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VR: The new reality for big brands

by Bob Watts

Virtual reality has the capacity to change everything. From the ways we consume entertainment to the way we communicate and share ideas.

Over the past three years, there’s been a swell of support and anticipation for virtual reality – ever since the programming god John Carmack demoed Palmer Luckey’s duct taped virtual reality headset in 2012 - with the promise of a real life Star Trek Holodeck.

The hardware seems to be achievable, but we haven’t seen mass market adoption nor platforms in place for brands to connect with their customers in a meaningful way.

Today we’re sitting on the cusp of a VR revolution. Technology is exploding from developers like Oculus, Google, Samsung and HTC, and we’re just waiting for the biggest revolutionary minds to show us how this technology can change everything.

Today’s reality

Currently, the easiest execution that brands can do is 360 video. And while the technology is getting better, it’s not overly interactive or engaging. The alternative to this approach is to create bespoke applications (such as Ikea or Myer/eBay) on gaming quality PCs or Google Cardboard/GearVR. While building these experiences can be complex and expensive, the Ikea demo still proves to be one of the most popular brand VR experiences of the moment. In the mind of consumers this has aligned Ikea with cutting edge tech trends, reinforcing the idea that early adoption can help skyrocket awareness and reputation.

When we look at the available platforms such as Oculus Home which gives users a bespoke experience. Consumers can use this platform with either the Oculus Rift (which at $1000+ is a big investment), or Samsung's GearVR headset (a cheaper alternative but lacks some of the interactivity).

Conversely, HTC’s Vive headset is driven by the PC Gaming platform Steam. This is guarded by the so-called PC Master Race, and so established by the users as no place for advertisers.

Google’s Cardboard, the most inexpensive VR headset, is the most heavily utilised because of its accessibility and low barrier to entry, but the current apps can be as throwaway as the device itself.

Unfortunately, advertising has never cracked into the gaming market in a meaningful way. Since gaming is still clearly leading the way in the VR marketplace, the brand that puts a foot in the virtual door first could really make a difference. It’s all about the right message, told in the right way.

Tomorrow’s reality

The real value for brands could come when social platforms such as Facebook and Google’s Daydream hit the market. Social media has always been key for brands when it comes to building communities, so adding VR into the mix has the capacity to change the way that brands talk to consumers online.

Earlier this year, Facebook used the F8 conference to demo their latest Social VR experiments. This showcased the possibility of social VR and the impact it could have on people's lives in terms of being able to share a virtual space with others. Imagine watching the AFL on a big screen in VR with your friends who are traveling abroad. Tech-savvy sponsors have the potential incorporate 3D adverts into this space, you could be standing in the centre of Nike's latest 3D advert during half time.

Google’s Daydream, announced last week at the Google I/O conference, gives a glimpse of mass market Virtual Reality and the obvious advertising opportunities within Google’s existing platforms. A made for VR build of Youtube is the first app to be announced.

The technology behind VR is advancing faster than any of us expected, and products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive could become household names in the next few years. Brands and advertisers need to stay on the front foot and experiment with VR so that they are ready when the mass market platforms emerge. The early adopters working in this space are pioneering new ways to view content, but also new ways to interact and connect with one another. It’s clear that a new generation of virtual world advertising will be shortly upon us.

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