How Augmented And Virtual Reality Will Revolutionize Marketing

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Imagine you could immerse consumers in your product and literally let them see themselves wearing an outfit or in a refurnished home? Two exciting technological trends are going to revolutionize advertising and make ads more personal and engaging than they have ever been: augmented reality and virtual reality.

One of the principle goals of a marketing campaign is to engage with consumers in a personal way and entice them to buy your products or services. If your ads are compelling and appeal to consumers, personally, they’ll be more inclined to buy what you are selling. If your ads annoy them or fall flat, you will struggle to convert those opportunities into sales and you will have wasted your time and money. While there is certainly a lot that marketers can do to create memorable ads, technology adds an interesting dimension to the process.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality are often confused but they are distinct technologies with different opportunities. Augmented reality adds a more interactive layer to the world around us and gives marketers a few options they would have lacked previously. As the name indicates, this is more about augmenting a consumer’s reality than replacing it. The technology isn’t as immersive as virtual reality but it can have a far greater impact because it blends the real world with the artificial.

One of the products already exploring the possibilities is Microsoft HoloLens. It is a connected, augmented reality headset that uses holograms to help you add a much more dynamic and interactive layer to the world around you. The technology has tremendous potential in business, design, manufacturing and other fields and you can just imagine the marketing opportunities too with branded creations or even ways to expose consumers in more intimate ways to brands’ production processes.

As incredible as HoloLens is, it’s big limitation is that it relies on a headset to see and interact with holographic objects. A more practical and scalable alternative is to create environments that introduce an augmented reality layer and give consumers a richer experience as they are. Pepsi modified a London bus stop to help promote Pepsi Max in 2014 and it quickly became a very engaging space for consumers who thought it was just another bus stop. According to The Verge:

Waiting for a bus to arrive can quickly become an excruciatingly dull experience, so Pepsi decided to bring some surprises to a London bus shelter to make waiting a bit more interesting. For its latest ad campaign, Pepsi Max used augmented reality to turn a bus shelter’s wall into a fake window that appeared to show flying saucers, an attacking robot, and a loose tiger — among other unlikely subjects — making their way down the street.

As DigiDay pointed out in its article “Brands, get ready for augmented reality 2.0”, augmented reality offers brands options for more experiential campaigns:

But what’s in it for marketers? So far, predictions around brand use of AR remain largely prosaic. The most obvious way to exploit AR in a marketing context is to let consumers see what a product looks like in their home before they commit to buying; a whole new definition of “try before you buy.” Want a new sofa? Use HoloLens or its ilk to see what it looks like in your living before opening your wallet.

This may be one of the “killer” applications of augmented reality for marketing: show your prospective customer what her new home could look like with those sofas she likes so much or just how much that new dress would suit her. How much more personal could you be with your marketing campaign and can you imagine something more engaging?

Virtual reality

Virtual reality offers a much more immersive experience that, unlike augmented reality, takes you out of your day to day experience of your life and places you into a new world with almost limitless variations. At this stage, virtual reality is almost entirely dependent on compatible hardware. One of the most hotly anticipated products is Oculus Rift which which was produced by Oculus VR and which Facebook famously bought for about $2 billion in 2014. An obvious use case for this remarkable technology is gaming and, as you can imagine based on this demo video, it will be a captivating experience.

The high-end Rift is due to be released in January 2016 and will certainly offer a premium experience but there are already a number of consumer, budget friendly options such a Google Cardboard and Oculus Gear VR.

Virtual reality offers wholly new opportunities to gauge consumer interest in new products and give consumers a rich and intricate experience of a brand’s vision for its product its potential fit in the consumer’s life. According to Adam Foroughi’s article on AdExchanger titled “Virtual Reality Technology Could Change The Way We Experience Marketing”:

Once it takes off, it will evolve and could potentially revolutionize not just advertising, but how we experience marketing in general. The user experience of advertisements could become seamless once users are immersed in content they really love, and because the medium is so engaging and emotional, users could well be primed to make more transactions.

The data gathered from virtual reality technology could inform business decisions in an entirely new way. Brands, for example, could tease products before their release with consumers in the virtual reality world and gather data on consumer interest before making production and marketing decisions.

Another interesting use case is to use virtual reality to bring fans into the product development process. There are opportunities for product placements and to “test drive” new products or even, in a 2014 Coca-Cola campaign, a whole stadium:

One of the developments driving virtual reality is 360 degree video which Facebook, in particular, is promoting with brands. An early example of how 360 degree video can integrate into Facebook news feeds is this Star Wars promotional video which was published in September:

To say that Facebook is a big proponent of virtual reality is probably an understatement (if you want to know why, here is an October 2015 Vanity Fair interview between Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus’ Michael Abrash). Given Facebook’s dominance in social advertising, pushing such an engaging medium is not surprising.

The New York Times’ T Brand Studio launched an innovative virtual reality campaign in conjunction with the Weinstein company titled “Carol: Dearest …”. The campaign is best viewed using Google Cardboard using the NYT VR app, available for iOS and Android. You can get a feel for the campaign with modified 360 degree videos on the Times’ website. The campaign is also reportedly going to be distributed using Facebook’s 360 degree video product.

On the appeal of virtual reality for brands, DigiDay reported the following in its article titled “The New York Times’ new VR project is for a movie studio”:

Ad buyers said the Times’ VR ad offering could have substantial impact for brands. Noah Mallin, head of social at MEC, said that VR for brands seems worthwhile, especially because of the interest that was generated by the Times when it delivered the Google Cardboard with the physical newspaper to announce its app’s launch. “The challenge for this next round is that the novelty factor is diminished and the true reach of VR-enabled users is still relatively small,” he said. Once more consumer options and cheaper headset hits the market, this will change.

How augmented and virtual reality will revolutionize marketing

So why should advertisers and publishers pay attention to augmented and virtual reality? In a nutshell, because these technologies offer the opportunity to create rich, immersive and deeply engaging experiences for consumers that are limited only by your imagination.

Marketers strive to connect to consumers emotionally, viscerally, and these technologies will help make that more of a reality than has been possible for most brands. It may still be early days but augmented and virtual reality will revolutionize marketing. Don’t be left behind.

Photo credit: “Woman Using a Samsung VR Headset at SXSW” by Nan Palmero, licensed CC BY 2.0

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