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future, technology and people concept - man in futuristic glasses

Soar miles above the Earth. Swim to the oceans’ depths. Visit breathtaking worlds.

Such are the promises of virtual reality (VR) and its ability to immerse someone in a 360-degree view of a new world, and augmented reality (AR), which overlays virtual 3D graphics onto someone’s reality. Skeptics, however, hear the words “virtual reality” and recall the gimmicks of the 90s stunt/promotion-focused video games. Others think of Facebook, which made headlines purchasing VR device developer Oculus Rift. Only a few currently ponder the endless possibilities VR can offer us in everyday life. But, as we witnessed at South by Southwest this year, that’s sure to quickly change.

With major players like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft investing heavily in VR and AR technology, the market will soon be flooded with new devices (e.g., Microsoft’s Hololens, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony’s Playstation VR, HTC/Valve’s HTC Vive), making this the year that VR (and AR, to a lesser extent) will shift from gimmick to game changer.

SXSW, always the herald of ideas and technology, celebrated VR/AR’s potential through a host of on-site executions, its own convergence track, and the first “Augmented reality concert.” These sessions focused on VR/AR’s ability to enhance storytelling and erase the lines between physical and digital realities.

The ability for it to mainstream will largely be contingent on the utility that VR and AR are able to deliver to consumers. The good news? The technology doesn’t need to be complicated. While HoloLens, Microsoft’s 2016 AR solution, requires specific knowledge and understanding of new types of hardware and software, Google’s Cardboard leverages a smartphone, folded pieces of reinforced paper, and only basic software understanding to tap into the power of VR. Initiatives like the over one million New York Times subscribers who received a Google Cardboard thanks to General Electric, will continue to pique consumer interest while proving the technology isn’t as complex or expensive to access as many think.

As the technology continues to advance and providers set price points, the devices rolling out this year will determine how brands adopt them for communication plans. In some instances of immersive video, all that is needed is your smartphone. For example, YouTube360 and Facebook 360 both offer 360 video via a smartphone, a key driver behind many of the spherical camera (i.e. 360-degree/3D video cameras) offerings on display at CES and SXSW. These devices put content creation in the hands of consumers and brands, enabling them to go beyond basic storytelling to deliver even more powerful content.

Yet while the potential applications and awareness for VR and AR are quickly growing, the reality is that most businesses are not ready or set-up to quickly adopt the technology. Being prepared means starting with a strong understanding of the technology’s impact and what infrastructure is needed at a company to be nimble with your investment to test the benefits of VR and AR.

We are already seeing savvy brands leverage this creative canvas to capture audiences with a true sensory emersion and authentic connection. As the creative bar continues to be raised by brands willing to get hands on and take creative risks, we’re going to see a lot more nimble turnaround when it comes to tests. Investing in devices like 360 cameras will expedite the opportunities for agencies and brands to play around with the medium to determine what form of VR or 360 video make sense to bring their content to consumers.

Now is the time for marketers to connect with device and content providers to understand their launch strategies and how brands can work alongside them to be part of how consumers will adopt both VR and AR in their everyday lives. Working with data and consumer insights to make any VR and/or AR investments valuable to consumers and connected to the brand proposition, will allow brands to go beyond the one-off gimmick.

Whitney Fishman Zember

Original source: 8th April 2016

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