Virtual Reality to Change Marketing

Rich OrdAdvertising

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Virtual Reality is in its infancy but will very shortly have a major impact on everyone, especially marketers. Every major tech company is focused on Virtual Reality and because of that the technology has rapidly improved over the last couple of years. Last year Facebook paid $2 billion for crowd-funded Oculus Rift in order to enter the space running. Other players include Sony, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, HTC, Nokia, Intel, IBM, Samsung, Qualcomm and hundreds more.

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Virtual Disruption

According to research by Digi-Capital augmented reality and Virtual Reality are predicted to be a $150 billion industry by 2020. The study forecasts that AR (augmented reality), a less intense experience, will take the lion’s share around $120 billion and VR $30 billion.

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Virtual Reality headset shipments will approach 30 million by 2020, driven by video & gaming according to a September 2015 Juniper Research study, "Virtual Reality: Market Dynamics & Future Prospects 2015-2020." The study predicts that the technology is poised to transform the entertainment industry including gaming and video over the next few years, while offering the potential to quickly expand into other markets such as industrial and healthcare. Report co-author Joe Crabtree commented, "The recent attention to and investment into Virtual Reality is helping to revitalize the industry and with major brand commercial launches imminent, there is huge potential for rapid market expansion.”

Google is actually doing something very low tech in order to increase public interest in VR, sending people Google Cardboard viewers. As Google says, it’s a VR experience starting with a simple viewer anyone can build or buy.

"Every single video on YouTube can be viewed in VR, making it the world's largest library of VR content," wrote Aaron Luber who is in charge of Google and YouTube partnerships in a think with Google report. "This is giving many people all over the world their first taste of VR, and mainstream interest is growing; global search interest for Virtual Reality on Google has grown by nearly 4X in the last year."

Virtual Reality is a technology that can be very disruptive in that it has the potential to impact how we live and what we do and from a marketers perspective it opens up a whole new world. "The technology has the potential to change our daily lives—from how we communicate to how we spend our leisure time," said Luber. "It's early days, but it's already happening, and now is the time for brands and creators to understand what it all means."

The Future With Virtual Reality

"The promise of VR is what the industry calls "presence"—the feeling that you're really somewhere else," said Luber. "VR cameras like Jump can capture the entire experience of a place—every corner, every angle. In the not-so-distant future, cameras like these will be capturing experiences all over the world." Google's Jump is a camera rig consisting of 16 camera modules in a circular array that are optimized to work with the Jump assembler, which is a powerful computer that turns 16 pieces of video into stereoscopic VR video.

Luber explains that VR creates a time machine like experience where what you record now can be played back in the future and it will seem like you were there. For families, VR recordings of your daughters 4th birthday or your own wedding will let you relive the events, bringing much more emotional impact than traditional video.

This is why advertisers are so interested in VR. Emotion sells products much more than utility and that reality positions Virtual Reality as a game changer in the advertising industry.

"At Google, Cardboard was our first step toward this future," says Luber. "Soon, our VR platform Daydream will enable even more powerful, mobile, high-quality experiences with a headset that's comfortable at an accessible price. We're also building mobile apps for VR like Google Play, Maps, and YouTube."

YouTube is actually a great place to view many 360-degree videos where viewers can see the video from every angle just by swiping or moving the phone or tablet around—no headset required. Luber says that uploads of 360-degree videos are growing and have doubled over the past three months. He says that brands are also using 360-degree video with ads and to film events. "BMW used this technology for an ad featuring a 360-degree car race," says Luber. "The "School of Rock" musical created a 360-degree music video. AT&T simulated a car crash to drive home its phone safety message."

YouTube even categorizes 360-degree videos so you can conveniently browse through them.

The Power of VR in Telling a Story

"And this makes filmmakers-- a lot of them are credible ones that have been around for a while-- makes them freak out, like this is horrible, this is dangerous," said Jessica Brillhart, the principal filmmaker for Google VR in a talk at Google I/O 2016. "But let's just breathe for a second. Have we lost complete control? Or maybe it just lives somewhere else in this. Us humans have a knack for following what calls attention to itself, no matter where it is, no matter where it goes."

"One of the fascinating challenges in these relatively early days of Virtual Realty is how to tell actual stories," says a post on the Wevr blog. "The most common comparison so far has been to live theater, where an audience watches events unfold with no real time direction to focus their attention. It’s an aspect that allows for a new kind of experience, yet also seems to frustrate many experienced story tellers."

Wevr is a company that believes "virtual reality has the power to alter people’s lives more than any other medium to date with the potential to deliver memories that stick."

