Google Cardboard

New Ad Campaign Example of Showmanship

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

A new Excedrin ad campaign addresses the common view that people exaggerate the pain from migraine headaches by replicating the experience through virtual reality. It is a great example of communication showmanship. 

Stung by criticism that a previous ad campaign trivialized migraine headache pain, Excedrin created the "Migraine Experience" which replicates the auras, disorientation, bright lights, floating spots and tunnel vision suffered by people with migraine headaches.

The pain killer company plans to make the migraine simulator available as a downloadable app, which can be experienced using Google Cardboard.

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

In one new TV ad, the mother of a young woman afflicted by migraines dons a virtual reality headset and is able to “see” her contorted world. She reacts emotionally, hugging her daughter with newfound empathy for the pain her daughter suffers from migraines.

The ad campaign is less about selling Excedrin than persuading people the anguish of migraines is real, excruciating and debilitating, often going beyond severe headaches to include nausea, dizziness and heightened sensitivity to sound. The ads serve effectively as an advocate for the 40 million people who are afflicted with migraines, Excedrin’s target audience.

This is a far cry from a few years ago when a previous Excedrin ad campaign drew fire by suggesting two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines would give up shopping to get rid of them. A website called thedailyheadache.com criticized Excedrin’s campaign for “minimizing migraines and treating women as superficial.”

The new campaign is very different. The simulator shows the severity of migraine headache pain and it tells heart-tugging stories that are relatable and shareable. Excedrin has created a strong web presence for the campaign, with more back stories, useful information about migraine symptoms and behind-the-scenes looks at how the Migraine Experience was created

“The reaction of loved ones to the experience spoke volumes,” Excedrin said of the ads. “Once the non-suffered experience what their friend or relative goes through during a migraine, their increased understanding led to a reaction full of empathy and love, which until now was harder to identify.”

The Excedrin ad campaign is further validation of the power of visual explanations that show what you mean.

Personalizing a Brand Promise

TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie fits a Peruvian child with shoes. The company recently utilized virtual reality to help tell its story. 

TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie fits a Peruvian child with shoes. The company recently utilized virtual reality to help tell its story. 

Virtual reality could expand from video gaming to empathetic storytelling, placing viewers in the middle of the action worlds away.

TOMS developed a virtual reality video that transports its shoe buyers to a dusty, mountainous village in Peru where they see the faces of children who receive free shoes as part of the company's buy-one, give-one philanthropy.

The TOMS store on NW Burnside Street in Portland is just one of seven around the world with the equipment to play the 4-minute video, which had its inspiration in a TED talk by virtual reality film producer Chris Milk. TOMS executives saw virtual reality video as a way to dispel disbelief in its cause marketing One-For-One brand promise.

Critics don't dispute the reality of TOMS donating shoes. They take aim at its claims that half of all TOMS profits go to philanthropy, asserting instead that buyers actually pay for two pairs of shoes in the purchase price. Other critics condemn TOMS for failing to locate factories in the countries and communities where it gives away shoes to poor people.

The TOMS virtual reality video is unlikely to dispel those criticisms. However, it will make the TOMS brand promise more personal for its loyal customer base because it draws them deeper into the giving experience than a regular video or a photo gallery.

Produced for VRSE by Oregonian Susan Hebert, the video zooms over the remote area where the Peruvian village is located, takes you along the bumpy road into town and plops you among the villagers. You see children in their schoolyard, watch as they are measured for new shoes and enjoy dancers in native costumes. At times, the children look straight at you and, in a couple of cases, actually greet you.

The video is part of what TOMS calls its "Give One, Experience One" campaign. Other than flying to Peru, it is the next best thing to actually being there to see your contribution to philanthropy at work.

Carole Conkling experiencing TOMS new virtual reality experience at the company's Portland store. 

Carole Conkling experiencing TOMS new virtual reality experience at the company's Portland store. 

Virtual reality filmmaking involves using a camera array to shoot a panoramic, 360-degree scene. The technique produces four simultaneous frames that when viewed through special goggles give the illusion you are watching something occur around you.

The TOMS viewing site in Portland is in the corner of a store, next to the coffee bar, which supports improved water supplies in rural villages. It consists of a single swiveling chair. You move your head or swivel in the chair to scan the full scene. You are, in effect, there.

In his TED talk, Milk calls virtual reality video an untapped format for storytelling, especially for stories that draw on empathy. You don't have to paint a picture to fire someone's imagination; you place them at the scene to experience it first-hand. You are not part of an audience; your experience is unique, much as it might be if you were on location yourself. 

It was an adroit choice by TOMS to use this pioneering storytelling technique, which adheres to the company's social entrepreneurship reputation. (The Portland TOMS store has a wall-sized map depicting the various pathways of its business philanthropy, which also include eyewear donations.)

While virtual reality video may not be a tool that is available or affordable enough for most companies and organizations to pursue, it will be, especially as its 360-degree format is adapted to computer and mobile device screens so you don't have to wear special headgear. Google Cardboard already exists for DIY "immersive experiences."

The lesson for today taught by the TOMS video is that fresh approaches to storytelling can make tried-and-true stories come alive again.