In the mid-nineties “virtual reality”(VR) was the stuff of movies and failed arcades. Who remembers The Lawnmower Man or the bulky headsets at the local mall that delivered a less than impressive experience?
In the last three years, these technologies have finally come into their own and now truly immersive experiences are everywhere. And you’d better get familiar with them before you’re left in the virtual dust.
Writing about and describing these experiences that aim to supplant our reality can be daunting. How would you describe our reality to someone who has never seen or touched any part of it?
The most important thing for marketing executives to undertake right now is the find the time to experience the current batch of technologies themselves.
Immersive technology, where your senses are fully immersed in a digital experience include virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) and 360 degree video. All three are gaining ground rapidly in consumer and business spaces; at CES, in stores and likely in your own living room.
While they’re new and exciting, much is still unknown: which technology will dominate? Will there be only one? How will they integrate with the current marketing landscape? Will they be the next YouTube or iPhone, or is it a flash in the pan—a precursor to much more advanced technologies that will see widespread adoption in every industry and home?
For many people, Pokemon GO was the breakthrough moment for immersive technology, or what the industry calls “augmented reality” —blending the virtual world with our reality. Snapchat’s filters are probably the most popular application of this technology to date but it only scratches the surface; the ideas that will completely change our world have still yet to be discovered.
Microsoft’s latest Hololens demo shows what AR is all about:
While AR is still picking up steam, VR is fully in the consumer space, with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony’s Playstation VR and Google Daydream with prices for this tech dropping rapidly.
Likewise, 360 video and photography, where the viewer can change their field of view to see 360 degrees around themselves have been becoming more popular than ever, with Facebook and YouTube launching features to share in this format natively—but we’re still far from being truly immersed in it. Here, the next big step is being able to shift perspective on a phone or laptop screen to controlling it with the movement of eyes, head and body.
When new technologies emerge, we find that the consumer use cases and applications are radically different than what was originally intended. Beyond gaming and... ahem...porn, the two industries that are early adopters and define how a technology will be used, average consumers are using VR for in-store experiences. Take a look at how Caterpillar anticipates using the technology in their fleet.
TOMS Shoes has a VR chair in their flagship store that transports visitors to one of their giving trips where new shoes are given to those in need. Mercedes has their influencers making VR videos and IKEA is letting people design their homes in VR. While these seem perfectly logical now, the initial creators of VR hadn’t even imagined these applications.
Enterprise is using it for for 3D assembly, surgery simulations, auto design, police training, inventory management - the list goes on.
Here are four things that will fundamentally change when we live in a fully immersive world.
1. Creative process: Storyboarding, editing, tools and process
Great storytelling is at the heart of any successful campaign and immersive tech is no exception to that. However, the medium has yet to make it clear how it will shape the way great stories are told through it.
Trailblazers Felix and Paul Studios are leading the way with 360 degree cinematic storytelling. Take a look at their approach to Cirque de Soleil and Barack Obama’s last week in the White House.
VR editing will need editors to think about the length of each segment and how each decision point will need the world to line up at points-of-interest (POIs) for seamless transitions to the next segment of the story.
People will also look towards noises, follow moving objects or look to see where they came from - a new cinematic language will need to be developed.
But you can never be sure that the users are looking at the POIs and must take that into account.
Jessica Brillhart, VR filmmaker at Google calls this the Probabilistic Experiential Editing,or PEE (the acronym is unfortunate)
Click for link to YouTube video
Increasingly we’re seeing VR created in VR, not at a work-station. The video above is a creation app cooked up by the Google Daydream team, and allows users to create action in a film using the VR space. The applications are limitless, but for senior marketers, this level of sketch creation could be a great sales tool, both for VR experiences and for out of home, installations and retail.
Google Tilt Brush allows people to draw in massive or miniature scale in a virtual world. We can easily apply this to storyboarding and object design. VR can be the ultimate visualization tool for things that can’t be expressed otherwise or only with incredible expense.
2. Brand advertising and sponsorships
When dealing with virtual or augmented worlds, the first question any marketer will ask is “how do we communicate our brand message?” Again, the possibilities here are vast: advertisers can pay to have their product introduced into popular or relevant virtual worlds. Even better, they can have their own virtual worlds complete with their storytelling as part of the world—either as branded interstitial or sponsored in-world.
When you encounter an brand or product in the real world, how does it match with your perceptions of it from advertising? When you’re in a virtual world, with a virtual version of a product, does it set expectations correctly? Sponsored objects within virtual worlds, much like product placement in TV and film, will become the norm.
3. Legal considerations
One important question brands are faced with is how to approve of their product’s appearance in a world they don’t own. With so many possible variations and contexts for their product, how can a brand confidently insert themselves into these spaces without a clear understanding of how their products will be seen. What if their product is seen as causing harm? How will they control use of products once they are available in these realms? This will certainly have an impact on which products can safely enter the space without major risk, and how contracts and terms of service are written.
4. Data and analytics
Finally, we need to be able to measure the performance of these technologies; impressions, conversions, bounces.These existing terms of measure will all still apply, but will there also be new ways of measuring engagement, commitment and how effective the tech is?
Considering most brands and advertisers are already behind on using data to its full potential, how will they adapt to parsing data with thousands of additional points of reference?
Get Busy Living, or Get Busy Dying
Immersive technology is still in its infancy. The hardware, software, content and use cases are unfolding, but as marketing leaders the first and most important thing we can do is try it ourselves.
With that in mind, there are three easy ways to get up close and personal with immersive tech:
Google Cardboard is likely the easiest option for anyone who wants to try VR. The cardboard itself can be as cheap as 10 dollars and there are dozens of licensed variations. Check https://vr.google.com/cardboard/get-cardboard/ to pick out a model; all you need to use it is a smartphone. Cardboard is best used for watching 360 videos and other limited interactive applications.
If you’re interested enough to dive a bit deeper, Google Daydream with the Google Pixel phone offers a much more comfortable experience with a soft fabric headset for extended forays into the virtual world. It also comes with small handheld Bluetooth controller that makes navigating virtual worlds much easier.
If you can’t get enough and want to experience the bleeding edge of the tech, try the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Motion-tracking technology translates your earthly movements into the virtual world (like we said, it’s hard to describe). If you want to most immersive experience, this is where you need to go. As these units are expensive and require a high end computer to run, you might consider heading over to one of the latest VR arcades popping up in your city. CTRL-V in Waterloo is currently the biggest, but more should follow.
AR, on the other hand, will likely be led by industry—with the applications of MagicLeap, Google Glass and HoloLens yet to be discovered and applied on a grand scale. But look to pioneers like Caterpillar to use AR to track inventory review service records and spot trouble with machines before problems arise. The killer app here is not for consumers, yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.
When laptops first became widely available only those in business could afford them;now they’re the prefered home computer. Smartphones started with the Blackberry and business users leading the charge—consumers only got the technology years later.
The question is: how will your business use this tech?
Form an opinion. Test and learn. Educate others. And we’ll see you on the other side.