tracks movement data to aid in early diagnosis of dementia.

Studies show seniors use VR to reconnect to their past and connect to a world where they are no longer mobile enough to do so. VR is proving to stave off feelings of isolation, dementia, depression, and even motivates exercise. Who knows what else they’ll find? Anyway, seniors like VR. Actually, they love VR.

VR is accessible to everyone.

Nearly nine in 10 Americans are online, up from about half the population in the early 2000s. Pew Research Center has charted this trend through more than 15 years of surveys on internet and technology use. And 77% of them own a smartphone. Either of those is all you need.

A case in point to how much the world is using AR/VR without even realizing it; Pokemon Go was released less than a year ago. It had 850 million downloads in the first handful of months — a number that does not include India or China (where it is banned). In the first two months, there were 55 million new users to the technology in the U.S. alone. 30% of the entire U.S. mobile app population visited Pokemon Go. The tech is already out there, and being used widely.

Do You Need Goggles?

No. You don’t have to have them. Phones, tablets, and computers will all work as 360-degree viewers. But to make the experience great, and to watch in 3D, the goggles can be a great addition. Over 20 million people own goggles now, and 30 to 90 million are expected to own them within two years. But for those who don’t, here’s a tip: “Google Cardboard” viewers can be bought in bulk for next to nothing, branded with your campaign ID info and websites, and sent as direct mailers or given away at events and in contests, put in newspapers or on doorsteps, etc… And people keep them to watch other VR content with.

VR Is Not Expensive

Another common question in the campaign world is, what’s the most cost effective way to get eyeballs?

I recently sat on a panel at the CampaignTech conference in Washington D.C. and was paired with a very traditional campaigner and VR naysayer sitting opposite me, so that the audience could hear both sides of the story. In general, the only argument he had against it was that he just assumed was its prohibitive cost. Problem was, he had zero idea what he was talking about.

VR is no more expensive than a traditional commercial or web video. Like any production, it’s full of variables and can cost a little or a lot depending on what you want to shoot, but I can get them done for as little as 10k, and so can you if you know who to call. Just make sure you find someone who knows what they’re doing. If they don’t, the shoot itself, may be inexpensive, but I can promise you the post-production bill won’t be.

VR is powerful. It will make your campaign better and stronger. And it is actually simple once you understand it. Almost every meeting I walk out of, someone says they’re “exhausted” because once they get it, their minds reel with all the possibilities. I’ve had multiple meetings in the last two weeks that were slated for 30 minutes and turned into two and a half hours.

VR takes voters to places, in person, to see, hear, and experience whatever you need them to.

VR can change the game for a campaign — or you can do the same thing as everyone else and be lost in a sea of traditional media with far lesser engagement, that voters mostly choose to ignore.

You’ve already come up with good talking points and creative. Now get your voters to pay attention to it.

A version of this article was originally published by Campaigns & Elections.