NEW YORK: The North Face, the outdoor apparel brand, is using VR to boost consumer engagement although it has yet to link its investment directly to sales outcomes.

"It's been a universally positive thing for the hundreds of people that have tried it in the store, and the thousands of people who have downloaded content to their phone," said Eric Oliver, director of digital marketing at The North Face.

"It's not paid search," he told eMarketer. "It's way, way higher in the funnel, way closer to advertising and engagement than it is trying to catch somebody with purchase intent."

And that is perhaps just as well as he admitted that "I can't necessarily prove that watching the VR experience sold an additional jacket or had any contribution to sales".

The efforts that have gone into creating 360-degree immersive content filmed in locations ranging from Yosemite National Park to Nepal are about persuading people to spend more time in store; "and if a purchase happens, that's cool".

Oliver explained that the brand's first foray into this field had taken place only around a year ago when it had set out with the intention to "shoot a quick pilot" to share the experience of climbers in two iconic US locations – Yosemite and Moab.

Encouraged by the reaction of customers it has since moved further afield, learning more with each new venture.

For example, Oliver reported that "What happens with a lot of people when they experience VR for the first time is that it doesn't register that they have a 360-degree field of view". That realisation affected the editing sequence of the Nepal film.

Distribution of such content is clearly important and towards the end of last year The North Face tied up with Outside, an influential magazine focused on the outdoors, delivering 75,000 branded Google Cardboard viewers to subscribers who were encouraged to download the app to check out the experience.

"For us it's empathy for the outdoors," said Oliver. "These places are awesome. Go visit them. Be respectful when you go. Think about your own relationship with preservation and conservation and the way that you live."

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content by Warc staff