With the Oculus Rift slated for release on March 28 and various competing devices set to follow suit in the coming months, brands are starting to consider the marketing potential afforded by the new technology. Although it might take some time to become truly mainstream, the growth of virtual reality (VR) promises to revolutionize home entertainment and provide advertisers with new opportunities for reaching out to their target audiences.
From a practical perspective, VR has major implications for consumer interaction with brands. Some of the world's most popular brands have already adopted VR to create virtual experiences for their customers. For example, car manufacturer Volvo allows potential customers to take virtual reality test drives, while hotel chain Marriott uses VR to 'teleport' people to various branches around the country. The possibilities are endless. There's little doubt that the growth of VR can benefit businesses across a broad range of industries including hospitality, travel, e-commerce, fashion and real estate among many others.
Brands involved in particularly visual industries, such as travel or fashion, have been among the quickest to start experimenting with VR technology. To date, their utilizations of VR offer a immersive, yet somewhat unimaginative experience to shoppers similar to physically being in a shop where you can interact with products on offer. For example, US-based marketing and business consultation firm Sapient revealed its VR experience whereby users could virtually walk around a store and add items to their shopping carts. But this just skims the surface of what is theoretically possible. Imagine virtually trying on a pair of Nike shoes while standing in an Olympic Stadium surrounded by thousands of fans chanting your name. You get the idea.
VR will be of particular interest to e-commerce brands selling products that require a degree of configuration and customization, such as fitted kitchens or bathrooms. In such cases, consumers using VR technology will be far better equipped to visualize products as though they were in the showroom itself. Similarly, VR presents great potential to automotive brands by allowing consumers to take a closer look at vehicle interiors, while estate agents will be able to provide virtual walkthroughs of the properties they have for sale – all from the comfort of your couch.
Ever since its inception, VR has primarily been seen as a technology aimed towards creating an immersive experience in video games, but there's no reason why brands can't use it as well to create deeper and more meaningful experiences for their customers. As is the case with any new medium, filmmakers and publishers alike have started considering the potential of VR for the purposes of storytelling. However, creating a VR 'movie', while undoubtedly an interesting concept, requires very different methods to filming in 2D. Unsurprisingly, major streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix have been quick to adopt VR and experiment with its possibilities. For example, Netflix collaborated with Oculus to create an app that allows users to walk into a virtual living room and watch content in VR.
Virtual reality also has some interesting implications for people's professional and academic lives. For example, brands may be able to use the new technology to help facilitate remote working and improved collaboration by approximating physical interactions. For example, rather than having to be physically present at a business meeting, VR could allow teams spread out across the globe to collaborate by way of virtual avatars a VR meeting room – or any imaginable location.
Although VR has undoubtedly made enormous strides in the last couple of years, the technology is still very much in its infancy. Like any new technology, VR might be extremely successful or it could go the way of the 3D TV and prove to be little more than a passing fad. Nonetheless, brands would do well to take VR into consideration and review its potential for advertising and consumer interaction.
After all, if ever there was an opportunity to really create a truly immersive brand experience, this is it. Brands now need to think of creating entire sensory worlds, rather than layering onto an existing one like a retail store, a billboard, a bus or event. They can now bring to ‘life’ an intentionally controlled, orchestrated and designed experience. They can create a completely branded reality.
photo credit: University of Texas Knight Center for Journalism @flickr.com