What are the opportunities in virtual reality and augmented reality for marketers in creating meaningful experiences?

Kieley Taylor is the global head of social for [m]PLATFORM (part of GroupM). Her focus is in streamlining operations, disseminating thought leadership, training, best practices, and advocating on behalf of client interests with key publishing partners. She is the lead subject matter expert within social for GroupM clients.

In her current role she evangelizes an audience first approach to integrated planning and buying.

What are the opportunities in virtual reality and augmented reality for marketers in creating meaningful experiences?

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have moved from trendy tech topics and the experimental phase to real solutions for marketers at scale, as more and more brands and consumers embrace these experiences and the technology that enables them.

AR/VR interactions between marketers and consumers are becoming not only more common and scaled but also more meaningful - creating experiences that are practical, entertaining and educational. The entertainment value of the technology is well-documented along with the dramatic rise in games and gamers (anyone familiar with a little something called Pokemon Go?), and the brands looking to be a part of this growing trend. Meanwhile, more and more companies are using VR to tremendous effect in running their own businesses and bringing their employees together to work more efficiently and effectively.

It goes without saying that considering the cost to produce assets for AR/VR, one should have a clear goal before testing. That said, early experimentation in a particular ad category could make your brand a trendsetter, making your own experience instructive and influential in the overall market.

The good news for those advertisers just considering the opportunities: As so many brands have executed AR/VR campaigns, marketers now have a roadmap for what works and what doesn’t and how to best use such capabilities to their advantage.

Here are three major opportunities afforded by AR/VR:

They provide a practical experience

AR/VR allow consumers to try brands on for size anywhere and anytime they want—they also encourage real-world sales and use click-to-purchase technology to enable those transactions.

There has been much activity in this regard in recent years on the part of global marketers. The power of AR and VR have enabled clients to provide consumers with such highly curated, virtual experiences as trying on different shades of nail polish (Sally Hanson), trying on glasses frames (Warby Parker), and test driving a car (Acura). This, as the largest tech companies continue to launch innovations to enable brands to carry out such experiences, both at the operating system level (Apple, Google) and application level (Facebook, Snapchat), joined by a range of start-ups like Omnivert (3D and AR ad solutions), Vertebrae (AR for e-commerce) and Zappar (producer of an app-based AR creation tool) building opportunities for brands.

The technology is particularly useful in categories with inherent hurdles to try before you buy—for example, beauty products sold in drugstores where no testers are available. L’Oreal acquired Modiface, which has created many AR beauty apps for the likes of Sephora and Estee Lauder that enable consumers to try on different makeup looks and hairstyles. L’Oreal had already done projects with Modiface, including the brand’s Style My Hair app. Meanwhile, Sephora uses AR lenses to encourage consideration and in-store or online purchases via a messaging bot on Facebook Messenger.

The Swedish furniture retailer Ikea won raves for bringing its products into a consumer’s own home—no assembly or Allen wrench required—with its innovative app, while another retailing giant, Target, added Pinterest’s visual search tool to its shopping app and website.

All the while, tech vendors continue to introduce still more innovation that enhances the consumer experience while supporting brands’ business. This spring, Snapchat announced the evolution of its AR product to include templates of one’s hands (think trying on jewellery or nail polish), as well as pets and landmarks, to deliver a scaled virtual brand experience.

They provide an entertaining experience

For films, TV and streaming shows featuring characters that resonate with fans and that fans want to emulate, what better way to connect than with an AR lens starring the individual as his or her favorite character in The Avengers for example?

Gaming with personalized avatars has come a long way. This spring, Snapchat announced its new Bitmoji for Games SDK, enabling hand-selected partners to integrate 3D Bitmoji as a replacement for their character skins, as TechCrunch reports, making it easier for developers to interject lifelike avatars to give consumers a stronger emotional connection to a game.

Snap Games can be launched directly from the chat bar, enabling Snapchat users and their friends to play together with no install required. Consumers can see which friends they’re playing with, send them a chat, or talk live with voice chat, as the company explains.

Facebook announced at its annual F8 conference this spring the latest versions of the Oculus Rift headset, enabling the user to cast from a VR headset to a TV and for friends to play along in the same game from their mobile phones. Both of the products make use of Oculus’ “inside-out” camera to track Touch hand controllers without the need for external sensors, according to TechCrunch.

Growing interest in game titles and more consumers playing, and the introduction of products including the latest Oculus headsets as well as Twitch’s VR League and VR innovations via Google Stadia, are seen as a boon to the technology.

Signs are promising that the rising consumer time spent in entertaining AR/VR games will have some opportunities for monetization. Snap’s commercial breaks between minigame levels and Twitch’s bounty board and other ad offerings are also seen as good signs for the category.

They provide an educational experience

The potential for heads-up information like supply chain or translations (e.g., within retail or hospitality), co-creation in virtual environments (immersive conference calls anyone?) and on-demand visual references in technical fields (medicine, education, engineering) has untold potential.

Expect to see this space continue to grow and evolve. As consumers become more accustomed to being immersed in a virtual environment or unlocking more information by way of AR technology, opportunities for monetization will continue to grow.

At its latest F8 conference this spring, Facebook introduced Oculus for Business, tailored for large VR deployments and providing a suite of tools designed to help companies use VR for internal executions, sales, and marketing/promotion. The product will include device set-up and management tools, enterprise-grade service and support, and a new user experience customized for business use cases, as ZDNet reports.

“VR adoption at work will accelerate and it will change the way we work,” Isabel Tewes, who leads the VR enterprise ecosystem strategy at Facebook, told the conference.

Facebook’s offering provides, for example, support for hands-on professional development courses, more off-sites in VR to build relationships among colleagues, R&D prototypes within virtual environments, product demos and sizzle reels featuring experiential products in industries such as entertainment, travel and music.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has introduced HoloLens 2, which combines an untethered device with apps and solutions that help teams across a company communicate and collaborate more effectively and is the results of the latest in hardware design, AI and mixed reality development at Microsoft.

Once seen as merely fringe or experimental, not to mention cost prohibitive, VR is becoming an increasingly effective way for businesses to do business, transforming everything from training and recruitment to back-office tasks, marketing services—and yes, the all-important customer experience.

Kieley Taylor is global head of social at GroupM.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.