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Virtual Reality (VR) Digital Transformation Festival Technology

The opportunity is there but will brands finally embrace VR in lockdown?


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

April 8, 2020 | 4 min read

The emergence and adoption of virtual and augmented reality among brands has long been mooted, but has the pandemic and the resulting lockdown finally given it a platform to shine?

Half Life Alyx

A women plays Half Life: Alyx in her home

Gracie Page, VMLY&R's emerging technology director, said that one of the central premises of modern technology is supposed to be connectedness and communication. "VR is definitely one technology that we're not leveraging at the moment.

“It's been promising to be the next big thing for six or seven years at this point. And we're not seeing that adoption curve ramp up.”

The main barrier to uptake appears to be distribution, be that sourcing, setting-up and storing the materials. The headsets, software, and gaming PCs required rack up a considerable cost. Home owners also need to have the space in their homes to gallivant around with a headset on. And as a result of these issues, there's a drought of quality VR content.

From brands, the "one sort of gold star experience" is the VR car experience in a shopping mall, according to Page. "These experiences are incredibly expensive, need to be customised and are not scalable,” she said during an interview as part of The Drum's ongoing Digital Transformation Festival.

“VR has a really broad spectrum, applicable across many industries, like education, healthcare, therapy, real estate and tourism. For consumers at home, it's primarily focused on gaming."

Price points are coming down, however. Facebook’s lowest range Oculus is priced at £139. Several gaming giants have built their own peripherals too. Valve has the Vive headset and now the heavily praised Half Life Alyx title to drive interest in the hardware. Valve, once exclusively the studio behind the much-loved Half Life series, in later years, grew the Steam digital store, to the extent games production took a back-seat. The studio has used the pull of the franchise to create one of the best titles in the medium at great cost – as much a proof of concept as anything else.

“The opportunity is there for VR companies to capitalise and create new use cases to be served. They can build on that momentum and take forwards new business models. Brands can then get involved going forwards to serve customers in a new way.”

Right now, you could see virtual pubs replacing the slew of Houseparty and Zoom calls that have taken hold as an example. Page suggested sharing a glass of wine with her mother in Glasgow who is self-isolating as an example.

“We could pop on a headset, go for a stroll down Oxford Street, pop into Boots to try on some lipsticks. I could order it for her inside the virtual world and the very next day it would actually turn up in the physical world at her door. So all of a sudden, we've got a virtual reality and purchasing journey that didn't exist before.”

You can watch the full interview here and view more content from The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival here.

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