Back in May, our team attended the VR World conference in London. The aim was to explore the latest developments around virtual and augmented reality, with a view to how they could help our clients deliver more engaging and effective campaigns.
In that regard, we came back a little underwhelmed. Despite some impressive demos of the technology’s potential, several issues must be addressed before VR and AR become a serious consideration for more brands.
There’s no denying that VR presents a powerful opportunity to immerse people in an incredible visual and sensory experience. Like this one from Merrell, perfectly capturing the essence of the adventurous outdoor brand.
Yet relatively few people currently own the hardware for personal use. And this isn’t growing as rapidly as initially predicted, leading to analysts like research group CCS Insight to pare back their forecasts for the market.
As such, experiences largely rely on consumers participating within a retail or experiential environment. This means it’s not suitable for every brand, and opportunities for reach and scale are somewhat limited.
Additionally, VR through a headset can only be experienced individually. For the many brands that espouse the virtues of sharing and shared experiences, creating VR content to be consumed this way runs the risk of running contrary to their values.
Despite it being behind VR in Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, we think AR is actually closer to becoming a more mainstream tactic for marketeers.
Why? Well, nearly everyone carries the means to access it around in their pockets, in the form of a smartphone. Granted, the relatively limited processing power and storage space of many means that current experiences can be glitchy. But mobile tech is escalating exponentially, giving AR technology the chance to escalate with them.
However, there are still drawbacks to widespread adoption. In a few decades time, for instance, we’ll look back on the act of holding a phone or tablet up to experience AR through that small screen and scoff at the cumbersome nature of the act.
HoloLens from Microsoft and Facebook’s newly-patented Oculus Rift glasses are in the early stages of changing this. But for now, we’re stuck with ‘seeing’ AR information overlaid through a 5 inch display.
Connectivity is also a major barrier. It has been widely agreed that mobile AR won’t be truly amazing util 5G is available, so why would brands looking to reach people on the move risk an inferior experience now?
Robert Scobie, described as “one of the world’s authorities on mixed reality” declares that every brand should have an AR strategy.
No disrespect to Sellotape, Rentokil or Florette bagged salad, but you probably don’t need an AR strategy just now. The same goes for VR. You could have one, but it likely wouldn’t be an effective use of your budgets.
We are in no doubt that one day both AR and VR could be as widely used by businesses as websites and apps are today.
However right now, we think marketeers should do as marketeers should always do: refrain from hopping straight on that tempting “new tech” bandwagon, and instead assess whether the end experience is a) an appropriate fit for their brand, and b) likely to deliver against their commercial objectives.