VR could revolutionise advertising on a scale not seen since the arrival of the internet. Analysts forecast that over 12 million VR headsets will be sold by the end of 2016 and, according to Juniper Research, 30 million VR headsets will be shipped globally by 2020. Consumers are increasingly considering the technology a reality, with Google reporting a fourfold increase in searches. What will VR mean for consumers? And how are companies responding to the demand?
A New Connection
VR will connect consumers with products on a whole new level, and many high-end companies are beginning to realise that. General Electric were one of the earliest adopters, global chief marketing officer Linda Boff describing it as “a tool to tell a powerful story in a way that’s much more personal and up close than we’d normally be able to”.
Immersion is one thing, immersing your customers quite another. VR by no means guarantees consumer engagement, rather it will be what companies can do with the technology that will dictate success. VR combined with 360° video cameras for example (a rundown of which you can find on the Frugaa blog) put the user at the centre of the experience, transporting to locations and events happening a world away. Placing your customer on a rickety footbridge high up in the mountains (as hiking brand Merrell did last year) is a great publicity stunt, but it also convinces customers of the need for high-quality equipment they might previously have considered beyond their budget. Nike rolled out immersive content that put fans in the boots of Brazilian soccer star Neymar, allowing them to see what he sees as he scores a goal. These campaigns would not have worked if they had simply displayed the product. They worked because they clearly illustrated the benefits of owning and associating with that product.
VR in Action
VR had its start in gaming and entertainment, but companies are now adopting VR to create better and more marketable products. Take Ford for example – they are using VR in their Immersion Lab to aid product development and design autonomous vehicles. The former means that they can approve or veto a design before it even technically exists, demolishing costs. With their app NYTVR, the New York Times can place viewers in the midst of Middle Eastern conflict or alongside presidential candidates, telling the story in a manner more impactful than text alone. Hugo Boss is just one of the fashion houses granting access to their exclusive runway shows through VR. VR could revolutionise advertising? The revolution has already begun.
Benefits of VR for Companies and the Consumer
VR will enter every aspect of our lives, but why should this concern marketers? What edge does VR have that conventional advertising does not? It is obviously immersive. Google’s principle VR filmmaker Jessica Brillhart put it best when she said that “the story is everywhere”. When a user has their headset on, the world beyond ceases to exist. The consumer has nowhere else to look but at the message you are projecting, and there are no distractions to undermine it. When VR is fully integrated into our daily lives, conventional media will be left reeling in the dust. The experiences that VR produces are more memorable and right now the technology has novelty on its side (check out one funny example here). Big media is keeping a close eye on VR, and early adopters can benefit from favorable media attention which pushes the notion that they are the cutting edge.
VR for Everyone
VR is no longer science fiction. Products like the Oculus Rift and the Sony Morpheus will soon be commercially released, with many users getting their hands on VR for the very first time. This will be the best chance for many marketers to establish themselves when the industry is settling.
The technology will not stop there however. In future, haptic technology will allow VR to impact the body as much as the mind. Anthony Batt, co-founder of virtual reality firm Wevr, says that “you can see brands creating room-scale situations where consumers will interact with branded content. For example, Airbnb could create sims for real rental properties so users could experience what it would feel like to stay there.” For most smartphone users worldwide shopping is the top reason for interest in VR, many excited at the prospect of seeing the actual size and form of items before purchase. This is huge – how many times have you lingered at an online checkout, unsure of what you are actually going to get. If you as a brand are able to almost entirely eliminate consumer doubt – that is huge.
VR will grant continuing returns, but only for those companies who act now and get their foot in the door.