Toyota Revs Up Virtual Reality Efforts By Sponsoring Discovery’s ‘TRVLR’

Toyota has signed on as exclusive sponsor of the ambitious original virtual reality series Discovery TRVLR, produced by Discovery and Google’s VR team.

In addition to getting “presented by” billing, Toyota will be integrated into the show’s opening animation and into six of the series’ 38 episodes.

The series launches Nov. 3 on YouTube, and on the Discovery VR app and takes viewers to each of the seven continents. It can be experienced using both Google’s new Daydream View headset as well as its Cardboard viewer. It can also be seen on the web and on Android and iOS phones.

Discovery launched its VR app in 2015 and Toyota was its first VR advertising client.

“They have been really passionate about supporting Discovery’s work in this storytelling field,” Rebecca Howard, Discovery senior VP of emerging platforms and partnerships, said. “When we started talking about this project and working with Google, they definitely were the first brand that we thought of taking it to because they have been so innovative.”

Advertising in the VR world offers several advantages to marketers.

“First of all, you have 100% of somebody’s engagement once they’ve made a decision to put on a headset,” Howard said. “And I think in these days, when there are so many distractions and so much [fighting] for our attention, that having this capability where you really are immersed in that experience is really attractive to brands.”

Being associated with virtual reality can produce a halo effect, she added, particularly for brands that want to be identified as embracing innovations.

VR is also popular with those young millennial consumers marketers want to reach most.

“Millennials and younger viewers are looking for that kind of experimentation because they are spending their time in this digital universe and they’re very hungry for those kinds of experiences,” Howard said. “It’s great for brands to be engaged with it.”

Test Drive Led to Buy-In

Pamela Park, media manager, Toyota Motor North America, said that for her company, “VR offers an opportunity to connect with consumers through an immersive storytelling format. Viewers of VR content often tend to be engaged and receptive to experiences that transport them to environments that may be out of reach in real life. Further, VR is authentic and aspirational and that aligns well with the Toyota brand values.”

Early on, Toyota engaged with VR in an experimental mode. “We tested various levels of integration within the content, measuring brand lift with each execution,” she said. “As our partnership has evolved, we’ve focused more on delivering the best storytelling experience for consumers, while employing what we have learned as best practices for brand integration.”

Howard said Toyota’s approach helped support the storytelling, while minimizing commercialism. “In order to get audiences to come along with you on this journey it can really feel like you’re forcing a message, like a commercial. So I think we really were able to come up with an incredibly elegant solution,” Howard said.

With digital media, Toyota is able to target specific consumers who might buy particular models. And so far, VR viewers have proved to be good car buying prospects.

VR viewers are frequently tech-savvy and are actively seeking new experiences. That audience aligns well with the Toyota targets. “Toyota has consistently supported new and emerging platforms like Discovery VR that drive innovation and exploration through storytelling,” Park said.

And this particular show is a good fit. “TRVLR represents a perfect opportunity to align the Toyota brand with content that inspires consumers to explore the world around them through an immersive, innovative platform,” said Park, who declined to disclose how much Toyota paid to be part of the project.

Programmers are finding more ways to use virtual reality. Earlier this season, Fox aired a VR version of a Notre Dame college football game. And last week, the National Basketball Association, working with Next VR, announced that it would be producing 27 games in VR for NBA League Pass subscribers this season.

But the format still has a way to go with consumers and marketers. Earlier this year, a Forrester Research study said 42% of U.S. adults have never heard of VR headsets. Another survey, by Yes Lifecycle Marketing, found that 8% of marketers are using VR in ads, with 35% saying they have no intention to use VR.

In addition to Toyota, Discovery has worked with a number of advertisers, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Pedigree, Dairy Queen, Samsung and Disney for one of the studio’s theatrical releases. And VR experiences can have scale. A 360-degree rollercoaster experience created by Discovery for Gillette’s Clinical antiperspirant has more than 35 million views on YouTube over the past year.

“What’s great about Discovery is that we can promote it on every single platform,” said Howard. “We’ll run linear spots that push to the VR experience. We distribute the 360 video experience across all of our digital sites and then on top of that, with YouTube or Google being our partner, we have a great reach with that platform as well.”

The VR Price Is Right

When Howard pitches potential clients on VR, she finds that the first questions that get asked are about the price of VR production. While the technology is complex, the costs have come down, she said. “I have to talk to them about tools we are using.”

Google is using a new camera system called Halo that sends multiple images to the cloud, where they are immediately stitched together to form a unified VR experience. Sticking the images together used to be a very expensive prospect.

“That really took the price down for creating content,” Howard said. “Google’s been leading in that space to find those kind of postproduction shortcuts that we can use in VR so that you’re not spending all your money doing that.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.