Whenever a new medium begins to emerge, it’s a good bet that advertising is paying attention. From in-game advertising to writing movie scenes around products, advertisers are constantly looking for ways to get mentions of their product in front of as many eyes as possible.
The trend remains the same with one of the latest technologies grabbing interest from many different tech verticals – virtual reality (VR). Although the concept has been around for decades, two major virtual reality headsets — HTC’s Vive and the Oculus Rift (owned by Facebook) — were released this past April, and Sony’s PlayStation VR is set to come later this year. Meanwhile, many companies are trying to figure out what to do with the new tech.
The gaming industry has been at the forefront of the emerging tech, and it has spent the most time trying to craft new VR experiences. However, entertainment, training and retail industries are all watching VR’s development closely as the technology may have many more applications than originally imagined. Before that happens, the technology still has battles to fight.
Reception of the VR may have been exciting in the tech industries, but for the layman who may never have had the chance to put on a VR headset, the news isn’t exactly heart-pounding. With that said, the experience tends to make the difference. Today’s VR headsets create a visceral experience, and a mind that buys into the virtual can quickly lose track of the real.
The problem is that headsets aren’t exactly common. Since the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift were released to consumers, early adopters have had to deal with much higher price points than originally imagined ($800 for Vive and $600 for the Rift) and complicated setups. The media options have also been relatively few (although gamers will have a lot of fun with plenty of tech demos).
And then there’s the motion sickness problem. Because the actual movement of a person is guided by a controller held in a person’s hands, any game that involves an avatar walking around can be disorienting for those weak of stomach who can’t deal with the disconnect of motion in VR compared to sitting in real life.
These problems, however, have not stopped advertisers. The industry is already seeing marketing and advertising agencies pop up to take advantage. Larger advertisers such as Nestle, Disney and Coca-Cola have all started experimenting with virtual reality content. For example, a video by Oreo featuring a tour through a Willy Wonka-esque world has gained 3 million views. Most recently, YouTube just announced the YouTube app dedicated specifically for VR videos.
Even with these obstacles, many companies are painting a rosy picture of VR as it continues to come into its own although the average person is less sure. A great example is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous presentation involving Oculus Rift, the VR company that Facebook bought last year in order to create shareable VR experiences. During the presentation, Zuckerberg excitedly presented in front of hundreds of VR-equipped tech journalists — a picture that many lambasted as a sort of dystopian future. While companies are excited, the layman sees the tech as another gimmick and a potentially dangerous one. But that hasn’t stopped companies from looking to create more hype around the technology, continuing to work to fix any problems and adding depth to the base experience.
When it comes to motion sickness, a few solutions are currently being tested. The simplest is creating worlds that don’t require movement beyond sitting down. Others are testing the connection between eyes and feet by convincing your mind that you may be walking a straight line although you’re really walking in a circle.
Some tech companies are exploring peripherals that are able to add extended functionality. For example, the Vive comes with two light towers that help track a persons’ limbs in real time. A few companies are experimenting with glove controllers that add heightened accuracy to dealing with virtual objects. And then there’s Teslasuit, a haptic-feedback suit that adds full body tactile inputs to your VR experience. If VR companies have their way, outside of hacking into the Matrix, VR can become a truly immersive experience the transports us to any type of world that we could dream of.
When it comes to corporate interests, VR could be huge. In communications, individuals could have meetings entirely in virtual worlds. In social media, entire experiences could be shareable. Training industries could create programs specifically created to teach skillsets, and retailers have shown great interest in creating virtual stores where individuals could browse through virtual objects and effectively bridge the in-store and at-home experience.
For advertisers, VR could mean creating memorable experiences to connect individuals with a brand. A great example is Coca-Cola, which created a VR experience of competing in the 2014 World Cup. Other companies have experimented with VR’s cheaper alternative — 360-video. Although it doesn’t allow movement or interaction in the virtual space, 360-video can still make individuals feel like they’re actually in the space observing what’s going on.
Virtual reality could be a game changer in years to come, but it has some major obstacles first. Until that time, it will most likely be large enterprises who can afford experimentation with VR before the technology proliferates, and advertisers find virtual reality initiatives worth the investment.