VR has been hailed as ‘the next big thing’ for a while now, but what is actually happening in the world of VR now, and how does it apply to marketing?
Any new technology goes through the hype cycle and this is certainly true of VR. We had a peak of excitement a few years ago and now, after a lull (the Trough of Disillusionment), we seem to be seeing more practical uses emerging with the technology and this hopefully means we are on the route to mass adoption.
Barriers for adoption
However, there are several obstacles that need to be overcome for VR to take-off in the mass market. These include:
- The isolation element. VR involves going into a completely immersive world on your own and, whilst there are plus sides of this for a brand in that you have someone's complete attention, for mass adoption there would need to be some social or human element to it.
- We are requiring behavioural change. We are very used to using a phone or laptop, but not used to putting a headset on. Unless the experience is extraordinary, we are not going to entice people to change their current behaviour.
- The VR tech is large and clunky. As the technology is adopted and developed this will most likely become more slick and user friendly.
Route to mainstream
- Investment. Technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google that are supporting VR, are going to drive development, create competition and ultimately lower costs.
- Gaming. This is always a big driver for mass adoption, but it will also be valuable in exploring the social element of VR.
- Cinematic VR. High-quality, 360° 3D video experiences, with ambisonic audio and interactive elements.
- Experiences. Worlds that you interact with, not games or films, and advanced storytelling that attract people into the VR world.
- Ready Player One. The release of the movie Ready Player One in 2018, although not an ideal of the future we want, will open people’s minds to the possibility of the technology, and will encourage mass understanding of the medium.
- Live. If data restrictions were removed, amazing live VR could be created. For example viewing sporting events live from home on your headset, where you are on pitch / court and can actually move around and approach players.
- Retail. Experiences where you can you share, create and explore things you want to buy. Being unrestricted by cost or real-world constraints could create some exciting retail opportunities.
- Cost. The affordability will need to come down dramatically for mass adoption.
- Mobile. The development of software / hardware needs to become powerful enough for people to have high quality, fast VR experiences on mobile.
- Augmented Reality. The merging of the real world and the virtual world through wearable technology, which will carry and push VR with it. Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper Reality film is a scary but powerful vision of this future.
- Shared Marketplace. We need to get to a place where all VR experiences work on all platforms. All the big players such as Google and Microsoft will try to own the space, but we will hit barriers for adoption if there isn’t a shared market place, or at least one outright winner.
- VRcades. Places where people can go in shopping centres or other public places to play or engage with VR. A good way to introduce first time users.
- B2B. A fast-growing area of VR, allowing the power to collaborate and work together remotely.
- Social. Once we learn and develop how people can interact socially, this will be a way in which VR gains real speed.
Only time will tell if this is true but Goldman Sachs have predicted VR will be bigger than TV by 2025 (based on annual revenue). Which means if you aren’t thinking about VR now, maybe you should be.
Sometimes, as with any new technology, it can be hard to generate practical applications for brands, where you are adding value and not just utilising the technology for its own sake. But these could include things such as:
- Try before you buy holidays
- Celebrities selling clothes to consumers in a virtual store
- Demonstrations or showcasing of products
- Product placement within a game or experience
- Designing or test driving cars
- Tours of factories / farms / vineyards to see where your food or drink is made
VR also allows marketers to explore experiential marketing at scale. Whereas historically this type of marketing relies on creating a unique engagement with a small number of consumers, VR will open doors and allow the same experience for all users no matter where they are.
Here are a few of our favourite VR campaigns:
A 4D, motion-tracked, multi-sensory experience to promote Merrell’s hiking shoe by taking users to extreme locations on an exciting hike experience that is fully immersive.
A virtual journey to Peru to see some of the children who receive shoes on Tom’s Giving Trip. A moving and uplifting experience to help consumers understand and experience the benefit of the company's mission.
Gives the intense, exciting experience of being right in the Nascar action, from multiple different positions such as the pit stop, a spectator or driving the car.
A magical sensory journey through a fridge filled with ingredients from Boursin including herb forests and onion tunnels.
A huge challenge for marketers will be measuring and justifying return. But, as with all marketing activity, the KPIs just need to be defined ahead of time. For example measuring brand engagement or dwell time within the virtual space, both of which could be much longer than with traditional mediums, or it could be a sales uplift during or after the activity.
Spending on an emerging technology can be hard to justify, however a study by Greenlight VR found the investment may prove worth it with stronger brand affinity and increased sales: 53% of consumers said they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that uses VR than from one that doesn’t.
Whether or not you decide that VR is right for your brand, one thing is certain and that is we certainly have some exciting times ahead, both as marketers and consumers.