Imagine this: You are sitting in the living room, or at your desk, or in line at the Mall. Except you’re not. You’re actually test driving the new Volvo XC90 and through the windshield there’s a surprisingly beautiful horizon with an orange sunset peaking over a distant mountain range. Your attention span is difficult to leash, so you look left, then right. Your eyes find their way to the interior of the luxury SUV. You begin to marvel over the sleek black leather seats and the nifty dashboard (or maybe you don’t). One thing’s for certain; this is awesome. Now take off the Google Cardboard. You’ve just enjoyed a VR simulation compliments of Volvo and your smartphone.
If you’ve enjoyed entertainment marketing so far, things are about to get real interesting as Virtual Reality debuts as a consumer product by 2016 for both mobile and desktop platforms. Until recently VR has been associated with sci-fi pipe dreams like hover crafts, holograms, and time travel. However with impressive and consistent improvements redefining the VR landscape, it’s clear this technology is no one-trick pony. By 2018 the market value for VR is expected to reach $5.2 billion, according to research by KZero. That’s a huge leap for a technology with little to no relevance 2 years ago.
In April of last year Oculus, the startup responsible for the flagship virtual reality device Oculus Rift (Launched on Kickstarter), was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion. When a monolith like Facebook stands behind a startup with a revolutionary vision for the future, suddenly the world’s ears perk up. The Facebook acquisition means a lot of things are up ahead. First, it’s allowed the folks at Oculus to have more resources to compete with fellow monolith Sony and their VR headset Project Morpheus. Because this big fish ate the little fish, Oculus can also focus its energy on developing more sophisticated hardware while hiring the best of the best from the extremely limited talent pool with VR experience. Bottom line: the shots have gone off and the race for VR is underway.
Oculus is very outspoken about their vision for the future. They expect VR to improve the way surgeons learn to operate, how architects and engineers visualize their creations, and the way players experience video games. Not to mention the social implications if it all leads to a Metaverse, where eCommerce, online education, and chatrooms are experienced in the first person within 360° virtual space. We’ll have to wait some number of years before finding out to what extent these visionary technologies will become part of daily life. For now, prototypes are in the hands of developers tasked with overcoming barriers and creating first generation VR content. Brands are among those spearheading this initiative.
“This is really a new communication platform” – Mark Zuckerberg
Advertising lives at a three-point intersection. The main road runs directly to the world of marketing. Our beloved capitalist ecosystem depends on advertisements to sell. The second road runs parallel to the entertainment industry. If you’re going to interrupt Aunt Lucy’s youtube video of a dog dancing Salsa in a skirt, you might as well make it equally entertaining. Finally the third road leads to Silicon Valley. The advertising industry needs to be able to connect with culture and that means evolving with the times. Advertising often plays a huge part in putting that evolution into motion.
The overall success of virtual reality could create a defining cultural shift in a similar way smartphones had done before. For marketers this means a new frontier that could lead to a whole new form of brand engagement.
When smartphones made their debut around 2007, not many foresaw the impact it would make in the realm of marketing, or rather, on the world. Within 5 years 80% of the world owned a mobile device and 1.8 billion of them are smartphones. Those numbers are surely higher now.
Virtual Reality is not just the next big thing, it’s in the middle of its own explosion. Although largely an experimental medium, industries of all kinds rally to leverage it for unique and practical purposes. Many are betting on a near future where immersive experiences become as normal as checking your Facebook feed (if not one in the same).
Coca Cola: During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Coca Cola took Fútbol fandom to the next level. Using the Oculus Rift, fans were guided from the athlete’s locker room to the magnificent stadium where their favorite players experience the glory of competing in a world sport championship.
Volvo: Mentioned earlier, there’s something iconic about Volvo’s VR experience. Not only were they the first to deliver a VR test drive on mobile devices, they shipped out Volvo branded versions of the Google Cardboard. This is not uncommon. With most branded VR experiences you’ll never lose sight of the logo, which is smack dab in front of the device. What makes this experience so important is its mobile capabilities. Mobile VR has huge potential with the eventual release of Samsung Gear VR (collaboration with Oculus) and Zeiss VR One.
Red Bull: With a reputation for being the first at doing big things, Red Bull allowed fans of their annual Air Race events to do a little flying of their own. In their Air Race Oculus Rift Simulation, participants enjoyed being in the cockpit of one of the show’s planes in a 3D simulated experience.
Dogwood Initiative: There’s room for philanthropy in VR. Non-profit group Dogwood Initiative and Agency Rethink Canada made a clever and effective use of Oculus Rift. After sneaking headsets into coin-operated tourist binoculars, the experience paints a grim picture of a future where Vancover’s harbor ends in ruins after an initiative to load a million barrels into tankers at Vancover’s harbor is passed.
Sleepy Hollow: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow VR experience used a mixture of techniques to deliver a gripping on-site promotion. The award-winning digital studio Secret Location, combined 3D shooting, CGI graphics and 360° sound to transport audiences to the world of Sleepy Hollow.
Other brands working magic with VR are: HBO’s Game of Thrones, Nissan, Top Shop, Mountain Dew, Dos Equis.