The opportunities for marketers in the AR and VR space encompass all past practices in print, video and digital then leap beyond into as yet unimagined and untested potential. Immersion experiences have been shown to create strong psychological responses as evidenced by the use in therapeutic practices (Parsons & Rizzo, 2006). The ability to engage at this level of psychological involvement should excite any professional marketer and perhaps raise concerns from public and consumer protection watchdogs as well.
There have been already many successful marketing campaigns with ties to the VR phenomena (Luber, 2016). The most notable are the Google Cardboard related promotions. Here, different consumer brands organized campaigns around giving away a ready-to-construct Google Cardboard viewer that would allow the user to turn their smartphone into a very entry level VR viewer.(Sanders, 2016) Typically this meant a pre-punched and pre-scored foldable cardboard sheet with included sheet molded Fresnel lenses. By following instructions, the recipient would fold, origami-like, the cardboard, apply the lens in the appropriate step, then slip their smartphone into the holder and send their browser to the recommended URL on the web to see the compatible content. The quality of many of the dependent experiences ranged from exceptional to dubious. But the campaigns were themselves quite understandable to traditional marketers and allowed many companies to ride the trendy wave of VR in 2015 and 2016. Ongoing efforts show that brands can engage audiences with experiential content specific to their brand and achieve excellent engagement with high quality experiences (Marketing, 2017). Virtual new car driving experiences have proven popular with VR equipment owners, allowing them to walk around and virtually drive the car without need to visit a showroom and deal with a car salesman. Hotel and tourism marketers are rapidly building out their VR content to show why consumers should spend the precious dollars and even more precious vacation weeks at their destination. These marketers understand the persuasive ability of VR experiences to create awareness, interest and desire for their products, employing still the principles of St. Elmo Lewis’ marketing model.
Still other consumer product brands have focused on creating their own content and distributing it as a special viewing experience or game in order to reach the growing population of Tethered and Mobile VR headset owners. These experiences were watched by and reported to the larger marketing world to see what their impact might be. Tom’s shoes used a 360 video experience to bring their customer’s on a trip to give away shoes to children as part of its One for One business model. This experience enabled Tom’s customers to share, virtually, the altruistic benefits of their Tom’s buying choices (Parrett, 2016). In a similar light, some movie trailers have been produced as lead-ins on VR gaming experiences. “Blair Witch” is a notable example (Blair Witch, 2016).
Volvo Reality built their own experience for the low cost Google Cardboard platform. Users could immerse themselves in a drive through a stunning landscape while being able to look around 360 degrees at the car interior and scenery. This campaign achieved 173 million views in two weeks, 28,000 app downloads and 51,000 inquiries for more information. (Parrett, 2016)
Non-profits have discovered that high powered emotional engagement is possible with 360° documentary shorts. The ability to bring viewers onto ground zero and show the target of their fundraising efforts has proven quite powerful. Putting the viewer on an island in Greece among arriving refugees, or in the temporary camps or at the scene of illegal game poaching or in the middle of illegal logging in rain forests proves emotionally powerful as an incentive to donate toward helping to right these injustices (Streep, 2016). A powerful example is the 360 video created by Charity: Water, a New York nonprofit which build water projects around the world. At its black tie New York fundraising event it passed around Samsung VRGear headsets for attendees to watch a 360 video documenting a week in the life of a 13 year old girl and her family who were getting clean drinking water for the first time. Charity:Water’s donations from the event topped $2.4 million, much more than anticipated and attributed to the power of the VR experience. Many who watched the video were reported to be in tears when they finished (Swant, 2016).
Some critics argue this is simply “shock value” and risks becoming perceived as a new form of twisted voyeurism by wealthy, first world citizens. Presently, however the success of these early efforts has been noticed and has created a small gold rush among non-profits eager for any edge that will amplify their fund raising efforts.(Streep, 2016)
The digital marketing models which have had great success on the Web and in smartphone apps are being replicated into the VR and AR ecosystem already. It is possible now to place VR ad spots through providers like OmniVirt, Virtualsky or immersv. Other developer tools from Vertebrae and even Adobe’s recently announced next releases enable developers to sell ad spots in their created content. Using VR and AR in email marketing campaigns has many advantages over email marketing with text and 2D content alone, especially for targeted audience segments in travel and hospitality, automotive, real estate and retail (Warnock, 2016). The opportunity to more deeply engage the targeted recipient with immersive content and virtually bring them into your world to experience your product or service is highly effective. (Parrett, 2016)
While the classic SEO practices of web marketing may not be as prevalent with VR content, there are opportunities to gain ranking for online properties in the near term from the sheer interest in VR. Adding VR content and promoting on traditional sites, blogs and social media feeds a marketer’s VR content and experiences will benefit her or her clients SEO efforts. (Acheson, 2016)
Google, the major search engine, in addition to aggressively pursuing 360 degree content on Youtube™, and VR in general with its Daydream platform, has introduced VR View. This enables embedding of VR content in traditional 2D web pages, while being responsive to the different platforms from which viewers are accessing the content. While desktops will require the viewer to pan around with their mouse, smartphones will automatically use the IMU and allow the viewer to simply hold up their phone and move it around to view any part of the 360° scenery. The content curator or webmaster must optimize the metadata to achieve the optimal indexing and ranking results. In that regard, the old rules still apply to this new type of content.
This is reminiscent of the period shortly after Google acquired Youtube™. Astute marketers understood that Google would inevitably wish to integrate their new video property into their search algorithms and so it became clear that improved ranking accrued to sites with Youtube™ linked content specific to target search terms. It appears that VR could be a means to achieve a lift in ranking for competitive keywords, at least for a while.
Augmented Reality prospects for marketing and advertising are even greater than immersive VR. The eventual ubiquitous use of smartphones to navigate airports, city sidewalks, malls and city squares around the world opens up new opportunities for local businesses to serve their physical presence up to preferred customers or new prospects based on their previous online habits. Much like ads alongside Web pages are served to us because of our metadata from past online activity, the same can extend to our augmented activities. Imagine that you are trying to find where your doctor’s office is at a large medical campus so you use your navigation app that lays out a nice set of arrows on the “ground” in the viewscreen of your smartphone. Then while you are walking to your destination ads for the latest medical miracle drug is being “displayed” on the “wall” as seen through your smartphone app, or the floor. Better still, your selfie cam will know when you are “looking” at the screen and only serve ads at that moment, increasing the effective “CPM” rate for the ad hosting site. Integrate this scenario into the AR headset and your eyes and attention then become available to advertisers nearly continuously as you go about your day. Under these conditions it might be advantageous for augmented reality ad space agencies to “give away” the headsets in order to gain a large audience of all day consumers of augmented content, including ad materials.