Virtual Reality tech and marketing: The start of a beautiful friendship

With the BBC declaring that 2016 will be “when VR goes from virtual to reality” it appears the developing technology’s time has finally arrived.

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However, you could be forgiven for cynicism; we’ve been here before. As long ago as the 1990s, VR game pods like Virtuality and movies like Lawnmower Man heralded a future that looked virtual, but which crashed in disappointment.

It’s easy to be complacent, to think that VR is just the latest screen for which to repurpose your content. Well, I have seen the future, and I can say, this time, VR technology is real, it’s ready, and it’s going to transform what marketers and content owners can do with digital.

To imagine the benefits VR will bring, cast your mind back to the first iPhone. Apple bucked a trend and redefined both mobility and computing, creating the world’s most engaging form factor and a million marketing touchpoints. That offers up tantalising possibilities:

  • Broadcasters can put sports viewers into stadia, or even on the subs bench, creating the most valuable immersive experience imaginable.

  • Consumer goods makers can empower consumers to size up realistic products on their kitchen table or in the living room, all before purchase.

  • Product designers will be able to accurately virtualise their prototypes

All of this is a step-change from “traditional” digital thinking – the kind that exports core content to a multitude of different 2D screens with minor tweaks. If you haven’t tried a VR experience, you won’t know the change it represents. You have no idea how effective the experience is until you put that headset on.

At first, the impression left by VR is considerable, and long-lasting – like the early short Lumiere film “Train Pulling into a Station”, which, on its showing in 1895, is said to have terrified cinema-goers so much with its scene of a train hurtling toward the screen, many fled the building.

This impact will have a window. In time VR will become normalised. But today savvy marketers have an opportunity to create an early impression that will cement consumers’ relationship not just with the message but with the medium itself.

So, what should marketers do to jump aboard the next big thing?

  • Shed doubts about virtual reality’s many false starts, it has arrived.

  • Try it out. VR will gain adoption through several Trojan Horses – smartphone, cheap headsets and passive entertainment content.

  • Cast aside the shovelware mentality. VR requires new experiences, and that means blue-sky thinking.

Challenges remain, of course – chief amongst them, social anxiety. A key reason more people don’t use iPhone’s Siri assistant is the social embarrassment of humanly interacting with technology and the same applies to unconventional headsets people strap to their head. This means that VR will, in the initial adoption stage, work best  in controlled environments such as the office or home.

Right now, VR is fertile ground for marketers open to experimentation. There are no written manuals and nothing is set in stone. But it is important to think differently.

The rewards, at last, could be great.

by Dan Ulzhoefe, CEO, UI Centric

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