Virtual reality has been around for ages, but it has only recently gotten big and exciting, with every major player on the planet either working on a VR project or rumored to be doing so. It begs the question: Why? And how far will it go this time around?
With VR, the user is completely submerged in a new computerized reality, whereas with augmented reality (AR), the physical and virtual mesh to give the user a synergetic experience (similar to Google Glass). Companies like Magic Leap are said to be making huge headway with AR technology.
There is no doubt VR and AR can have magnificent applications, from simply getting away to a white sandy beach for a few minutes of your day, to playing a real-life game, to more advanced applications, such as having a meeting/conference call with others within a VR environment, taking a class on a virtual field trip, shopping in a virtual mall, training military forces/pilots, leading a full-on “second life” experience or having your urban street turn into a jungle while you walk through it.
Take video calls for example. It’s one thing to have a video call with a friend or family member, but it’s another thing to actually transcend time and space and be with them in the same location while physically miles away.
As with most technologies, however, no matter how cool or exciting the product is, we all know the companies leading the charge are also planning to make a fair buck — and no, I don’t mean in virtual dollars.
Both VR and AR will give marketers a whole new array of advertising products. From virtual billboards to product placement, the possibilities are endless — and once you are immersed in VR/AR, your most valuable human traits are no longer in your hands, and you are easily subjected to your new surroundings.
One of the most challenging aspects of marketing is delivering a message that not only builds awareness of a product but also evokes emotion. After all, regardless of what we may believe, we are all emotional buyers. Getting the attention of your audience and conveying emotion takes on a whole new twist when you control the entire environment your users are in.
One could argue that virtual reality is more about controlling reality than it is virtual.
VR and AR are not only the future of gaming, education and communication, but also the future of marketing. This is why companies like Facebook purchased Oculus for more than 2 billion dollars, and why HTC has Vive, Sony has Morpheus, Canon has MREAL (designed as a B2B platform), Google has invested heavily in Magic Leap and Apple is rumored to be hard at work fighting for their spot.
But it’s not only the big players; a multitude of startups are rising to the occasion. AltspaceVR is already working on a social platform through VR where people can come together and interact using Oculus — they even have a desktop client that lets you try it out and get a feeling without the need for a headset.
VRIDEO enables its users to stream video to their VR headsets and experience VR spaces. Fishbowl VR is working on an analytics tool that will enable developers of VR to gain a better understanding of their users and how they interact in VR; this could range from technical aspects to understanding how to advertise more effectively.
Surre.al is a multiplayer VR gaming platform. Want to watch sports in VR with your friends? LiveLike is tackling that one. Vizor lets you build your own VR experience on a desktop, which you can then share with friends. Want to get news on VR and AR? Head to UploadVR and get a glimpse of the near future, or sign up and interact with the growing VR/AR community. Lastly, Blippar is an AR media service providing companies with all levels of AR advertising solutions.
It is clear that VR and AR companies are aiming high; it’s more than a fun gaming space, it’s gearing up to be the next frontier after the web — it’s where people will take social experiences to the next level, and both market leaders and startups are rushing to enter this space. If successful, it will no doubt become the largest advertising platform on earth. In fact, one could argue that virtual reality is more about controlling reality than it is virtual.
How far are we from the day we will see adverts in VR? The law of supply and demand is already proving true, and companies such as VirtualSKY are already offering 360 degree ads for virtual headsets. VirtualSKY “transforms your digital advertising into ‘better than real’ experiences that win love, build followings and earn viral shares. Why settle for a small video box when you can transport your users into your brand’s world.”
When asked at TechCrunch Disrupt SF about ads in VR, Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of Ads and Pages, stated, “That experience should include ads, because life includes ads. So to not have ads would make it less lifelike.”
How far will it go? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we can only imagine the day when we are in our office looking down from Mount Everest, drinking a cola from the vending machine that magically appeared at the summit.