Marketers for tourist destinations as well as for complex goods and services can gain various benefits from providing 360-degree virtual tours to consumers, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Nathalie Spielmann (NEOMA Business School, Reims) and Ulrich R. Orth (Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel) assessed the impact of self-guided, virtual tours when accessed on devices like desktop computers, smartphones and tablets.

And they found that experiencing a variety of tourist destinations “made consumers perceive a more genuine effort by the advertiser to be transparent” about the experience they were selling.

These 360-degree virtual tours were also regarded as yielding a “more authentic interaction” by consumers – an outcome that, similarly, “reduces the inferred manipulative intent of advertisers” among users.

Participants in virtual tours, it was noted, also “exhibited more favourable responses in terms of intentions and behaviors” due to this exposure.

As these results were independent of the device that is used, mood state, or category involvement, they are a “robust and reliable means for successfully advertising to consumers,” the study said.

These findings drew on three rounds of research in a paper entitled Can advertisers overcome consumer qualms with virtual reality? Increasing operational transparency through self-guided 360-degree tours.

A first research round saw 80 panel members undertake a self-guided panoramic virtual tour of the Museum of Childhood in London, a destination they had never visited before (a constant in all rounds of the research).

Consumers rated their experience in terms of metrics like telepresence (i.e. if they felt as if they were “in” the venue), authenticity, perceived manipulative intent, and willingness to view an ad or their intent to avoid it.

A second research round involved 136 consumers. Half of them took a self-guided panoramic virtual tour of the Ice Hotel in Quebec, Canada. The other half viewed high-resolution images from the same tour.

Alongside previous variables, the authors assessed the mood state of participants to understand if that had an impact on their response.

In a third round of research, the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam was the chosen vocation. A total of 416 consumers were involved, with half completing a self-guided virtual tour, and half viewing static images.

Two further variables were added to the analysis at this stage, in the form of claustrophobia, as well an individual’s style of visual processing.

A resultant insight was that these tours are especially useful for “products and services with benefits or functions that are complex” or a major investment “of time and distance would be required for first-hand experiences,” the scholars wrote.

Virtual tours are similarly valuable in “cases when consumers may be reluctant actually to commit to a decision”, the authors continued, as they bolster authenticity and decrease perceptions of manipulation.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff