The Future is Now: Virtual Reality Creates New Branding Opportunities
Unless you are in the gaming industry, you may not realize how Virtual Reality (VR) is taking off. In fact, long thought of as totally futuristic, the technology is becoming increasing accessible, and for consumers looking for VR experiences, there is increasingly more and more content to choose from. For Brand Managers, there is a lot to learn about the development of this new medium, and how they can best use its potential benefits.
First, it is useful to get an idea of where the evolution of VR stands today. The platform development has come first, with splashy launches such as the Oculus Rift, an early Virtual Reality headset. And, while headsets were initially so expensive as to discourage causal users, the advent of the Google Cardboard Reality Viewer, which can be bought for as little as $10, can turn a smart phone into a usable VR viewer.
While top of the line headsets can still be quite expensive, with high-end devices ranging from $500-$800, the advent of the cheaper options has driven non-gamer consumer interest more than ever before. According to the latest estimation by global market research firm TrendForce, the total value of VR market (including hard- and software) will reach US$6.7 billion in 2016 and will proceed to skyrocket to US$70 billion in 2020. At the trend-defining SXSW conference in Austin this year, Virtual Reality was making all of the headlines, and participants were offered chances experiences such as VR cycling, riding roller coasters, driving a race car or exploring a spacecraft.
The key thing to understand about consumer interest in VR is that it is about “experiences,” which put the “user” at the center, whether they be of mountain climbing, surfing, flying over the grand canyon, sitting in with your favorite rock band and many more. The availability of “experiences” for VR is exploding, with top studios and ad agencies working to create experiences of all sorts to fill the need for content that the technology has created. These experiences are being rated and written about, with reviewers ranking the top VR experiences for every taste. Even traditional brands such as the New York Times have gotten into the mix, having recently launched a VR app inclusive of experiences exploring weighty topics including politics, terrorism and the world-wide refugee crisis.
It is this experience creation which is making it possible for brands to connect with consumers through VR as a story-tellers medium. For example, a car brand could develop a VR in which the consumer drove that car as part of the overall story. At SXSW, he McDonalds VR experience provided to attendees which mixed logos in with the experience allowed users to immerse themselves in a world where they’re tasked with painting a gigantic Happy Meal box with gobs of virtual reality paint. Other large brands, such as GE launched an animated VR experience on the New York Times’ VR App.
There is no question that going forward, branding strategies must include a VR component. As part of that, brand managers and marketing teams must learn about the possibilities of VR, and learn how to use this nascent advertising platform to the best advantage.
Most experts agree that VR story-telling is very different from traditional advertising, and brands must be careful how they implement their VR programs. For one thing, VRs must be well-made to avoid potential viewer nausea that can result from moving cameras. Other experts note that VR experiences generally take longer to develop than traditional ads, thus requiring more planning on the part of brand managers. Additionally, many VR experiences include a “sensory” and interactive component, which must also be programed for.
We think that savvy brand managers will be looking to incorporate VR into their planning, whether it be for immersive experiences that include the brand (such as the McDonald’s Happy meal box), or sponsored content like the GE animations. Brands that start using this new medium early will have an advantage of better understanding all of the possibilities, and acclimating their consumers to consuming the information through VR. As a start brand managers need to start educating themselves on the possibilities of VR as they work to incorporate VR into their forward-thinking strategies.
In short, I recommend brands do the following:
- Get educated on what is out there in terms of VR opportunities for brand placement
- Familiarize yourself with the types of headsets available, you may want to focus on experiences for certain headsets depending on your target audience
- Check it out for yourself: Get an inexpensive set like Google cardboard and take a look at some of the top experiences available.
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By Chris Carmichael, CEO Ubiquity Broadcasting Corporation, an expert in immersive advertising. A film and video maker, and a Clio-award (annual advertising awards) winning professional, Carmichael’s company Ubiquity Corporation has developed a series of patents in the area of immersive advertising and virtual reality. The Ubiquity studio is currently producing VR experiences on a variety of topics.