• Virtual Reality - the future or flash in the pan?

VR – The future for brands or just a flash in the pan?

04 January 2017

So 2016 has abruptly scarpered out of the back door, after nicking all our biscuits, drinking our good wine and leaving a disruptive mess in its wake.

2017, you’ve got a massive clean-up job on your hands.

But wait, put the Dettol and gloves down. We’ll let you off on this one, so long as we get to make a bold prediction about the next 12 months – one that will make even professional crystal ball gazers a bit nervous.

Ok, so, what’s our big call for 2017?

The VR marketing hype bubble will burst.

Virtual Reality ads, at least in their current state, will not last.

It’s a big shout, but hear us out.

Virtual Reality has been the big go-to novelty over the last few years, in an industry that thrives on new tech and innovations.

It’s a necessary skill, not just because we’re all such remarkably forward-thinking folk, but because we have to be one step ahead of any major trends that will become a mainstay in households several years down the line.

The previously mentioned novelty factor also helps with the ‘big sell’, as people will be more intrigued by a heavily branded high street takeover or new advert if it comes with smart new gadgets or gimmicks to try out.

Think 360-degree videos, QR codes or new snapchat filters.

Big brands have already been engaging in some smart uses with VR, from Coca Cola’s VR sleigh ride experience in Poland to Marriott Hotel’s #GetTeleported virtual travel experience.

All great ways to expand on experiential promotion, by providing a controlled environment that will create a lasting impression on people visiting it.

However, these highly-controlled VR environments have serious downsides. High costs on development may price out challenger brands, and while the novelty factor does leave an impression, it only does so on the select few involved.

And that’s the key problem with VR marketing in its current state.

While the audience of VR headset users is growing, expected to reach 171 million users worldwide by 2018 according to Statista, it’s currently a relatively small audience when compared to other platforms, at 43 million users, and the lack of one primary distribution network as a catch-all for VR adds to the challenges of a VR campaign.

When considering creative for VR, you need to consider whether you want to do immersive gaming scenarios where you can control the action, or passive viewing, or some mixture of the two.

That’s before deciding whether it’s for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, Playstation VR, or merely as a smartphone app with Google Cardboard.

It’s a long way from an ad shot meant for TV or cinema screens, where a well-established network of hundreds of channels can let you reach an audience as large or as refined as you’d wish, with few changes made to the final creative.

And once you consider the technical limitations of creating a 3D environment with enough visual fidelity and without any rendering issues, you realise the restriction of such massive potential.

And after giving VR a bit of a kicking, it’s important to clarify: of course there’s huge potential in VR for entertainment and media, and of course the tech will only improve. 

But the way brands approach VR will need to adapt.

Forget the big extravaganzas of experiential events – bring these experiences to people in their own home, and let them find it for themselves.

And that’s where we can see brand advertising in VR truly realising its potential – in mobile apps.

As with so many new tech trends, it’s all about mobility, and allowing you even more capabilities on that miraculous handheld supercomputer you call your smartphone.

More importantly, for advertising in VR to be more than just a flash in the pan, it needs to fit in to the format naturally, tell a story or provide an experience that is accessible to more than just a handful of high street shoppers passing by a one-off brand event.

These one-offs, while effective on a small scale, will be expensive to replicate.

But once VR is truly a household presence – and that looks increasingly likely to happen in mobile app format, with cheaper options akin to Google Cardboard – brands have a much better shot at producing content that people will want to search for in their own time, rather than content forced upon them by chance.


Strawman Says

VR has been treated as the new golden goose for brand marketing, but in a new, still developing field of media, it’s a fragile creature. Brands need to adapt with the changes, or risk VR stagnating as nothing more than a novelty.