Entertainment and telecoms business Virgin Media believes it is stealing a march on its competitors by incorporating 360-degree virtual reality (VR) marketing in its UK stores for the first time.

Customers visiting one of 20 participating Virgin Media stores can use a VR headset to experience a marketing film that virtually places them inside a party, where they are able to engage with the brand. It is being used as a way to boost in-store customer experiences, and is part of the business's wider focus on using content marketing as a method to distinguish itself from the likes of Sky and BT.

The VR project is an extension of Virgin Media's VIVID 200 house party TV advertising and 360 digital campaign. The 2.5-minute film has been produced for use with Samsung Gear but can also be experienced using Google Cardboard as a 360 extension within YouTube.

In addition, people can watch the film in 3D using a smartphone app from Jaunt, a US-based company that worked on the project and provided camera equipment for the ad production. Vision3, a 3D stereo technology operation whose recent portfolio of work includes Oscar winner Gravity, was also involved in the campaign.

Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer at Virgin Media, added: "With 360 video and 3D virtual reality technology we're taking our communication to the cutting edge and creating immersive experiences we know resonate with our audiences.

"Virtual reality will play a huge part in the future of advertising helping customers do more and experience more with our brands and our products."

Car manufacturer Audi, travel business Thomas Cook and premium fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger have all invested in virtual reality technology, from various players in the market, to provide their customers with more immersive experiences. In some cases, companies have used it to help upsell products and services.

The wide range of businesses now looking to dabble with this form of technology highlights its growth potential, and the various uses it can have in a retail environment.

Sam Battams, technology innovation director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, the global media agency working with Virgin Media on the VIVID VR campaign, said that offering VR experiences in a store environment gives staff a viable reason to approach customers in a store environment.

Battams and Gill Worby, head of digital marketing at Virgin Media, both told Essential Retail it could also provide children with a positive distraction when families visit a store to research Virgin's range of products.

Commenting on the potential impact of VR on the wider retail world, Battams added: "Virgin Media demonstrate leadership and bravery by being the first UK brands to adopt this technology to tell a brand story, something we think will place them in an advantageous position as this type of technology takes off."

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Manning Gottleib OMD

Jaunt VR

Vision 3