While virtual reality (VR) is nothing new, virtual reality marketing is starting to create buzz as the next big marketing medium.
As a marketer and gamer I’m excited to see how VR develops over the next couple of years. And I’m not alone. Interest in VR technology has risen sharply as new VR products launch or are announced.
Google searches for virtual reality are up by nearly 400% in the last year. While a recent study from Greenlight VR showed promising results for VR. Their survey found 71% of people felt VR made brands seem “forward-thinking and modern.” Tellingly 53% said they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that’s using VR.
Goldman Sachs have predicted the VR market could be worth almost £60 billion by 2025.
Three major benefits of virtual reality marketing
One of VRs biggest selling points is its high level of immersion. Once users put on the headsets there is less distraction. They pay more attention to the content presented. This is good news for marketers trying to raise brand awareness or deliver their marketing message.
VR offers the closest thing to actually being in a location or situation. Powerful for companies that sell a product or service that’s not tangible. For example, hotel or holiday brands can virtually transport people to any global location. They can showcase their resort in a way that’s just not possible with traditional brochures or video.
VR promises access to highly interactive content. On a simple level this can be exploring a location. As VR advances so will the degree of interaction with the environment. We can expect more and more innovative uses as brands and agencies become comfortable with the technology. This interactivity will help marketers build memorable customer engagement experiences.
How brands are already using virtual reality marketing
Brands across a variety of industries have found inventive ways of using virtual reality marketing to connect with their audiences. Here are five great examples:
Marriott was an early adopter of virtual reality marketing. They created ‘the transporter’ with Oculus Rift technology. This used VR to transport users to locations such as London or Hawaii.
Marriott went ‘mobile’ with their next VR campaign, Virtual Postcards. Using the Samsung Gear VR, users experienced a real traveler’s journey to a unique destination such as the Andes, Rwanda and Beijing.
Tour operator Thomas Cook has embraced VR. In 2015 they used Samsung Gear VR headsets in 10 stores in the UK, Germany, and Belgium. Customers experienced standing on a balcony of a Santorini hotel and a helicopter ride above Manhattan.
Earlier this year Thomas Cook ran their Airlines Fantasy Flight campaign optimised for YouTube 360 and Google Cardboard. Set on a Airbus A330 flight users begin their journey in the plane’s cockpit. They can jump to separate videos filmed in economy and premium classes.
Users are challenged to look around the plane to find clues to three of the airline’s newest destinations. When they’re done, they can head to dedicated microsite to enter their answers, which could win them a £3,000 holiday to Los Angeles.
The videos feature real pilots and cabin crew, plus appearances from Kimye, Lady Gaga and a string quartet.
VolvoReality gave potential customers the chance to virtually test drive a Volvo XC90 SUV using Google cardboard and their smartphone. Users download the app from either the App Store or Google Play. At launch Volvo offered a limited amount of Volvo-branded Cardboards through the app. It’s immersive with a full 360 degree view from the driver’s seat.
HBO have used VR to market recent seasons of hit show “Game of Thrones”. In 2014 using an Oculus Rift, wind machines, rumble packs and real elevators, they let users virtually ascend “The Wall” – a massive ice structure that’s one of the TV show’s major locations.
For the 2016 season launch, Oculus Rift owner, Facebook, provided a VR viewing experience through a special 360° synchronization of the show’s opening credits with Facebook.
Last year Unicef created a VR film ‘Clouds over Sidra’. Drawing attention to the Syrian refugee crisis it focused on Sidra, a 12 year old girl living in a refugee camp. Users experienced what her daily life was like. The film doubled donations when it was shown on the streets of Auckland.
How quickly Virtual reality marketing evolves as a channel depends on the success of the technology. Excitingly a host of major tech companies are committed to VR across a variety of platforms.
Consumer adoption of VR will be driven by mobile technology and content. It’s how most people will first experience VR. Mobile is the best platform for brands looking to use VR to reach a wide audience. Google and Samsung are the two major players.
Google released the Cardboard in 2014. Cheap and accessible it’s a great way for people to access VR on their smartphone. Google is set to follow up with Daydream later this year. While Samsung co-developed a more advanced headset, the Samsung Gear VR with Oculus.
Mobile VR content is easy to access. A wide range of apps are available from either the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Plus you can watch 360 content on YouTube.
The most immersive and powerful VR systems can be found on PC. But with a powerful PC needed to run them, they’re also the most expensive. This limits their popularity as a mainstream consumer product. They do however allow brands to create dynamic in-store or event VR experiences.
The best known of the PC VR Headsets is Oculus Rift. It was first announced as a kickstarter project but later bought by Facebook
HTC Hive allows full freedom of movement. It uses IR sensors mounted to walls to map your movement which it then converts to the virtual world. The downside is that you need a relatively large area and it’s tricky to set up.
There are a growing number of VR games and experiences available for PC
Sony leads the way with Playstation VR launching this October. An accessory for the PS4, there’ll be a full lineup of games plus access to other content. While Playstation VR will run on a lower resolution than its PC rivals it’s also cheaper.
It could offer marketers the best choice for presenting exclusive VR content to a home audience.
What’s the potential for virtual reality marketing?
Virtual reality marketing is an exciting new medium for marketers to connect with their audience. But as with all marketing channels success will depend on how it aligns with the brand’s business strategy. There’s a danger some marketers will jump on VR because it’s trendy. And not consider whether it suits their target market. Lazy or unnecessary use of virtual reality will get disappointing results.
Marketers will have to get creative and think up ways of using the technology to its best potential. Content will have to be compelling and engaging. The technology is here. Consumer interest is growing. Now it’s up to the marketers.