Virtual reality

Our friends at Barclays kindly brought some additional gadgets to play with on the day, the first was an Oculus Rift to demonstrate the wonderful world of VR. The world we were inviting delegates to step into was a mountain sized roller coaster.

Gary Vaynerchuk quite confidently talks about VR as the next major shift in our lives and I’m sure he’ll be proved correct. However, for the moment, VR is the fun thing to talk about but existing applications are largely limited to the gaming world although this will definitely expand over the next few years.

I think we’ve reached the point where adoption of VR into mainstream use is primarily held back by just two issues.

Firstly, the form factor of the devices. The latest VR worlds being created are already convincing enough to almost completely trick the mind into thinking it’s seeing something that’s real. But the bulky device makes it awkwardly aware that you’re disconnected from the real world.

The second limiting factor is our instinctual need to be aware of our surroundings. After the initial period of full immersion and the heightened attention it brings, you become increasingly conscious that you haven’t seen the real world for some time. As social creatures, this discomfort is further exacerbated if other people are nearby but you cannot see their faces.

Eventually we relieve these stresses by removing the device so that we can return to familiarity.

In a nutshell, at the moment virtual reality suffers mostly from the fact that it’s not real and more importantly, that we know it isn’t.

However, even on the development kit version of the Oculus Rift you could see the physical effects of the technologies ability to trick the mind. People moving on to tip toes as they approach a descent on the VR roller coaster, the moans of feeling a little queasy as they go around an unexpected turn.

As a spectator of someone else experiencing VR, this is a form of entertainment in itself although I might just die a little inside if Big Virtual Brother ever became an actual thing.

If you’ve read parts 1 and 2, you’ll know that at some point I will at least endeavour to bring the world of tomorrow into practical applications today, so how does that pan out for Virtual Reality.

Well, like with drones, the wow factor is currently a bigger deal than any actual practical usage of the technology. Practical uses of changing someone’s reality in my opinion will be a much much bigger deal for the masses not with VR but first with Augmented Reality (AR). However, the applications for AR are literally so exciting that the topic deserves a blog of it’s own - if not five.

Back to VR, big brands have used the technology simply to create a fun experience. Coca-cola reskinned the classic VR roller coaster to give people the opportunity to ride a sleigh as Mr Santa Claus himself - naturally a big hit with the kids. McDonalds took the extra step of making their Happy Meal boxes convert into a headset similar to Google Cardboard and then delivered a fun game to play within it.

One of my favourite experiential marketing attempts with VR came from Merrell, the outdoor clothing and footwear brand. They combined the virtual world with the physical by creating a physical staged trail and then asking people to wear a headset whilst walking through it. Participants got to experience the physical feeling of navigating wobbly bridges and difficult terrain whilst the virtual reality adding some extra fun and danger.

Marriott also cleverly used the fact that they have hotels all over the world to promote themselves via a Teleporter which simply allowed people to transform themselves to a paradise beach. In doing so they firmly placed in people’s minds that whichever paradise you want to run away from, there will most likely be a friendly Marriot’s nearby.

But of course these days content is all about storytelling and striking the emotional chord and although it’s not a marketing effort, I’ve never seen a better example than in telling the story about how man first landed on the moon. The following video is a bit of a commitment but even watching this on YouTube made my hairs stand on end.

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