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Virtual and augmented technology is shaping up as the next hot thing, with Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, VR Gear and Pokemon Go demonstrating the viability of this new space beyond just ‘nerds’ and ‘techies’.

It’s really come a long way since the 90s, with clunky headsets and a blocky visual experience that almost killed off the space now mostly a thing of the past.

In 2017, virtual reality technology will generate more than US$660 million in revenues in headset sales within the US, according to the Consumer Tech Association 2017 Industry Forecast. This is an increase of 43 per cent year on year, equating to 2.5 million units. So it’s little wonder that these technologies were one of the major technologies in focus at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas in early 2017.

Dog with a VR headset

It seems as though every man – and his dog – are trying to jump on the VR and AR bandwagon as it is still fresh, yet becoming more popular in the consumer space as the range of price points for VR headsets come down. The development of consumer-created content early in its lifecycle demonstrates an increased willingness for audience uptake; because if people aren’t going to watch it, why would people bother to create content?

But before jumping feet first into this new space, as an agency or media owner, ask yourself some simple questions:

1)      What am I trying to do in the VR space? – Are you attempting to reach a traditional audience in a new way or aiming for a new audience? Are you trying to inform or entertain? What is your purpose?

2)      Why would someone use VR for this? – Just because the sky is no longer the limit doesn’t mean you have to go totally off the planet. VR isn’t totally cost-prohibitive, but what you’re doing still needs to be interesting, unique and engaging for the average consumer to invest their time and money. Slapping a 360 view on boring content doesn’t make it interesting, it makes it even more lame.

3)      Will people be comfortable using VR for your product? – Content on VR is more invasive and, if you’ll excuse the pun, literally in your face. Are people willing to see your big idea on this new medium?

A new approach and a new experience

The key to this tech appears to be moving it beyond the ad-filled gaming space consumers are used to, and making VR about ‘the experience’, whilst creating interactive media.

We’re already seeing this through 360 travel videos; the combination of VR, 360 videos, and drones; as well as innovative interactive thrillers and short films like GONE and The Invisible Man, which are all opening new doors in what is possible with the technology. 

In the media space, The Economist has started publishing stories in 360 videos, and Fairfax Media has been using them to support their content across a range of topics, including science and entertainment.

So how can marketers get on this bandwagon, with authenticity?

By creating something beyond traditional advertising.

This is a great space for engaging with your consumer, but you have to approach it differently. Just because you’ve built an app once doesn’t mean you can take the same approach to VR.

Watch out for cowboys who can promise you the world, and make sure they help you develop your own basic understanding before you commit. It’s early days in the VR space and if your teams aren’t trying on at least a few different headsets, you can’t get a deeper understanding of the consumer experience. And if you don’t get it, you won’t know how to communicate across it.

Create an experience or an adventure. Inspire people, educate them. This medium is becoming interactive as well, so utilise this.

BMW VR experience

People may like seeing the new BMW in virtual reality, they’d like it even more if they could pull it apart and see what the engine looks like as it runs, or see what it’s like to test drive it down winding mountain roads in Switzerland. You may only have to do the drive once, but in doing so you give a multitude of people the opportunity to do so as well.

Think about what you’ve wanted to do – you can’t take everyone on a test drive down a Swiss mountain road – and how VR can let you.

Mark Zuckerberg predicted VR as the next tech space to expand all the way back in 2014, stating “There’s always a richer, more immersive medium to experience the world, and after video, the next logical step is fully immersive virtual reality.”

It’s time to take that next step.


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