Virtual Reality For Marketers: Think Experience, Not Interruption

debby-ruthData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Debby Ruth, senior vice president at Frank N. Magid Associates.

You can’t go online or even open a newspaper without seeing a story on virtual reality (VR) these days. VR is the “it” topic.

VR will already be at a scale that elicits a wake-up call for marketers by mid-2017, when an estimated 2.5 million to 5 million VR head-mounted displays will have shipped in the US. Add in roughly another 2 million Google Cardboards shipped in the US, and the scene becomes truly interesting. VR is beginning to reach into the mainstream.

As an advertising platform for marketers, VR is well underway with many early adopters. But if you aren’t thinking about it yet, now is the time to pay attention. I know, I know what you’re saying: There is no reach; let the early adopter brands work out the kinks; it might just be a fad. I can hear the pushback already.

When done right, VR is an immersive, all-consuming experience. So when we then start to think about scale, what is considered “mass” is now relative. How many people can you get to sit in your new car model, tour your cruise ship or to walk inside your hotel? The first three-dimensional experience I ever had was a View-Master as a child. I will never forget “Barbie’s Around The World Trip” – I still want to go to Bali because of that. Are you reading this, tourism bureaus? VR will scale experiential marketing.

And for the big data-obsessed, consider for a moment the data insights potential of VR. Right now, it would be possible to capture the gyroscopic movement data available in smartphones and mobile-based VR as a measure of engagement in a 360°-by-180° experience. Future head-mounted displays and personal fitness devices could have a baby and incorporate heart rate and other biometric measures that could be tied back to effectiveness and engagement through research.

If you are a marketer and haven’t experienced VR yet, do it. This week. Don’t wait. You need the experiential context so you can begin to visualize and understand the potential, even if you don’t act. Besides, it will make you much more interesting (or insufferable) at dinner parties.

You can keep it simple to start. Grab that Google Cardboard that came with your New York Times or have Amazon ship you one for less than 10 bucks. Then download the NYT VR app and watch two things: “Crown” by Run the Jewels and “Backwater” by Mini.

The first, “Crown,” is a dramatic and simple illustration of what it feels like to be in the center of a musical narrative – a taste of a powerful storytelling device. (And Run the Jewels is a group that should be on your playlist).

“Backwater” places you in the middle of a drama and directly in the back seat of a Mini, gazing at the dashboard with a 360-view of the interior. Reminiscent of BMW’s “Hostage” series with Clive Owen way back in 2002, it is a strong example of leveraging VR for advertising. Watching these two VRdeos on your Cardboard will give you the blurriest, most low-end VR experience there is (aside from my childhood View-Master), and it will still blow you away. Just wait until you experience the Samsung Gear, the Oculus Rift and others.

Believe it or not, there are already ad networks out there for VR ads – and they rely on the traditional interruption model. But as you start inventing ways to apply VR into your marketing efforts, don’t have a failure of imagination and think of advertising using age-old interruption constructs. If there was ever a platform for creativity, for pushing boundaries and reimagining advertising, it is VR.

Follow Debby Ruth (@debbyruth), Frank A. Magid Associates (@Magid_TV) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. E B Moss

    Terrific post that has me running to fish out my Cardboard and brainstorm some marketing ideas for VR!