The creature in front of me was part man, part winged creature, part hooved-beast. It once stood guard to a thriving society, then as a 4-thousand-year-old memorial to the ancient people along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Dust and desert wind would ensure the erosion of the Lamassu’s stone face, but neither force could compete with the damage caused by nature’s most destructive force: mankind. The silent monuments were either defaced, stolen, or downright demolished by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in recent years, but here I was, within arm’s reach of the ancient ruins…
It was Tech Day in NYC, and thanks to The Economist’s Mosul Museum experience, I had officially popped my VR cherry. I can recall a crude version of Virtual Reality in arcades as a kid during the 90’s, but this updated descendant was more immersive, detailed, and realistic. Was the future of marketing to be contained in this headset?
A Virtual Goldmine
It’ll be a few years before the technology is good enough to deliver completely seamless experiences, but that’s not stopping brands from dipping their developers’ toes into the VR pool. There’s good reason for the hype.
Let’s start with the most obvious: there’s no avoiding the message you’re trying to send when using VR. Photos and video are cool (and pretty much expected nowadays), but VR adds another level of communication with audiences. Whereas you’re given the ability to skip or skim through articles/photos/video content, VR puts the brand’s messaging directly in front of a viewer, with no other place to go. Is authenticity what you’re trying to relay to your audience? Placing potential consumers right inside of your winery to watch the process unfold and giving as organic an experience as possible–without stepping foot on one grape–is as immersive as it gets. Imagine going the whole nine, supplementing viewers with sounds and smells of the vineyard. Unlike traditional media, the audience is front and center, pretty much inside the message itself. That experience is unique only to VR, and there’s no “Skip Ad” button.
The power doesn’t just lie in aesthetics, though. Studies show that VR is linked to behavioral changes and stronger links to memory. Storytelling now takes on a much more personal and deeply-engaging aspect. The rich, “in-the-moment” experience we get from VR leaves an imprint in our brain, as a real-life event would. Not only are we visually and/or audibly stimulated, but VR can go as far as to affect our balance (I felt dizziness in my own experience), emotions, and our sense of being–but it only takes is a few of these to engrain an episode in our brain. This make content more memorable and is linked to more positive emotions towards brands. You may have already heard of more obvious routes taken, like test-drives and tours, but imagine a cause campaign reaping the benefits of such content. The emotional connection created by being immersed in a (virtual) child’s war-torn home is second only to actually being there.
Also more personal than traditional content: the data points that marketers will be able to extract from a viewer’s VR experience. Picture being able to track exactly where a viewer’s attention lingered the most and least, then translating that data into other marketing content and more personalized targeting. The ability to track all nuanced behavior (like the most subtle of body movements in a specialized golf club simulation, for example), also presents data sets of new depths. This sort of specialized VR usage will lend it itself to better product testing and to behavioral pinpointing when it comes time to begin marketing.
(virtual) Reality Check
Let’s put the headset down for a sec. There are too many questions at this very moment to consider, before your brand throws a ton of money into a VR experience.
Some will make the argument that all VR needs is a good app, but that would imply that the future of the standard app is safe to begin with. What with messenger apps and their functionalities on the rise (and let’s be honest, how many standalone apps have you downloaded and used only once?), it’s no longer a safe bet.
What exactly will become the platform(s) for VR to thrive on? Instead of apps and ads, will brands resort to investing in their own headsets and apps? Will they house content on giants like Facebook? Will VR be forced to compete with its less obtrusive cousin, Augmented Reality? Will the tech ever run seamlessly, yet cheap enough to be easily accessible and effective? What about portability? Who in their right mind will spend money on a bulky, tethered machine that’s best used on one’s sofa at home? Will there ever be a lightweight, non-bad-hair-day-inducing VR experience?
Until these kinds of questions are answered, the majority of VR usage will be restricted to gamers, tradeshows, and one-shot (but fun) marketing gimmicks.
So your brand may be better off looking than touching, at this very moment.
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