Is Virtual Reality Ready for Advertising?

Will VR live up to the hype? From apps like Pokémon Go to the latest sci-fi thriller, digital reality technology may not be ready for prime time ... yet. Posted on Tuesday, November 21 in Breaking Through the Clutter.

Is virtual reality living up to the hype? The Economist says “not yet,” although the technology shouldn’t be written off just yet. The problem is that VR isn’t being adopted by the masses. The result is that expectations have so far exceeded consumer demand, which has left some technology pundits scratching their heads. Advertisers, product gurus, and market analysts are all wondering – what’s next for VR?

VR, AR, Mixed: What’s the Difference?

It’s important to note that VR falls under a technology subset that includes two other types of digital reality immersion tools. It’s easy to get confused by the differences between virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). In fact, the technologies have more differences than similarities:

  • VR works through the use of head-mounted displays that place a viewing screen powered by a computer in front of your eyes. Stereo creates an immersive experience and controllers allow the user to interact with the computer screen. As you move, the screen adjusts, making you feel as if you’re in a different world.
  • AR also delivers an immersive experience. But AR adds digital data on top of real-world imagery. Perhaps the most widely known example of this is Pokemon Go, which shows live video (using your mobile phone’s camera), with an augmented character superimposed.
  • Then there is mixed reality, which also mixes real-world objects with digital data. The difference is that AR lacks the immersive perspective of MR. MR features “occlusion,” which allows the computer-generated item to be obscured by a real-life object. When a figure moves behind a table, it’s cut in half, just like it would be in real life.

But can any of these fledgling technologies impact advertising?

Impact for Advertisers

In 2014 Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion, increasing the hype surrounding the technology. The Oculus launched in 2016, the same year that two other VR platforms, the HTC Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR, also launched.

USA TODAY cited the 6.3 million VR headsets shipped last year that were less sophisticated and more affordable. Only 200,000 of the more expensive and powerful Oculus VR headsets were sold.

Gaming has been the primary driver for VR sales, though many industries have been looking for other uses for the technology. For example, there are now options to watch movies and television in VR.

But the next phase of VR will likely be tied to marketing. While there have been a number of different marketing use cases for VR (check out the short VR film called “The Recall VR Abduction,” designed to promote the new Wesley Snipes sci-fi movie), there has yet to emerge a single, scalable method for delivering advertising via this new medium. That said, two of the biggest names in digital advertising, Google and Facebook, are betting heavily on the technology, so it is more than likely that they will find a way to make the technology appealing to marketers.

One core strengths of virtual reality is its ability to be used as a storytelling tool, which can be a big deal in an industry in which storytelling is becoming increasingly important. Virtual reality also allows marketers to create customized experiences, which can potentially have a much greater impact than more passive, non-interactive ads. Imagine being able to build a fully immersive experience for your customers – from showrooms to product trials to creating an unforgettable engagement with your brand.

Obstacles to VR Adoption

VR headgear can be cumbersome, and the technology relies on more powerful gaming systems or computers to function. Consumers at this point only see a use for the technology at the gamer’s level; this makes them hesitant to invest in the headsets.

But tech companies haven’t given up on the promise of VR; Facebook is still investing in the technology and they’re working on Facebook Spaces, a VR application that lets users interact via cartoon avatars.

So, while the consensus remains that a digitally enhanced advertising experience might not be ready for prime time, the promise of the technology remains as the future of the ultimate consumer experience. And, naturally, that is an invitation for marketing to be a part of the experience.

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