VR is far more than just a short-term marketing gimmick

While VR has been on many a marketer's radar for years, there are many who still see the technology as a gimmick. Gareth Brock, managing partner at Because, discusses how to avoid falling into the trap of using VR for VR’s sake.

VR sure has come on quite some journey. Whether or not you’re yet to be won over, there is no denying that a concept which still seemed almost out of reach only a handful of years ago has now become an incredible reality. With the power to imagine, create and mould unique consumer experiences, it’s little wonder that brands as varied as Gillette, Volkswagen and M&Ms have all now used VR to provide surprising moments.

VR has the power to transform the world, re-write the rules and take users to bold new places. But there remains a lot of confusion – both about what VR can do now, the budgets required and its future potential. While some media outlets are already reporting that the technology has run its course, others see it as a silver bullet for re-energising sectors of industry.

There’s truth in that statement, to a degree. VR is tailor-made for education, for example, but only if it’s used correctly. The pitfall of ‘VR for VR’s sake’ must be avoided at all costs, by working with partners that understand how and why to use this ever-evolving technology. It’s much, much more than just a short-term marketing gimmick.

Fulfilling both consumer and commercial desires

The VR market is going to grow exponentially over the next three years, and is predicted to be worth over $40 billion across mobile, console and PC by 2020 – up from $6.4 billion this year. It’s staggering to comprehend, but, by 2020, the VR market is estimated to be worth 15 times what it was worth in 2016. Talk about a big opportunity.

There’s a very simple reason for this – VR is perfectly placed to fulfil a wide range of desires. Having already started to prove itself in the arena of videogames, live events and video entertainment – the recently-opened IMAX VR arcade has received rave reviews to date – its use is steadily growing across the healthcare, engineering, real estate, retail, military and education sectors.

And when it comes to hardware, Oculus remains the most famous name in VR. A crowdsourcing project only five years ago that generated $2m, just two years later it sold to Facebook for $2 billion. Google Cardboard followed swiftly afterwards – a simple idea with the potential to make VR accessible to millions – and with PlayStation now also in the mix, the latest development is Google Daydream, set to be released this November. Daydream offers the chance for users to play, watch and create in VIVE standalone VR, and the vast majority of new Android phones will be compliant. It should be a game-changer.

The surge in production of premium head mounted display units (HMDs) – combined with hardware available for as little as $1 (Google Cardboard) has made VR content more accessible than ever before. Now disposable headsets – such as ones made using McDonald’s happy meals packaging – are helping to fuel adoption of VR even further.

New viewers and platforms are emerging all the time, and estimates suggest that over 10 million VR viewers were purchased in 2016, with 25million+ viewers in circulation today.

As headsets improve by the day, the shift in focus is quickly moving from hardware to the need for ongoing quality content. Make no mistake: it is content that will ensure both VR’s growth and survival.

Looking to the future

From 360° video, to CGI experiences and games, to panoramic photo experiences, the beauty of VR is its versatility. Video VR content, in particular, dramatises brand messages in a powerful way through complete immersion.

So where do we go from here? Quite simply, up. The cost effectiveness of disposable HMDs means these can be given away with ease to extend brand experiences, long after the face-to-face interactions have drawn to a close. The challenge for brand marketers will be to continue to attract audiences to new, exciting and innovative VR experiences, with a focus on incredible content with a strong theatrical element.

The tools now exist to take consumers to incredible locations and produce unforgettable moments. We’re still just touching the very tip of the colossal, and incredibly cool, VR iceberg.

Gareth Brock is managing partner at creative experiences agency Because. 


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