Virtual Reality - has the hour finally arrived for marketers?

Virtual Reality - has the hour finally arrived for marketers?

Just when you feel like you might finally have a grip on the light-speed growth of digital marketing, it could be time for yet another crash course

Virtual Reality is jostling to team up with digital marketing as the future of advertising, and like Marty McFly struggling to hold on in the DeLorean, we can certainly predict where we’re going to end up, but there’s just no way to be sure.

Enter the big guns

The technology has been talked up for decades, but now it seems the big players are zeroing in. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is one of the frontrunners, and you could safely say he knows how to spot an upcoming trend.

The founder of the world's largest social media network has been bullish about the technology. 

"We are working on a whole new level of social experience. It's going to add a whole new layer of immersion," Zuckerberg said.

From BloombergTechnology, virtual reality won’t just be another technology for hard-core nerds, if Zuckerberg gets his way: 

“In just a few years, virtual reality has gone from the science fiction dream to an awesome reality. Right now we’re entering the golden age of video and animation: After video, it’s VR.”

So, has the hour for Virtual Reality finally arrived?

Mark Zuckerberg leads the VR charge. Picture credit - Forbes.com

Mark Zuckerberg leads the VR charge. Picture credit - Forbes.com

Is demand reaching a tipping point?

The demand seems to suggest so. With sales of virtual reality headsets and software expected to reach $1 billion this year, marketers should take note that while some technology can take time to come of age, VR offers a potentially huge opportunity to take advertising to the next level.

With the current hysteria surrounding the phenomenon of new VR based game Pokemon Go, it would seem that consumers are now ready for a new virtual reality era.

Robert D. Hof writes in The New York Times that the Oculus Rift, a VR headset which is owned by Facebook, won’t be available until early next year, but many of the two billion consumers worldwide who own smartphones can already try out virtual reality on the cheap with Cardboard, a device from Google that folds into a viewer with a slot for a smartphone.’

Looking to make virtual reality commonplace, more devices are coming to the market. The fight begins for market share. 

Advertisers and agencies are hoping VR will be the next bonanza in the marketing art of persuasion.

Virtually dipping toes

But for now, marketers are dabbling with eye candy displays on YouTube’s 360 video channel and in their own apps - kind of parading the race car around, yet still unsure of what exactly will happen when they put the foot down.

There are virtual reality movies and shows coming soon, but the question still remains what kind of ads, if any, will perform on the platform.

Giants like Coca-Cola, Volvo and HBO are struggling to figure this out.

Facebook is also only currently dipping their toes - they recently introduced 360-degree ads, including video ads from AT&T and Nestlé. But it’s not yet clear what kind of programming will catch on in virtual reality – besides video games -  to provide a place for that advertising.

But despite these initial challenges, companies are still curiously seeking their VR pot of gold - even McDonald’s is getting in on the act. As Adweek reports, coming to a store near you, Happy Meal boxes that turn into virtual reality headsets. Now it’s going to be even tougher to convince the kids on those salad options...

Picture credit: Adweek.com

Picture credit: Adweek.com

Bloomberg reports that BMW and Volvo have released apps that allow users to simulate driving their cars. Additionally, Ikea of Sweden has created a program that builds a virtual kitchen.

This is truly the great promise of VR marketing- total immersion advertising. Imagine not having to even leave your home to find out what car you’d like to drive, or kitchen to build in said home.

As opposed to our current digital broadcast model, this is truly the Trump card of virtual reality.

From ad agency Tribal Worldwide, Creative Director Victoria Buchanan said:

“People don’t believe and trust in broadcast ads like we used to. People want to try before they buy or feel before they touch. This is going to be vital in getting people engaged.’’ 

Karen Boswell of Adam & EveDDB was equally positive, from Drum marketing magazine:

“When created properly, VR can be a brilliantly enhanced way of not only telling your story but bringing an audience into your story, which is powerful for brands who want to engage rather than just broadcast.”

If it's not social, will it catch on?

VR isn’t exactly the most social of pursuits - the headsets completely cut you off from the outside world.

And while this is great for immersive gaming, the experience of surrounding users with video and sound can also leave some feeling isolated and far from connected. 

The most social platform ever?

The most social platform ever?

Facebook's CEO has a different view on connectivity, however, predicting VR has a chance to be “the most social platform ever.”

Costly hurdles

Yet, despite the new marketing horizon that beckons, virtual reality still remains on the fringes of advertising- while the Oculus Rift has dropped to around $600, the cost of a headset is still a barrier, and production costs are steep.

Like hurtling through space and time in the DeLorean, it seems difficult to predict and position for the future in virtual reality marketing. But maybe Doc – or perhaps Zuckerburg – can come up with the goods before virtual reality lightning strikes the clock.

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