Snuggled away in a corner of the Los Angeles TOMS flagship store sits a wooden swivel chair with a hand painted sign, “Reserved: Virtual Giving Trip.” The chair blends right into the rest of the store, surrounded by customers casually working on their laptops, trying on shoes, and sipping their latest cup of TOMS coffee. If it weren’t for a seated customer donning a Samsung Gear VR headset and feverishly turning their head in all directions, you might have missed the chance to try the latest TOMS virtual reality experience.
A Virtual Giving Trip
In partnership with Chris Milk’s VR production company Vrse, TOMS is bringing fashion fans closer than ever to experience a TOMS Giving Trip. The latest VR experience allows viewers to tag along with TOMS in Peru through a four-minute 360-degree film.
Known for matching every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need, TOMS also takes pride in their year-round Giving Trips. In over 70 countries around the world, TOMS Giving Trips allow employees and partners to place new shoes on kids and see firsthand the work that Giving Partners and TOMS shoes are helping to improve education and health programs.
The latest TOMS “Virtual Giving Trip” has gone beyond just an initial retail test, to a roll out of their VR experience in over 30 retail stores globally and trunk shows at select department stores like Nordstrom.
Created by Jon Watts, Virtual Giving Trip was shot with Vrse’s 360-degree stereoscopic camera rig with binaural audio capture technology. When the viewer first fires up the experience, they are soaring high with a bird’s eye view of a remote part of Peru, shot from a drone.
The film soon takes you on a ride in the back of a jeep, where you end up at a giving destination with a team of TOMS employees, carefully measuring kids’ feet for shoes. For the final minutes of the film, you find yourself personally introduced to a young boy named Julio who shows you around his home and living conditions.
An Empathy Machine
It is a heartfelt and touching experience and that is the point. When speaking with TOMS Retail Director Keith Eshelman, customer reactions have been very “positive and also very emotional for some.” Although TOMS never set out to make viewers tear up like some have according to Eshelman, they do want people to feel emotion and empathy.
In a recent TED talk, Vrse’s Chris Milk has called virtual reality the “ultimate empathy machine.” From the looks of things, the TOMS Virtual Giving Trip is a perfect example of what brands can accomplish with virtual reality and what is possible in delivering a sense of presence to viewers. The sense of actually being immersed in the scene you are in, like you actually are there, is the power of virtual reality and a future content driver of emotional responses from consumers.
Although TOMS is currently focused on sharing and distributing Virtual Giving Trip to fans around the world, they have not ruled out future VR projects that may utilize virtual reality for other initiatives like sight and clean water.
Eshelman commented that they are working towards making Virtual Giving Trip more readily available on platforms like Google Cardboard or Gear VR.
But for now, you will just have to pop into a TOMS store and take a seat.
UPDATE: You can now watch the video in VR on YouTube: https://youtu.be/jz5vQs9iXCs
Photo Credit: VRScout & TOMS