What does virtual reality mean for the future of marketing?

Virtual reality is still in it’s infancy. Despite all of the coverage in the media, what we’re seeing now is only the beginning of what is possible. With global interest in virtual reality growing on a daily basis, we ask: what will the future of virtual reality mean for the marketing industry?

Virtual reality for the mass audience

Virtual reality feels like it has been ‘just around the corner’ for a very long time, but today it is truly becoming a reality for the mass market. Full virtual reality headsets (think Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) are now cheap enough and reliable enough for the home user to buy. Plus, as the devices evolve and as more users purchase these devices they will only become better and cheaper. Virtual reality is no longer for the geeks with big budgets, it is becoming mainstream and made easy for everyone to experience.

Even more important than the increased uptake of virtual reality headsets is the ability to use smartphones as virtual reality devices. As most smartphones can view 360° videos and images in a similar way to the full headsets, it means that millions of people have a virtual reality device in their pocket. This has dramatically opened up the possibilities for the mass market to interact with 360° content, never before has there been such low barriers for consumers to experience such incredible content. Although not essential, consumers can also use Google’s Cardboard viewer or Samsung Gear VR to turn almost any smartphone into a virtual reality headset. This means the experience of a full virtual reality device can be easily and cheaply replicated. Plus, with 4g becoming ever more popular it means that even HD virtual reality movies can be viewed almost anywhere.

With YouTube - Google’s free video hosting platform - leading the way in virtual reality content there is no shortage of content for consumers to watch. Thousands of videos have been uploaded to the platform from those created by amateurs to those that have been professionally shot (like ours below). Plus, with Facebook now fully supporting 360° videos you can be sure that the awareness and adoption of this technology is going to grow very quickly.

Virtual reality - the new reality

With 220 million people across the world using ad blocking software, the effectiveness of traditional advertising is diminishing fast. Marketing is no longer purely about shoving products in front of people through adverts, it’s evolving into delivering great content experiences in return for the consumer’s attention. Communicating brand values to consumers through incredible native content delivers a mutual value exchange, which is far more acceptable to the consumer. Virtual reality offers the next step in native advertising, going beyond the simple sponsored post, or the influencer product review. It delivers not just a new tool for marketers, but also a chance to create a stronger connection with the viewer through the art of storytelling.

Film used to be the most immersive storytelling medium, but even with the best screen in the world you’re just watching, you’re not experiencing. Virtual reality offers presence and the feeling that you’re actually somewhere else, tricking your senses to believe that what you’re seeing is real. Virtual reality gives users the chance to be on the sideline of a major football game; to have front row seats to see their favourite band; or experience earth’s most beautiful places - all from the comfort of home. Just imagine the possibilities from a marketing point of view.

The story is all around you

The potential of virtual reality for storytellers is incredible, but it does require a bit of ‘thinking outside the box’. Virtual reality allows users to look anywhere they wish: they are active participants in the content. Rather than telling a story frame by frame you need to think about entire surroundings; the story is everywhere. When a viewer feels like they are in the story they will have a greater sense of the situation; your brand’s message will become more impactful. Rather than forcing the user’s focus (as you would with traditional films), instead let the user have control of and enjoy their entire environment with things for them to focus on if they wish.

Brands are increasingly finding innovative ways to use this technology; whether it’s giving the viewer exclusive access to an event or experience (e.g. Sports Illustrated Womens 8 Olympic rowing team experience - produced by us), placing them in the middle of a story (e.g. School of Rock) or putting them in a situation to make them feel empathy (e.g. The National Autistic Society), virtual reality gives advertisers endless opportunities. It enables marketers’ imaginations to run wild and makes it possible to create incredible experiences that will leave a lasting impression in the viewer’s mind.

Virtual reality is different from most other media types because environments and circumstances are constructed, but the user control factor means that the direction of the story is down to the user. The result of this is that each virtual reality experience will produce a different experience for the viewer. Each piece of content has the power to connect with so many more people than before, because they see the story they want to. Plus, because virtual reality offers such a unique experience - particularly with the technology being new - viewers are more likely to share the content, further increasing brand exposure.

Virtual Reality is only set to improve

As the technology progresses there will be more opportunities to create even better content which can immerse the user into your story or experience. Plus, as users become used to experiencing content in this way, the potential audience is set to grow exponentially. Very few brands are using virtual reality in their marketing, and those that are have not yet fully unlocked its potential. Many brands are still using it as a gimmick to simply get more attention. Virtual reality production is still only taking its first steps in its evolutionary process, but with the backing of big technology companies such as Google and Facebook, this technology is here to stay. The question you need to ask is: can you afford to ignore virtual reality? Next time you’re planning a big advertising campaign for your brand get in touch with us and see how virtual reality can be used to create a big impact with your audience.