27 January 2016

The choice is real.

If you want headlines then look no further than Virtual reality, with its promise of total immersion for the gaming and entertainment industry. Sounds amazing right?

For the most part it is amazing, but for me there is still an elephant in the room. Accessibility. Even if at this point we ignore the fact that you need some kind of headset to get a truly immersive experience, be it cardboard or Oculus, you can’t ignore the that VR seems to work best in specific staged scenarios.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not attempt to dismiss the idea of virtual reality, its potential is massive. I’m sure it’ll play a huge part in helping brands to cross the divide into entertainment, with some great examples already out there. Lexus have allowed customers to explore the new RX model, The Discovery Channel use it to promote their shows and the Canadian Tourist Board have promoted visiting their country with it. All good stuff.

The point here is that if you can find a practical use of VR, it can be an unbeatable experience. Take Google expeditions, an absolutely perfect fit for school classrooms, essentially these expeditions are guided tours of places the school bus can’t reach. Using Google cardboard goggles and a smart phone makes it a pretty cost effective experience that fits with schools budgets. And even as I write this Facebook has just launched its 360 video service with partner films by GoPro. True thats not full VR, but bearing mind Facebook has recently brought Oculus you can see where this is heading.

So what about Augmented reality? With no sign of the adoption of newer, more powerful mobile devices slowing down, means there is ready made user base. And a large one at that. Complimenting the power and availability of these devices is also the ever increasing access we have to a high speed data connections, creating the perfect storm. Suddenly, and after years of hype, there is a really powerful platform with the potential to be a major source of exposure or even revenue for brands. The Pepsi “unbelievable” campaign is a great example, taking over the screens of bus shelters using AR to create unbelievable moments for the unsuspecting public. And more recently Hyundai has been starting to use augmented reality based app that is designed to replaced its car manuals.

There’s more good news. The fact that AR is mobile makes it perfect for both consumers and brands. For consumers its embraces the existing behaviours that users are familiar with, like using the devices camera. The idea of bringing virtual content into a persons reality with immediacy, and seamlessly integrating into their existing purchasing journey is a powerful one. Think visual searching with object recognition, additional product information or even a virtual demonstration right at the point of sale. All valuable stuff when trying to make a decision.

For brands, It offers greater scope for how, when and where consumers can engage with campaigns, branded collateral, packaging and product. This ties in perfectly with micro moments that appear throughout the customer journey, “I want to watch”, “I want to know”, “I want to do” and “I want to buy” moments. Brands need to be there at those moments. Ultimately helping to bridge and connect across different marketing touch points.

So in conclusion, I don’t think you can pick a clear winner. AR and VR offer uniquely different experiences that can help with marketing challenges. Right now, AR probably has a lower barrier to entry and is more easily integrated into exiting consumer behaviours. But an amazing VR experience will help create the type of lasting and memorable connections that brands are also looking for. My advice, start and end with your audience, remove all the barriers to experience and keep the story going across digital and social channels.

By Spencer Conway,

Head of Digital & Immersive

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