Immersive experiences that alter our reality aren’t new… In 1957 Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama Machine, a simulator that provided the illusion of reality thanks to 3D video, artificial smells, stereo sound, seat vibrations, even fans to create windblown hair. This “experience theater” for 1-4 people set the stage for the wide range of virtual and augmented reality applications we see today.
While the video game industry is a huge market for VR, everyone from big brands to digital media, sees the value of investing in this type of storytelling to reach broad audiences. The New York Times just bought Fake Love, an experiential design studio with a focus on virtual reality and augmented reality, to expand the capabilities of T Brand Studio, the Times’ internal marketing unit that creates multimedia content including virtual reality films, data visualizations, and animations.
The possibilities are endless, which is why it’s growing at such rapid speed. Auto makers like Audi and Volvo offer VR test drives with technology from Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to give customers the chance to drive different models, experience the vehicle’s details, and hit the road in various driving conditions. Marriott offers “in-room” virtual reality travel experiences to inspire guests’ next vacation destination. VR has helped paralyzed patients learn to walk again. Coca-cola took people on a magical virtual reality sleigh ride. Even the First Lady is getting in on the action— she filmed the first ever 360-degree video interview. At SXSW this year, VR was the hot topic—McDonald’s gave attendees a chance to get into a Happy Meal Box and paint it.
Rather than just reading an article or watching a video, we can now become active participants in the story. Devices like the Samsung Gear VR transport us into worlds we’d otherwise never step foot in. For example, Clouds Over Sidra, a virtual-reality film created by the United Nations and Samsung—followed a 12-year-old girl in a Syrian-refugee camp in Jordan —raising awareness and fostering emotional connections beyond what traditional media could accomplish.
Right now, virtual reality and augmented reality marketing is being used by big brands with big budgets. And unless you’re a serious gamer, you’re probably not investing in an Oculus Rift to have at home. But companies like Google, Microsoft, and Mattel continue to explore more mainstream possibilities. (If you just want to check things out and watch cool 360-videos on YouTube, Google Cardboard and Mattel’s View-Master are more affordable options and compatible with more devices.)
Sometimes, all you need is a smartphone… You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone on the hunt for Pokémon. If it hasn’t already consumed your life, Pokémon Go combines your phone’s GPS with augmented reality and once you start, it’s hard to stop. For those more serious about AR and VR, you can shoot your own 360 live stream video to share what’s going on anywhere in the world.
- Brands are getting creative and using it to promote products, take customers on virtual in-store adventures that impact purchase consideration, and deliver memorable immersive experiences that foster brand loyalty.
- When wearing a headset, the user is hyper-focused on what they’re experiencing. They’re not being bombarded with tons of other messages. Feeling like you’re “in it” creates a much more emotional experience. And since it’s not something being done by everyone yet, the brands that do it right are getting more traction and buzz.
- VR and AR technologies are quickly advancing and gaining more widespread popularity. But there’s still a lot to learn. Brands shouldn’t use VR or AR just to “try” it. Content (whether 360 or not) still needs to be useful, captivate an audience, and meet their needs. So, before you invest, you need to consider, “Is it an experience worth experiencing?”