Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

While some reports from auditing firms might be going through a challenging time in SA, recent news from PwC should make marketing directors and their agencies sit up and take notice. PwC’s 2017 “Global Entertainment & Media Outlook” report paints a positive picture for the virtual reality (VR) market. It stood at US$869m in 2016 and is set to top $15bn globally by 2021. SuperData Research, which provides insight about interactive media, is even more optimistic, stating that by 2020 the VR market will reach $40bn. 

The big take-out: As costs come down, virtual reality is set to grow significantly in the next few years, fuelled by brands wanting to provide immersive brand experiences for their consumers.

VR is set to play a major role in the media and entertainment sector, and growth will be aided by marketing and ad agencies wanting to draw people to immersive brand experiences.

Consumers will be there

Software such as Daydream, created by Google for higher-end Android phones, will soon have people spending more time in the VR space. It makes sense to get brand-linked content ready for them, because once in VR, consumers are engaged in one activity and one activity only – if it is truly engrossing. 

While the initial VR push, which began with a kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift headset, was for gaming-ready headsets and content, the move now is towards more affordable, consumer-focused solutions that work via smartphone.

Oculus announced at its fourth annual developer conference last month that it would be launching a wireless, standalone headset at $199. It also revealed that there are now more than 2,000 VR apps on the Oculus platform and that a range of major gaming and brand-immersion product launches are planned for the new year.

The VR space explored

To see what can be done with VR from a marketing perspective, check out Patrón Tequila’s engaging tour through the tequila-making process. “The Art of Patrón Virtual Reality Experience” explores the entire tequila value chain. Starting from an agave field in Mexico, it takes a 360° tour through the Patrón Hacienda estate, covering each step in the distilling process, in the end showcasing the tequila bottle and people enjoying the final product.

Recently my company was talking to one of the larger motoring manufacturers, which wanted to ignite conversation about a top-level vehicle. But there were complications in offering test-driving to customers as there simply was not enough stock of the vehicle in the country.

Volvo was one of the first to utilise VR as a selling tool through its Volvo XC90 VR test-drive project, allowing users to experience the vehicle in a unique way. Others followed, with Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Peugeot and Ford all incorporating VR into their marketing mix.

In the US Cadillac is talking about creating virtual showrooms, and, rather drastically, thinking of replacing real cars in certain showrooms with virtual reality headsets. They join the likes of furniture manufacturer Ikea and home improvement shop Lowe’s in setting up virtual showrooms.

Ikea’s idea of virtually baking pancakes might seem a tad naive, but it brings home the company’s thoughts on what an ideal kitchen looks like – obviously using Ikea products in the process. For Lowe’s, VR is helping customers through direct experience. Its latest focus is on bathroom renovation in a tutorial room. Wearing a Vive headset from HTC, users are able to spend 20 minutes interacting with a 3D bathroom, learning skills such as cement mixing, grouting and laying tiles correctly, without ever having to put on overalls.  

The final hurdle is the online retail space. Mastercard and Swarovski have teamed up for a complete VR shopping experience, and the new Swarovski VR app allows one to explore the Atelier Swarovski home décor line in appropriately stylish settings. This is intriguing enough if you are a fan of crystal, but not necessarily ground-breaking. However, users can purchase the product using MasterCard’s MasterPass digital payment system in VR, which was previously not possible except in “real life”. 

The need to engage

Facebook would not have purchased Oculus unless Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had believed income could be derived from VR, most likely in the form of adspend coming from brands utilising Facebook’s VR platform.

With head-mounted displays continually improving and getting less expensive, VR is set to play an increasingly important role in the future, one that brands would need to engage as part of their marketing mix. But it will be challenging, and getting it right will be the domain of those experimenting now.

* Stewart is CEO of digital marketing company Rogerwilco.

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