Our world is perceivable through a myriad of lenses, and depending on the purpose, every lens displays the unique reality it is designed to. Virtual reality (or VR) is a trending technological topic, and not limited to a handful of industries. Since its discovery, more uses for this technology have been introduced, and the world of marketing is not left out.
In nearly every definition of virtual reality that you will find, the words “three-dimensional,” “simulated,” and “immersive” are likely to make individual or collective appearances. This is because they aptly represent the essence and extent of virtual reality.
Simpler put, virtual reality is a technology that temporarily suspends the natural world you know and takes you into a pre-designed virtual space that is ultra-realistic and interactive. Typically, to access this virtual realm, one would need such devices as virtual reality goggles, gloves, bodysuits, or helmets. Virtual reality can either simulate existing natural scenarios (such as a living room, or a jungle) or showcase completely chimerical sceneries (such as a zombie-apocalyptic scene in a video game).
With over 171 million VR users in the world, virtual reality is on a steady rise to prominence in multiple industries, marketing inclusive. With consistent success in delivering unrepeated brand product experiences to consumers, virtual reality is all the rave of marketing strategies for many brands.
As the future of virtual reality comes into scope, this piece will examine virtual reality’s incredible evolution, weaving into its association with marketing and brand building. What is to be expected from this technology in years to come? Can it be applied to the average day-to-day basis?
Virtual Reality: The Past
The idea of recreating three-dimensional universes was not lost on the minds of certain people who lived in the 1900s.
As it lends its uniqueness to its tremendous believability, virtual reality must have begun with the realization that the human mind was capable of being immersed in a world so unnatural, yet convincible as real because of its lucid, vivid elements. From the mid-1800s, the world was rapidly undergoing a period of advancements, characterized by the Industrial Revolution. Subsequently, many inventions that would herald the discoveries of the multiple technologies which currently shape our digital existence were conceived.
This blog will begin the origin story of virtual reality with a cinematic wonder of the 1960s as it is more relatable to our marketing focus.
Sensorama – The Cinema of the Future
His name was Morton Heilig, and his end product was called the Sensorama Simulator; a multi-sensory machine that could simulate predesigned natural scenarios. The Sensorama played 3D films that absorbed the spectator so deeply into the scenes played that it is regarded as a pioneer creation of virtual reality. Inspired by the ideal to expedite learning by making the learner experience situations rather than merely read or be lectured at, Heilig unveiled his Sensorama machine to the world in 1962.
The Sensorama looked somewhat like an arcade gaming machine from the 1950s or as American writer Lewis Lapham more succinctly described, “…a monstrous hair dryer and operating on the principle of a peep show in a penny arcade…” Lapham further wrote about Heilig’s invention that it was “six feet high, measures 30 inches across and six feet deep is painted cerulean blue…”. This was no small machine.
The Sensorama had three-dimensional videos built-in, one of which was the New York bike riding simulation to teach people how to ride a bike. The sounds of the streets, the chair vibrations to indicate the right hint of road recklessness, the smells of diesel fumes from the whirling streets, and the feel of the wind blowing against the virtual rider’s entire body completed the feeling of a typical afternoon high-speed ride. These four elements combined into the enthralling experience of a bicycle ride on the bustling streets of New York City – all of which were part of a simulation, carefully designed by a man who wanted to show the world that realities could be replicated using a bucket chair, stereos, a smell emitter, and fans.
Heilig’s invention held a world of decent prospects such as showing people how to drive a car or selling a nice house by simulating the rooms inside it or teaching students about history by showing them simulated historical events. After expending a considerable budget on the Sensorama prototype, Morton Heilig embarked on his quest to find big-time investors in companies like Ford and International Harvester. If they’d adopt his patented Simulator for their showroom displays for tech-savvy marketing, Helig’s invention would land its deserved big break.
Unfortunately, the world then was not ready for the Cinema of the Future. The Sensorama made a few bucks as a public attraction in Times Square and became a relic soon after. Helig’s hard work went underappreciated, and only after two decades (at least) was his work linked to what became known as virtual reality.
Virtual Reality: The Present (In Marketing)
After virtual reality received its name, it began to permeate many industries, notably video gaming (entertainment), the medical, the military, and then marketing.
As far back as the 1960s in our origin story, Heilig must have envisioned the compatibility of virtual reality with marketing. It is opinable that if Ford or any other company had taken advantage of his VR machine, they could have recorded tremendous success in convincing consumers to buy a VR-advertised product.
Back then and now, it holds true that showing, rather than telling, is a powerfully persuasive method in marketing a brand or product. While making promises to consumers may hold some positive sway on their decision, demonstrating in real-time how a product or service fulfills their needs, goes the longer distance in securing their conversion.
