Virtual reality is all about creating an illusion of reality or an imaginary environment around you using computer-simulated graphics and sound effects. As a concept, it was first designed by Ivan Sutherland in 1968. After almost four decades, it is now a reality, starting with the fine maker of The Sword of Damocles, widely considered to be the first virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) head-mounted display (HMD) system.
The Marketing Context
Marketing as a function has been undergoing radical changes due to advancements in digital, web, data, analytics, and automation. The fundamentals, though, have always remained the same—communicate effectively to gain revenue and market share. With the dire need for differentiation in the noisy marketplace, marketers have always been looking for new technologies and solutions to better position themselves. Virtual reality is one among such innovations.
It has immense potential to transform the way we are experiencing things today; it can extend anywhere from experiencing the Himalayas through virtual headsets while at the office to doing meditation or yoga on a beach using VR headsets.
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Marketers Must Adapt to VR Quickly!
One of the major challenges faced by marketers today concerns awareness and engagement with the brand, as VR brings to the table the promise that it’s going to be immersive, impactful, and memorable.
The increasing use of mobile devices is a fact, as virtual experiences are nowadays often coupled together with these devices.
Who is Taking Virtual Reality Seriously?
As early adopters of virtual reality, here are the companies that considered VR as a significant step in their brands’ journey:
Google led a $542 million investment in Magic Leap in October 2014. Reportedly, the company is developing augmented reality technology that will weave “3D light sculptures” into the world around us, using a combination of proprietary hardware, software, and firmware. Very soon, Google is also coming up with a new VR headset as the successor to Google Cardboards.
In March 2014, Facebook, Inc. (FB) acquired virtual reality startup Oculus VR for $3 billion. Oculus now offers RIFT, GEAR VR, and Oculus-ready PCs as well.
Sony Corporation (SNE) is poised to launch PlayStation VR (originally dubbed “Project Morpheus”). The consumer version of the PlayStation VR has been available since August 2018.
In April 2015, GoPro, Inc. (GPRO) announced that it acquired French virtual reality startup Kolor, which enables users to produce high-resolution, 360-degree “spherical content.” It is being termed GoPro Fusion.
HBO and Discovery, in April 2016, made major investments in virtual reality “to create the universal publishing platform for TV, movies, and original holographic content.”
How are Marketers Utilizing Virtual Reality Today?
Let’s explore some cases of virtual reality to understand this better.
The New York Times virtual reality
One of the earliest adopters of VR, NYT started providing NYT VR app and videos to provide an immersive experience for their readers using Google Cardboard. In October 2015, The Times announced its plans to distribute over one million Google Cardboards to home delivery subscribers; within the same time frame, they witnessed more than 500,000 downloads of the NYT VR app.
Tesco created a virtual store
People could really walk around something before it was built. These were essentially a display of products on walls of metro stations and bus stops. Commuters, especially those who were tech-savvy and ultra-busy, could scan the QR codes of the products on display with their smartphones, and place their orders as they waited for their trains or buses. The virtual store has been a huge success with commuters and drove over 900,000 app downloads in less than a year, making the Homeplus app the most popular shopping app in South Korea.
Volvo – XC90 Test Drive
In the automotive world, Volvo was the first company to launch a virtual reality campaign on Google Cardboard, meant to experience the all-new Volvo XC90 with Volvo Reality, a full virtual reality test drive on your phone. The brand reported 238 million media impressions—now that’s a lot of immersive experience for such a new car launch.
Unicef used VR to raise funds
UNICEF China has used virtual reality (VR) technology for documenting its best practices. On July 25th, UNICEF NZ invited the public to see inside a Syrian refugee camp. The award-winning film Clouds Over Sidra moved people deeply and doubled the rate of donations to UNICEF.
TGI Fridays in London has created the world’s first virtual dogsled ride using cutting-edge 360-degree Oculus virtual reality technology. This was filmed 85 miles above the Arctic Circle, and of course the experience on videos was overwhelming.
What Lies in the Future of VR?
There are portable devices such as VR headsets, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, etc. However, customers still don’t find it comfortable to wear, so using it for more than an hour or so may not be practical. Headset makers don’t recommend their devices for children. Samsung and Oculus, in fact, urge adults to take at least 10-minute breaks every half-hour, and they warn against driving, riding a bike, or operating machinery if the user feels odd after a session. There is potential for VR developers to think about evolving into a medium or channel that can make it more user-friendly to experience on such devices for prolonged hours. Having said that, VR is here to stay. Adopting VR is the need of the hour; to sustain and be at par with competition, it is important to have VR as one of your marketing tactics, both currently and in years to come.
Differentiating and creating unique experiences utilizing VR, however, can appeal differently to customer and prospects, thus making your brands more memorable. Those who do not leverage this as one of the bare-minimum offerings will surely lose some potential and customer satisfaction. It is yet to evolve into its complete form; across gaming, simulated training, and probably a completely new medium after print, radio, and television, the potential is immense and powerful. For marketers, this means that virtual reality will be an integral part of their marketing and communications strategy for years to come.