Vox Pop: VR, the saviour of marketing?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

The attraction of virtual reality for brands is obvious. Bringing the reality of their story to the consumer through personalised, dream like worlds, brands can access the consumer's mind with no other distractions. VR is offering a whole new world of immersion and as a consequence, audience engagement. In light of The Drum's virtual reality issue, the Drum Network asks it's members; will VR be the saviour of the marketing industry?

Sarat Pediredla, CEO, hedgehog lab

These days, every new technology or innovation brings with it more opportunities for marketing. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are proof that marketing has finally taken precedence over product; now, people think of marketing before they even have an actual product.

VR is a platform that people have been dreaming of for decades, and we are finally seeing it come to fruition. It has huge potential for marketing, far beyond the capabilities of traditional - and to an extent digital - marketing for some industries and product types.

Imagine being able to walk around, test drive and trial every feature of a car pre-launch, including the infotainment system and dashboard. This would drastically improve the ability of a car sales team to generate leads. VR could also enhance similar industries, like property; the possibilities are truly endless. Developments in technology mean that before long, VR could be expanded to any physical product. Tactile technology would enable VR users to not just see a virtual object, but to touch and feel the product, enabling users to see products in a completely different way.

As VR becomes increasingly sophisticated, it’s set to completely transform the marketing landscape.

Thom Phelan, account executive, Navigate Digital

VR has the potential to save and reinvigorate marketing, but only if wielded wisely by marketers. It’s extremely immersive – more so than any other medium currently available – and this presents an exciting opportunity. Brands will be able to create entire virtual environments for users to explore. A travel advertiser might create a virtual resort, for instance, and within this there could be a mini game, with a discount code as a prize.

Lessons must be learnt from current digital advertising practices though. Peppering VR entertainment and services with careless banners will put users in a mire of clutter. If advertising is worked naturally into the virtual environment though, a beautiful symbiosis will be achieved. Intelligent brands will be able to incentivise users to perform certain tasks within VR, providing more content/rewards in return, and will enrich – rather than interrupt – the user experience. Attractive, appropriate ad creative is crucial for achieving this, and advertisers and agencies must be savvy in their creative decision making when tackling the world of VR.

Ben Hyde, head of film, Impero

Here we go again!

We in marketing tend to have a bad habit of always chasing the latest and greatest trend of any moment. That said, freshness, cool, and novel are great way of capturing hearts and minds. In this light, VR and 360 video are truly a wonderful additive to a marketing strategy as long as they are on brand and on strategy.

But using the power of VR for simply marketing anything like soap or nappy bags seems like putting a baseball cap on a politician to imply they are current and with the times. Instead it needs to use the medium to truly enhance a brand story in the way that tried and true regular reality can't. Ideal uses a virtual test drive for automotive to bridge a gap between marketing collateral and physical trial or to transport consumers to a faraway land to tell a brand story are going to really be the ideas that make a difference - in some cases to become the saviour of a marketing agenda.

If you're going to jump on the band waggon, make sure you know the tune the band are playing or you may be watching it pass you by while you from the crowd in a virtual parade.

Frank Whiffen, head of strategic business development, Ferrier Pearce Creative Group

VR has the potential to change the world we live in by moving us to somewhere else, in fact anywhere that imagination can create. This might be the end of simply sitting back in your chair as a passive participant. The time has arrived to be the co-star or even the protagonist in your own right. Imagine it’s you riding a VR motorbike, you’d no doubt look down to see what make of bike it is and even up at the billboards as they whizzed by. In essence this is an entirely new landscape to market in where the weird, wonderful and truly engaging can take place.

Product placement in this VR world will be key and how users of VR engage with these products. There are huge opportunities in workplace, educational and experiential marketing. The workplace and meeting room environment will be adapted into a global playground where colleagues and clients across the world can interact. The learning experiences can radically change as people are transported into the actual environment they’re studying. And you will be able to try before you buy like never before; for example, being able to walk through a show home or even explore the resort of your next potential holiday destination - the world on your doorstep has just got a lot bigger and with this brings the ability to engage audiences and market products, services and organisations in this new VR world.