Brillhart says that "our control as creators is in this understanding of the potential experiences a world contains so that we can prepare for this, prepare for how someone might engage with the space." She said that a videographer or directors craft is about responding to all "potential experiences". She added that "our jobs as creators is not to preciously craft something that someone may never look at and then forget the rest of it, but instead to guide visitors through a crafted universe."

Connor Hair, Award winning VR Director and Co-Founder of the VR production company Perception Square, talked about how he used VR to tell a story. "One of the reasons I went with the 180 degree view for the VR segments was that I wanted to maintain some of the control you have as a filmmaker," Hair said. "To craft it like you would a film and directed the audiences attention and not worrying about what is behind them. It also enabled me to stand behind the camera and direct actors as I would in a film."

After working as a cinematographer on six feature length projects, Hair changed his focus toward directing virtual reality experiences. In 2015 he directed two short films for virtual reality, "Real" and "En Pointe". His bio states that he "is constantly experimenting with emerging technology and has a passion for telling stories in unique and innovative ways." Watch out Steven Spielberg!

Real 2D Version - The 3D VR experience will soon be released as an app for the Oculus Rift:

En Pointe - 360 VR Short Film - Selected as a Winner of Samsung's "There in 60 seconds" VR contest.

Storytelling with VR and 360-degree video is "an incredibly powerful tool to create empathy," said Luber. "When a viewer feels like they are there, they have a greater sense of the situation. Messages become more impactful."

Brands Can't Wait for VR

Nothing tickles the fancy of brands more than learning of a new way to create personal, powerful and impactful marketing messages. Brands are learning more about VR everyday through research and by understanding the technology and its potential and some are already using it.

Cadillac is creating virtual showrooms where customers will find VR headsets and no cars. These high-tech showrooms will save tons of money because dealers won't have to purchase inventory according to a WSJ.com article. "They can still sell the same volume," said Will Churchill, owner of Frank Kent Cadillac in Fort Worth, Texas, and head of Cadillac’s dealer council. "They don’t have to stock the 15 cars and hope that they have the right one…the data shows they probably don’t."

Time Warner and Nielsen are actually partnering up to study the emotional impact of Virtual Reality. "Given the increasing role that VR is going to play with our content and even with our advertisers in the future, I think that alone gives us an interesting opportunity to partner with Nielsen and an unparalleled opportunity to integrate both the biometrics part of research and also the neuroscience piece to help us understand how consumers are really engaging with the VR experience," Kristen O'Hara, Time Warner's CMO for global media told Adweek.

VR Can Be Very Powerful For Marketers

VR can be powerful for marketers. "Virtual Reality is not a media experience. When it's done well, it's an actual experience," Stanford University, Professor Jeremy Bailenson said. "In general, our findings show that VR causes more behavior change, causes more engagement, causes more influence than other types of traditional media."

"I think what our clients and I think this lab is going to be able to do very well is separate the sort of 'wow factor' of VR from really full-on engagement with content and advertising," Carl Marci told Adweek. Marci is the Chief Neuroscientist, Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience at Nielsen Company. "How do you tell stories in a VR environment? How do you make someone who's engaged in a totally surrounded and immersive environment go from a beginning, middle and end? How do you introduce characters?"

The New York Times actually has a VR app, which puts viewers into news events around the world. "Go underwater or on the campaign trail," says the NYT promot. "Experience life through the eyes of a refugee or explore previously unseen worlds. Experience stories reported by award-winning journalists, all told in an immersive, 360-degree video experience."

"For the brand and user the intimacy of VR is really dramatic,” GE's CMO Linda Boff told The Guardian. "It’s a tool to tell a powerful story in a way that’s much more personal and up close than we’d normally be able to."

Brands are also looking forward to technological leaps that are in works such as haptic technology which recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions for the user to experience. Apple famously includes haptic technology in its current versions of the iPhone, for example.

"You can see brands creating room-scale simulations where consumers will interact with branded content," Anthony Batt told the Guardian. Batt is co-founder of the Virtual Reality firm Wevr. "For example, Airbnb could create sims for real rental properties so users could experience what it would feel like to stay there."

Marketing has become the the breeding ground for Virtual Reality technology. "You have to start experimenting," says Boff. “Marketing may be a proving ground, but if we can take this tech and make it a business application, that’s huge."

Ominous Warning

A person named Zeigeist commented on an article about VR and delivered this ominous warning: "Way before the movie the Matrix was created, I realized that our concept of reality is entirely controlled by our ability to receive stimuli through our senses. If you are able to control the input a person receives, without their awareness that the input source was generated by something other than the expected "real world", the person would never know."

Of course, we aren't expecting the Matrix to actually happen, but Virtual Reality technology and application are just getting started. Who knows what the future holds.

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Rich Ord