Virtual reality has been heralded as the next big thing to happen in media. In fact, the VR industry is expected to generate more than $7 billion in revenue by the end of 2017 and will grow to $75 billion in 2021. However, the use of virtual reality has experienced slow adoption among consumers. Case in point: A report by Forrester Research found that 42 percent of U.S. online adults have never heard of virtual reality headsets. Another 46 percent said they don’t see a use for VR in their lives.
The fully immersive experience virtual reality offers has the potential to revolutionize how products are marketed by inserting users into a distraction-free environment. But despite its “cool factor,” the adoption of VR technology has run into several hurdles for both brands and consumers alike.
- The cost for marketers to produce VR content can be pricey—ranging anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 and up, depending on the quality.
- For many consumers, the price tag on the equipment necessary to step into virtual worlds is too high. A full-fledged headset can cost several hundred dollars.
- Sometimes technology evolves faster than consumers’ interest, as 3D televisions and Google Glass have shown.
These challenges can be overcome by taking a different strategic approach when considering creating VR content on behalf of your brand.
Take the Pain Out of the Price Point
Virtual reality that pairs smartphones with cost-effective headsets like the Samsung Gear (whose recent content collaborations include Reuters and Viceland) or Google Cardboard (with branded partnerships ranging from The New York Times to Visa and Reebok) is a great way for marketers to reach a much wider audience. These videos create an immersive experience for the wearer, giving them the sense of being within a space while it’s unfolding around them. True, they may not offer the same high-quality experience like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headsets, but they do encourage new adoption at a lower price point to consumers. Most recently, Facebook’s in-app integration is further challenging the notion that you need an expensive piece of equipment to experience VR firsthand. Both Google and Microsoft have also announced new more moderately priced headsets that will offer higher quality experiences to buyers.
Get Creative With Internal Costs
Want to experiment without putting your entire budget into one project? Viacom NEXT, the company’s emerging R&D group, is finding creative ways to develop multiple VR experiences at once without breaking the bank. Given the costs associated with securing A-list talent and negotiating licensing with brands, the team has chosen to work with emerging creators instead. For example, the animated VR music video Chocolate is the result of a collaboration between the team and director Tyler Hurd. The immersive experience The Melody of Dust is a collaboration with musician Hot Sugar that lets you enter a dark, temple-like room populated by floating objects where you can create your own melody depending on what you interact with.
“Everything we do is one part experimental and one part raising the profile for Viacom by planting our flag in the VR business,” said David Liu, Viacom NEXT’s creative director of Virtual Reality. “Our focus for now is on making interesting things, as we search for new lines of businesses for the company.”
Think Beyond Entertainment Value
Getting consumers interested in VR requires an understanding of how to produce content that drives more than just occasional usage. It needs to fulfill a very specific need that can’t be found elsewhere. So far, VR’s biggest fans have been gamers, but if you turn advertising or branding into a game itself—something to unlock or discover that provides a very specific personal payoff—this adds a compelling element that makes VR far more useful.
Ikea, for example, developed a virtual reality app that created an immersive experience similar to their showrooms that placed users in a kitchen furnished with the retailer’s products. Google designed an educational program that inserted school children into a virtual journey to landscapes like the Great Barrier Reef and Mars. Meanwhile, Toyota created a virtual world with futuristic landscapes where users could sit in the driver’s seat of the new Prius Prime. With each of these examples, the brands were able to seamlessly highlight key tools or products while also creating an opportunity for exploration that felt holistic to the VR journey itself.
As VR continues to evolve, so should the thinking behind it. Introducing consumers to VR content requires an understanding of “want vs. need”. (Remodeling a kitchen is a need; wearing an expensive pair of goggles while pretending to scale Mt. Everest? Not so much.) And while VR has established a strong foothold in the entertainment industry, marketers can continue to drive further demand by taking the idea of VR from occasional toy to powerful brand tool.