Virtual Reality: A New Brand Experience

If you haven’t heard about the $2 bn Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift or seen the Rift enabled exhibits at 2014 San Diego Comic Con then it’s time you paid attention. Both Ad Age and The Verge recently published comprehensive pieces that cover virtual reality’s past, future and present. I encourage you to read them if you want to get caught up. (The Verge piece is gorgeous). VR has been around for about half century in various forms. It is only now, due to a combination of proper hardware (Moore’s law), software, the internet and a DIY community that VR has the ability to become what we idealize it as.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve donned the goggles (maybe Tag will order a pair…) but I’ve read enough to be convinced that the experience truly convinces the brain into believing you’re in another world. Think about the power of that. We are on the verge of the next big thing. The introduction of mass-market low-cost VR is a game-changer the likes of radio and television. I also think it trumps everything that’s come before it.

What does this mean for brands?

Today the opportunity for brands to capitalize on VR is small. There aren’t enough consumers with headsets; delivery channels are limited; equipment is cumbersome; and production costs are high. This is why a lot of experiences have been limited to large gatherings and are associated with big brands. However, if you’re a brand with a modest budget, it’s not too early to be thinking about how you might benefit from virtual reality.

A Swedish broadband provider, Umeå Energi, created an experiment with the Rift that let users experience what life is like living with lag. We’ve all seen great ads for Verizon or Comcast that use parody or metaphor to talk about internet speeds but think about how much deeper of a connection you make with consumers if they can feel the difference.

Right now most VR experiences are limited to a single person interacting with an environment. In the near future, shared VR experiences will be easier to achieve and a whole new set of doors will be unlocked. Take an already effective campaign like “Share a Coke” and give customers the ability to enter a lobby with their friends across the world to hang out and have a drink. Facebook is betting on this type of interaction to be the future of social, which is why they paid a fortune to buy Oculus Rift.

Our own client,  Crossroads Hospice, could one day benefit from VR. They have a unique program called the Gift of a Day that creates “the perfect day” for its terminally ill patients. Many of these patients have limited function or tire easily. With VR, Crossroads’ Gifts could be created and shared with loved ones from the comfort of their bed.

VR isn’t going to replace traditional forms of media but it is going to be a tool that brands can use to elevate traditional campaigns and deepen customer loyalty.