Therefore, Virtual Reality provides a more immersive digital consumer experience than a unique TV commercial, the catchiest radio jingle, or a feature in the glossiest lifestyle magazine. Here are some curated real-life examples:
The Cyber-Kitchen: IKEA’s famous Experiment
A Walk Through Dementia – The Alzheimer’s Research UK
With around 900,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in the United Kingdom, and about 55 million worldwide, Alzheimer’s Research UK propagated that “to defeat the disease, it must first be understood.”
This message formed part of the opening montage of ARUK’s launch film for a virtual reality app titled “A Walk through Dementia,” which allowed users to experience the everyday struggles of people who live with dementia.
This campaign was geared at sensitizing the public to the true nature of dementia to create more empathy and understanding for patients. Aiming to simulate a realistic sequence of dementia patients’ experiences without being morbid about it, the virtual reality app succinctly put users inside the psychological situations of patients, with a voice-over to represent their thoughts.
Similarly, brands like the New York Times and TOMS have implemented virtual reality in their recent endeavors.
The Allure of Virtual Reality Marketing
Virtual Reality – The Future
An era where digital transformation is on the constant rise is bound to see more of Virtual Reality in the global marketplace. With a market size currently valued at about $28.42 billion from last year’s closing of $21.83 billion, virtual reality is attracting investments for product innovations across multiple industries. Its market size is predicted to hit a whopping $656.2 billion by 2031.
A statistical majority of consumers are typically on the lookout for brands with hyper-personalized marketing approaches, and this is in favor of virtual reality. With the demonstration of a product experience so personalized and so real, marketing with virtual reality has the potential to bolster trust in the consumer in advance of their purchase. This is aptly exemplified in IKEA’s VR Kitchen story.
More Interest, More Demand - An AR and Oculus Brief.
The preference for digital-age marketing by a digital-age audience is not at all contradictory. More than ever before, mankind is at liberty to maximize curiosities, and technological innovation is at an all-time high.
A subset of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, relies partly on real-life elements rather than completely computerized details and is predicted to have 1.7 billion mobile users worldwide by 2024. With tons of augmented reality apps in mobile app stores, easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone and internet connection, it can be speculated that virtual reality gadgets will become increasingly accessible within the next decade.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the Oculus Quest, a popular desktop-based virtual reality headset was sold out due to high consumer demand and the impact of the pandemic on manufacturing. When production reopened at the end of the year, the upgraded Oculus VR headset sold out again in millions of units. The Oculus brand has maintained its place as more affordable than most other VR headsets, which is a noteworthy contribution towards demystifying virtual reality and widening its reach.
More recently, there have been calls for virtual reality gadgets better suited for the disabled. The need for inclusion is a consistently efficacious conversation starter for any given topic, and virtual reality may be closer to its big break than predicted if innovations are focused on making more user-friendly gear for diverse demographics.
In the foreseeable future, the more people own such gadgets as Oculus, the more people can be reached for virtual reality marketing.
Virtual Reality - Challenges Arising…?
While the diversification of virtual reality into the marketing industry is a welcome development in a digitalized world, there remains the question of its applicability to everyday marketing. Getting the word out about your brand on television or social media is one thing, but creating entire virtual universes and realms around a featured product or service is a more elaborate approach to convincing customers to purchase. How realistically feasible and commensurately effective is virtual reality marketing in the long run?
The answer is an optimistic “quite.”
While matters of the costs of a VR marketing campaign, as well as its reach once, executed remain valid concerns, the spread of virtual reality is not on a reckless surge. Its popularity is neither exaggerated nor over-flogged, which is good for a sequenced, well-rounded development.
While other types of marketing such as social media marketing hold the forte, virtual reality is very much in
its prototypal phase. Taking a cue from its closer cousin, augmented reality, a good way forward is to facilitate a wider acceptance and utility of virtual reality by making it accessible on mobile devices. Fortunately, this is already underway with a few smartphones compatible with VR headsets and others to fall in line.
A Few More Thoughts…
Another fascinating angle is that marketing has what it takes to step up as the harbinger of virtual reality’s big break.
As people troop to be a part of fresh brand experiences on social media and conventional marketing platforms, they are highly likely to respond positively to a riveting virtual reality experience.
In other words, virtual reality can rise to prominence on the back of marketing, just as well as marketing can be immensely successful on account of its infusion of a virtual reality outlook.
To wrap it all up, in a digital age with digital-savvy people, and with VR utility innovations coupling with a steady rise in VR demand, interest, and the clarion call for user demographic inclusion, it is not difficult to see that Virtual Reality, though budding, has a beaming bright future – in marketing, and beyond.
Also Read: How Artificial and What Intelligence
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