Get ready, VR’s about to go mainstream

Nikki Retallick shares why and how brands should jump on the virtual reality bandwagon. 

If Australian media agencies are a reliable indicator, it’s only a matter of time before virtual reality (VR) goes mainstream. With 65 percent of local media agencies currently buying VR digital video or planning to buy it in the next 12 months, according to AOL research, expect to be strapping on a headset in the near future if you haven’t already.

During the 2016 calendar year, 216,000 virtual VR headsets were sold in Australia, according to technology analyst firm Telsyte. With mobile VR taking approximately 70 percent share of units sold, almost half of all device revenues were generated by the Sony PlayStation VR, which has experienced strong inunnamed (5)itial demand from gamers.

There’s no doubt the advent of VR hardware – Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive and Microsoft’s mixed-reality (MR) HoloLens, in addition to Sony’s PlayStation VR – is fast positioning immersive, interactive video as a platform that rethinks how we work, play, share and collaborate. Here in Australia, AOL research tells us that 11 percent of consumers expect to be watching more virtual reality video in 2017 while 8 percent say the same thing about AR. According to Business Wire, worldwide, spending on augmented and virtual reality is forecast to reach $US13.9 billion in 2017, with another report from Tech Crunch suggests consumer spend on VR hardware and software could hit $US21.8 billion by 2020. 

We know the technology world believes VR (and AR/MR) is going to drive the next generation of consumer and business experiences. One of the world’s oldest tech companies, HP, recently staked a claim in the space, while Facebook plans to invest more than $US3 billion in VR over the next decade. What really interests me, however, is how this medium is going to evolve to enable brands to talk to consumers and the richness of the associated individual-level data that could be collected along the way. 

At SXSW last year, John Rousseau from digital experience company Artefact made the point that VR allows us to mainline into a user’s consciousness. As a brand, that’s an incredibly powerful tool to have at your disposal. Instead of sitting back and waiting to see what this new wave of technology will do, if you haven’t already you need to start thinking about how to utilise it to make meaningful connections with consumers now.

By getting the jump on this now before we reach a consumer adoption tipping point, we have the opportunity to learn from the issues facing other mediums. Elsewhere in the digital ecosystem, we’re seeing consumers block lazy and intrusive advertising efforts. We must prevent this from happening as brands start to seek out consumers in this new, highly interactive and highly immersive environment.

Unwanted, interruptive executions go against the very nature of what VR, AR and MR are designed for. Instead of being a distraction from forms of entertainment consumers are enjoying, these formats have the potential to create mind-blowing brand experiences that consumers opt into – by choice. This is perhaps the format’s greatest asset and when used correctly, it has the power to be a potent marketing approach, even after the novelty wears off.

You only need to look at recent examples to see that VR is, almost literally, another world of escapism. Already NASA is making it possible to be transported to Mars with astronaut Buzz Aldrin and locally, Qantas has produced its own VR app designed to get travellers excited about visiting Australian destinations such as Uluru and Kakadu. In April, Partner Studio by AOL worked with production company UNIT9 and media agency OMD on a mixed reality experience for the Microsoft HoloLens ahead of the premiere of Sony Pictures Animation’s Smurfs: The Lost Village. The brand-led MR experience saw users join Smurfette and friends on a race through a forbidden forest filled with magical creatures as the digital world was layered on top of the real one.

The way I see it, this technology has the power to reinvent traditional marketing staples such as movie trailers – imagine a trailer that puts you in the hot seat as the hero taking on the bad guys or even hitching a ride on a dragon? Or it can be used to get people excited about real life experiences such as a visit to a theme park, with a taste of the rides before you even purchase a ticket. There’s so much scope to bring your business to life virtually for your consumers, as well as your internal stakeholders.

VR has the potential to open up incredible new ways of connecting within a broad range of verticals. Much like me, you’re probably already envisaging applications from retail to entertainment, travel to automotive, healthcare and many, many more.

With AOL research suggesting that 79 percent of Australian media buyers believe new video formats will provide a better consumer experience, now is the time to deep dive into this realm to find the best ways to engage with audiences. It can only be a win for the marketing industry in the long run. It would be an understatement to say I’m excited to be getting in on this early. Let’s see where this brave new world can take us.

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Nikki Retallick is head of data and attribution at AOL APAC.

 

 

 

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