The secret to successful VR marketing: Don’t count on the VR whatsoever

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VR comes in two basic flavours: 360 video and 3D interactive. 360 video, much like its namesake, is essentially a video centred around you that plays through in a linear, non-interactive fashion. 3D interactive is basically a video game system, played through your eyes and built in a 3D constructed environment (versus a film environment), and therefore interactive to your inputs.

As a 3D interactive shop, rolling in VR technology came easily and naturally into our toolset. We immediately saw the application in marketing, though almost as quickly, we saw the drawbacks. Below is a reflection on what has worked––and not worked––in 3D VR experiential marketing.

PEOPLE DON’T GET IT

If you’ve tried VR, you’re currently among a very small contingent that understands the VR environment and earned your ‘sea legs’.  Most VR newbies often freeze during the experience, clutching nervously to their head-mounted display like a new Captain eyeing a distant pirate ship. They often need prompts to look around, and more often than not feel somewhat unsteady on their feet.

Recommendation #1

As part of your exhibit, take the time to onboard users and settle them into the environment so they develop a level of comfort with the technology. Otherwise, count on your support staff having to yell continuous instructions to your overwhelmed participant.

Gesture-based experience at the Canada Science and Technology Museum

VR IS HARD TO DELIVER

Currently, VR requires a few cables, connections and sensors to deliver properly. It is not immune to lighting conditions and is also susceptible to sweaty dudes greasing up your gear. I look forward to striking this problem shortly, which I’m sure I will as technology moves to Version 2.0, but in the interim, you need to consider deployment.

Recommendation #2

Sit people down and rope them off. Along with reducing the potential for dizziness, a seated position makes for better management of the cables and headphones which currently adorn the devices. Consider roping off an area to allow for an unobstructed space between the user and the external sensors which measure their position. Sanitation, a constant challenge, is best met with removable foam padding (common in VR rooms) along with alcohol wipes and an ability to reflect in quiet dismay at how someone could get so sweaty while sitting down in an air conditioned building.

Finally, I come to the VR itself, the reason people are lining up to try out your wondrous marketing adventure. Here is the crux of the failures we’ve witnessed in VR––in fact, we’ve noted a basic mathematical problem since we first considered VR as a platform for advertising.

At 2-4 minutes an experience, with 1-2 minutes to onboard new guests, you’re looking at maybe 15 to 20 guests an hour; a far cry from the principals of mass communication we learned about at uni.

VR Experience built for MUSE 2016

BROADCAST

The critical paradigm failure in this model comes down to looking at entertaining users versus entertaining audiences. If you consider the user as part of your display versus the target of your display, you’re able to consider a broadcast opportunity to make VR successful. For every player in the unit, you should be able to garner a crowd of dozens––or in some cases hundreds ––IF they can see what is going on.

Stitch in the ability for audiences to see what the user is seeing through additional displays and audio output. Large screens become an attraction and retention system on the floor.

Recommendation #3

In order to successfully market experiential VR, you need a dominant broadcast component. Facebook and reality TV taught us long ago that people like watching people. Think of VR as a scenario, and your real audience is those watching a person in a scenario.

Food for thought

We’ve discovered through our user testing that respondees find public VR intimidating, and are far more likely to participate if they can see what they are in for before trying out an experience.

CONTENT

My final thought comes down to content. I’ve watched the same failures in VR that I’ve seen in AR and various other technology implementations (apps, touch screens, etc.). The failure is not in the technology in as much as a failure of its application, particularly OOH.

When people are ‘out and about’, make no mistake––they’re interested in being entertained. If your application is relying on the technology itself, or “Hey, it’s VR, isn’t that neat?”, you’re likely to fail in capturing the imagination and creating a buzz around the activation. It is key that you embrace the concept of entertainment and realize that the application needs to excite, wow or otherwise entertain your user, or risk falling into the trap of being another cheesy tech-demo for the various hardware manufacturers.

Recommendation #4

You know your brand, your message and your target, so find a partner that can help you tell that story in 3D VR. Work with a partner that understands games as much as the technology. Keep your eye on the prize, which is building a buzz around the application, not the technology. Think of more passive ways of delivering information, imbedded in the scenario, the visuals or the interaction. Focus on the learning by ‘doing’ instead of by ‘telling’.

VR Experience built for MUSE 2016

Final Thought

People often ask me if VR is a flash in the pan like AR or other technologies. I usually respond that AR isn’t going anywhere either, but regress to my firm belief that VR is not only here to stay but will get lighter, smoother, cheaper and eventually, adopted at home. If we renamed VR the Holodeck, I’m more certain people would understand the implications and be more likely to envision its potential future. The question remains how to market effectively in that environment. VR has emerged as a distinctly OOH experience (for the most part) and will remain so until costs come down. This allows us a great opportunity to attract audiences to exhibits which feature the technology. Make sure you don’t just feature the technology: feature your product and let the technology be the medium.

Daniel Stopnicki is a SEED co-founder and CTO.

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