River Island goes VR for London Fashion Week promo

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Fashion retailer River Island partnered with Google on a campaign that included Google+ Hangouts and the virtual reality platform Google Cardboard.


Case study summary

• Retailer wanted to create buzz around fashion week sponsorship

• Partnered with Google+ Hangouts and the virtual reality platform Google Cardboard for more engaging experience for users

• Harnessed the opinions of influencers via earned media to generate buzz on the day

• 700,000 views on YouTube, 116,667 hangouts views and 583,333 views of separate films online

The challenge

Fashion retailer River Island’s vision to lead the fashion world through investing in technology has never been more apparent than in this venture. London Fashion Week is to no surprise one of the key events on the company’s calendar, with the world’s eyes firmly placed on the catwalks, designers, celebrities, models or even Kanye West -- if he can keep off stage for more than five minutes. It is no place for the meek, as publicists, bloggers and brands are all vying for attention -- so to make a splash you really need the right strategy and execution to gain traction in the headlines.

To get buzz, the retailer partnered with Google on a campaign that included Google+ Hangouts and the virtual reality platform Google Cardboard.

The motivation behind this campaign was to gain PR coverage through influencers at Fashion Week and shift perception for high street shoppers that River Island is an authority in fashion, through leading the field in technology. Views and live comments of the Google+ Hangout were also crucial in bringing awareness to the wider public, but the key metric was active mentions and searching of the product range.

The primary target audience was the great and the good of the global fashion industry -- attendees at London Fashion Week who included designers, bloggers, and celebrities - anyone with enough of a digital influence to be able to take River Island’s modest initiative and amplify it through social media channels.

The secondary audience was the general public -- River Island's core audience, who would take note of the viral effect of the campaign and associate River Island with cutting edge design and technology.

Although an established retailer on the high street, River Island still plays second fiddle to the large fashion stores such as Zara, H&M and Gap. Not only do these competitors' stores outnumber RI's significantly, they also have considerably larger marketing and PR budgets at their disposal. This means that the company has to invest its budget in an incredibly smart fashion.

As a result, the company relies heavily on the influence among friends through the sharing of outfits on WhatsApp or posting their favourite outfits on Instagram; it’s where they turn to for advice, support and approval. More recently, it’s where they turn to appease their insatiable need for content -- so, with that as a starting point, River Island sets out to push the boundaries of what’s possible, by creating intimacy with the brand through an immersive, mobile-based experience.

A one-to-one, intimate experience through each customer’s own mobile device was paramount in the execution of this strategy and by providing Google Cardboard eyewear along with purchase, River Island was able to nudge customers into the store and attract interest from those who may not have previously considered RI as a brand to associate themselves with.

The solution

The strategy was simple; to generate positive discussion of the River Island brand through a much more ‘pull’ focused approach to content rather than the traditional ‘push’ mechanism of reaching an audience.

When today’s shoppers leave the house they check for three things: their keys, their wallet and their phone (and handbag if they are so inclined). The mobile phone is central to our daily lives, especially to high street shoppers, so to mark the launch of River Island’s new collection it wanted to create an incredibly immersive brand experience which, through a partnership with the tech wizards at Google, could be delivered simply through an individual’s very own mobile phone.

The experience, which was created in collaboration with the designer Jean-Pierre Braganza, the British Film Council and River Island, was delivered seamlessly through Cardboard in the heart of Fashion Week at Somerset House in addition to the giveaway to those who purchased at River Island. The 360-degree virtual reality experience allowed anyone with a phone and the Cardboard eyewear to take control of the Kingfisher bird through a journey where technology and fashion collide.

This was the first time that any fashion retailer had utilised Google Cardboard in a campaign, so there were no learnings on which the brand could rely when planning the campaign. However, by analysing other cutting-edge initiatives by fashion retailers, such as Burberry, River Island was able to predict with some degree of reliability that utilising Google Cardboard at London Fashion Week would create a large amount of buzz.

The Cardboard eyewear was distributed through River Island’s very own app on Android and iOS. Over 4,000 branded Cardboards were distributed to bring the three-minute experience directly to influencers attending the event.

By placing the experience within its mobile app, River Island leveraged the interest from Fashion Week into a powerful tool to advocate spending time with its brand.

Google Cardboard was then showcased in River Island’s flagship store on Oxford Street and its Amsterdam store during a week in mid-February where customers had the opportunity to download the app and try out the experience. Customers who ordered an item from the collection online also received a free Cardboard with their purchase to ensure they were able to experience every aspect of the brand themselves.

Following the launch event, there was a rich panel discussion on Hangout around Virtual Reality, Fashion and Technology chaired by Peter Fitzgerald. The Hangout on Air featured notable fashion and technology thought leaders such as Wired’s Jeremy White, as well as representatives from River Island and designer Jean Pierre Braganza.

In addition to the Hangout, three videos were produced to complement the app -- seeded through River Island-owned and earned channels, as well as paid social media activity via Facebook and Twitter that was targeted to fashion influencers, and mobile devices.
Harnessing the opinions of influencers entirely through earned media was the ideal way of generating buzz on the day and by following up the event with a Google+ Hangout, River Island provided deeper understanding of the brand and product range.

The results

The results surpassed expectations.

There 700,000 views on YouTube, with Hangout Highlights totalling 116,667 views and the three films produced to promote the experience totalling 583,333 views. Attendees at Fashion Week raved about the experience, and were covered in all of the leading media, including: Vogue, British Fashion Council, London Fashion Week, Fashion and Mash, The Industry, Time Out, Drum, Marketing Magazine, Ad Age, Wearable, Tech Week Europe, Hyper grid Business, Glamour and WGSN.

Ben Lewis, CEO of River Island said: ‘We are excited to be one of the first fashion brands to pioneer the use of Google’s new virtual reality technology within the fashion arena. Since the start of Fashion Film, we’ve sought to explore and build on the relationship between fashion and film and now with Google Cardboard via handheld mobile, we are able to reach new technological heights for the viewer.”

Matt Andrews, Chief Strategy Officer of Mindshare UK: "The deal allows River Island to showcase its tech and fashion-forward credentials as the fashion and technology worlds grow even closer."

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