Nick Livermore, marketing manager, Digital Visitor

Not Yet.

I’m totally sold on VR. Done well it can be remarkable, offering audiences previously unknown and unexperienced levels of immersion. Virtual reality has, in the right hands, the potential to elevate the relationship between brand and customer to new levels. Everyone I’ve witnessed sampling VR demos – even on the relatively Spartan Google Cardboard – has been left impressed, amazed and, in some cases, overawed. The ability it has to quickly convey ideas or stories is truly compelling and something a number of different industries should be aware of.

But – as impressive, immersive and innovative I think VR is, there is a problem; a relatively large stumbling block in the way of VR paving the way for the future of marketing. Basic offerings like Google Cardboard may make for an impressive demo and a cost-effective way for brands to entice customers, but the future of virtual reality lies in high-quality experiences. Currently, high-quality VR experiences in the home come at a premium – think Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, neither of which are inexpensive.

Cost is the biggest stumbling block in the way of VR and mass uptake. And even Facebook and video game companies may struggle to make virtual reality a domestic standard. If VR companies can meet this challenge head on, then I can see it leading the charge for marketing. If not, then it’ll fall to cheaper, more relatable strategies.

The clock is ticking.

Martyn Gooding, creative director, Gravity Thinking

Bad content, in any medium, on any platform, is still bad content.

No technology alone will 'save' marketing if we don't change our approach to talking to the customer. There are many compelling experiences to be had in VR already, and marketing's role is to compete through genuinely interesting content and not force unskippable messaging on the viewers. Even if it is in immersive 360.

But we don't always have to look forwards - we can save marketing with technology from the 1800's - film. If we use it correctly by acting as publishers, we can deliver our brand values in a way that competes for attention by being entertaining, informative or thought-provoking.

Then we can apply these principles in a technology agnostic way, be it VR or not.

Marko Anstice, motion designer, Hugo & Cat

As a filmmaker and designer, I can tell you that this is a very exciting time – not in my life-time have I experienced such a radically different medium in which to create and consume video. 3D in film is probably the closest advancement we’ve had in recent times to really challenge the way we watch things, but VR is much more engaging. The possibilities are greater. It adds a whole new dimension (literally) to telling a story.

So from a film-making point of view it’s a mouth-watering prospect. And the same goes for gaming – it’s the next level of immersion. But what about marketing? I absolutely believe that over the next few years we’ll see some clever, imaginative and beautiful VR executions that will initially get everyone engaging. But in the long run – once the novelty has worn off – what is going to be compelling enough to make people put their headsets on? The answer is the same as it’s always been in marketing – engaging content, creative storytelling and compelling experiences. It all comes down to what we are creating with the tools we’re given. VR is a game-changer, but creative ideas are still what gets people engaging with brands.

The real question is whether VR is enough of a draw in itself to get people to engage with what brands have to say? The technology itself ultimately isn’t. But if your story is good, it could have a huge impact.

Paddy Herridge, UK MD, MWWPR

Ignoring the question of whether marketing needs saving it’s clear that VR isn’t going to save anything, yet. The technology is still at least a couple of years away from being truly mass-market consumer friendly, and probably longer than that until its penetration is sufficient for it to be of meaningful interest for any campaign other than trials and tests.

That said, in the longer term I don’t think there’s any question that VR is going to play a major role in marketing, media, television, gaming and any number of other spheres. We’ve run VR projects on behalf of clients and, even with today’s rather clunky and weird looking VR kit, the experience is still good enough to make you realise that this is the way we’ll be experiencing a lot of media in the future.

When you get a headset that works (and doesn’t steam up, fall off your face, give you a headache etc.) and a piece of content that is sufficiently well filmed and edited then the first experience of VR is fairly profound.

For marketers the benefits are obvious. VR is hugely engaging – firstly from the fact that you are literally immersed in the content itself but, secondly and more prosaically, because you can’t really be idly distracted whilst watching VR – you can’t check your phone, make a cup of tea or wander away from the screen. VR will be an important new channel for marketing – the question is not really if, but when.

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