It might ruin the travel industry. Or change the way you have sex. It’s already catching real-life Nazis! If you and your brand can’t get excited about virtual reality, it’s going to be a very bumpy next decade.
The biggest charge into VR marketing is, unsurprisingly, coming from Hollywood. It’s all over the Sundance Film Festival now taking place in Park City, Utah, where Jon Hamm has “become the first actor to be turned into a lifelike 3D hologram for virtual and augmented reality,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In addition to playing a hologram named Walter Prime in the Sundance movie Marjorie Prime, the Mad Men star is turning up as a hologram (nicknamed the HoloHamm, of course) in a promotional move for attendees and press to interact with.
And that’s not all, THR adds. “The unveiling arrives at a time when Sundance is flexing its VR and AR muscles. This year’s festival lineup features such projects as Zero Days VR, which takes participants inside the U.S./Israel-hatched Stuxnet virus as it sabotages an underground Iranian nuclear facility, and the evolution depiction Life of Us from artists Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, with music from Pharrell Williams.”
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) January 20, 2017
Also at Sundance: a stunning new animated film by Facebook’s Oculus unit, Dear Angela, that premiered at the festival’s New Frontier showcase. Available for free to Oculus Rift users, it’s already raising the bar on VR and winning rave reviews.
It’s described by Oculus as “a journey through the magical and dreamlike ways we remember our loved ones. Entirely painted by hand inside of VR, Dear Angelica plays out in a series of memories that unfold around you. An immersive, illustrative short story starring Geena Davis and Mae Whitman.”
“Dear Angelica is pure art that gracefully leverages the transporting, first-person perspective of a headset to immerse you in a heartfelt story that couldn’t be told on a movie screen,” notes TechCrunch about the illustrative filmmaking project by Oculus Story Studio. “It never hits you over the head with novelty and gimmicks.”
On the smaller screen, FOX will release The Raid, an extravagant VR prequel to the network’s upcoming reboot of its 24 show franchise. The six-minute experience will premier in partnership with Samsung VR and it’s no stretch to say that people may be more excited about it than the show itself. For an idea of what Samsung’s The Raid promo might look like, check out the brand’s recent The Night Before holiday VR activation.
FOX’s 24 is not the only high-profile Hollywood project getting some virtual love. The upcoming Blade Runner reboot with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling is being promoted with VR experiences by Oculus Rift that will be take fans inside the world of the Blade Runner 2049 film, which will be in theaters on Oct. 6th.
— #BladeRunner 2049 (@bladerunner) December 19, 2016
Hollywood entertainment marketers’ infatuation with VR has morphed into a full-blown love affair. There is already a popular collection of Star Wars VR experiences tied to Disney’s recent Rogue One movie, for example, taking users on virtual tours of the film’s sets.
The ways to use VR for marketing in other industries are limitless. Alibaba made VR a focus of its most recent 11.11 Single’s Day retail shopping spree. To spur adoption, Alibaba practically gave away 150,000 VR headsets for 15 cents each, even though it was already clocking 300,000 VR headset sales per month.
Samsung’s Gear VR numbers are nothing to sneeze at either. The South Korean tech giant has already delivered 5 million Samsung VR systems worldwide. For comparison, in its first five quarters of availability, Apple sold 6.1 million first-generation iPhones.
Gordon Meyer, head of marketing for YouVisit, an agency that customizes VR experiences for brands, says the travel, education and real estate sectors are investing heavily in VR marketing. “The next wave coming this year will be when payments become possible within VR and we elevate the platform beyond simple 360 entertainment,” says Meyer.
This will take VR, in his words, from “empathy machine”to “business machine.” Meyer notes the change will revolutionize the consumer experience. “In the next three years, it’s going to seem bizarre to us that we ever perused a product on Amazon with a couple 2D photos and some highly subjective reviews from complete strangers as our only basis for making a purchase decision.”
One challenge facing VR is the compatibility of technology and terminology. As Meyer points out, the user experience for a sub-$100 Samsung headset will differ from that with a $1,000 Oculus unit that requires a $5,000 supporting desktop.
“Consumers have understood that oftentimes content is exclusive to one platform. Elsewhere in the realm of entertainment, some content is only viewable on Netflix or Amazon Prime subscribers and some games are Xbox-only,” says Meyer. He admits there will likely be grumbling. “So long as the experiences are in line with consumer expectations based on the relative price for entry, then consumers will most likely be OK with it.”
He warns that this cuts both ways, however, with the danger of experiences that dumb VR down for the lowest common viewing tech. For example, he worries that Blade Runner’s Oculus experience will be just its regular trailer exported to VR, and “that’s where the hordes with pitchforks will start to form.”
Brands worried about slow adoption and skeptics should know that it won’t take those skeptics long to get on board. Time after time, VR curmudgeons have had their rejections of the technology blown away after just one quality experience. Meyer says he’s witnessed this in person.
“In speaking with brands and agencies there is a significant ‘aha’ moment when I help them realize that the smartphone in their hands and in many consumer’s hands can run a truly enthralling VR experience at a price point that is in reach for many, especially when the content is strong enough to grab their attention.”