No longer confined to the realms of science fiction and despite a rocky start with critics questioning its viability, virtual reality (VR) is now beginning to take the world of experiences by storm. That, coupled with innovations in augmented reality (AR), has unlocked a new world of immersive brand connections that are making an impact in engaging with the right audiences.
Despite consumer VR headsets being around since the early-mid 1990s, with the first iterations being released by video game companies, the commercial value of this technology was only fully realised in the last decade with the likes of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR setting off a new wave of application development.
It was just three years’ ago when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg extolled the virtues of this new technology when he announced the social network’s partnership with Samsung at Mobile World Congress: “Going back about 10 years, most of what we shared and experienced was text. And then it was photos. And now we’re entering into a world where that’s video. But pretty soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re right there in person.”
Last year, the Festival of Media Global Awards introduced a brand new category ‘Best of AR / VR Technology’ but despite some innovative examples of brands using the technology to create multi-sensory, memorable experiences, awards judges suggested that accessibility and scale remained to be an issue in exploiting its full potential. Fast forward to 2019 and entries in that same category suggest that VR and AR has come on leaps and bounds.
With a broad spread of entries from Canada to China to Singapore to the UK, the VR and AR category is dominated by brands in the technology, telecoms, retail, finance and utilities sector.
Snapchat emerged as the top media partner for AR campaigns, with brands making use of its Lens Studio and Stories formats to implement digital multi-channel campaigns that leveraged mobile and geo-location capabilities to create exclusive content around consumer passions and interests, giving them an opportunity to play a meaningful role in memorable experiences.
From a retail perspective, VR technology combined with location-based services is opening up opportunities for new store launches by offering a virtual tour of the shop to surprise and delight customers, integrating OOH, tech and QR codes to amplify the experience and make it relevant.
Uncovered through these entries was the use of VR and AR to create meaningful connections from a B2B perspective. To cut through and stand out amongst a very specific audience of key decision makers, VR tech was utilised to showcase product or service offerings in a way that is highly-portable, adaptable and flexible in that it can easily be adapted to address local languages and cultures, without sacrificing that personal one-to-one connection.
In another example, the issue of scale around AR was addressed through a unique partnership with Blippar to create an AR experience that was delivered through mobile display and programmatic, enabling a hard to reach audience to get first-hand experience of exploring a product in a real-life setting.
Festival of Media Global Awards 2019 judge Martin Albrecht, CEO at Crossmedia, says there are three criteria for successful use of this still new technology: Integration, scale and purpose.
“Of course, any channel works better when it is not a standalone, but with AR/VR in particular, the novelty of the technological experience will drown out any message when such experience is not lead into or prolonged by other channels,” says Albrecht. “The real purpose behind employing these technologies should be that brands can immerse a target in a brand or branded experience that is otherwise not obtainable.”
As the old idiom goes, ‘Seeing is believing’. Given that the benefits of VR and AR are already being realised by a number of brands, it might not be long before sales encounters become a thing of the past and technology takes on a new lease of life in showcasing products and services in new, meaningful ways that fully immerse customers into the experience.
We put the spotlight on two Festival of Media Global Awards 2019 shortlisted entries, which highlight this trend:
HP’s Office of the Future | HP | PHD | Singapore, Malaysia, Australia
Shortlisted for: Best Use of AR / VR Technology, Best Use of Mobile
HP’s APAC Commercial PC Marketing Division was facing a challenge – it wasn’t seen as an innovative brand in the context of the changing workplace and was facing challenges from brands that were communicating innovation via new product launches across the region. The key customer for this segment was the IT Decision Maker (ITDM) – a very discerning set when it came to technology products. PHD needed to show HP as an innovative company, not just talk about it.
An often-forgotten aspect of modern media buying is the simple fact, that in a lot of cases, “The medium is the message”. For HP, this often quoted but rarely used strategy had more meaning given the agency’s key insight around “Seeing is believing”. Augmented Reality (AR) was a perfect technology to use – a medium that was innovative, one that would help associate HP with innovation, and one that could literally showcase HP’s products in front of an ITDMs own eyes.
But AR has one big issue – scale. Most AR experiences require an app download or requires scanning product labels or special codes. These unscalable methods for delivering AR had been holding back its growth and would just not do the job. So, PHD partnered with the AR company Blippar to utilise its innovative AR Digital Placement (ARDP) product, which enabled AR experiences through the already built scale of mobile display advertising. With the scale of mobile display aiding the delivery of an AR experience, it could easily demonstrate HP’s innovative products in a new light.
Spotify for Brands Virtual Reality House Tour | Spotify | UK, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, America, Ireland, Turkey, Germany, France, Spain, Philippines
Shortlisted for: Best Use of AR / VR Technology
Spotify Business Marketing is responsible for driving demand for Spotify’s advertising business and keeping Spotify top-of-mind with media buyers and brands through experiential, digital and social campaigns that highlight the value of Spotify’s advertising platform. Verbally explaining the look and feel of ad formats can be incredibly dry experience. Media buyers are busy people, and many media owners are competing for their attention. It needed to find a differentiated, impressive, creatively inspiring way to showcase its ad products. For practical and budget reasons, this experience also had to be highly portable, compatible in small meetings as well as on trade show floors.
VR allowed Spotify Business Marketing to create a portable, immersive experience. It was able to build a digital version of the “Spotify House,” which it had created in the real world at many events including SXSW, CES and bespoke events in Australia. The difference here: This house only needed to be built once, but could be adapted to the user and then explored by anyone, anywhere wearing a headset. Spotify approached several experiential and VR agencies in the UK to develop this tool, before eventually deciding to work with Manzalab, an agency based in Paris.
The global Business Marketing team are able to use the VR CMS to adapt the tool to their local languages and cultures, as well as change the ads and facts displayed within the house. The development of the CMS for the tool was especially significant as it allowed all global teams to quickly and efficiently change elements of the House without additional cost or delays. Local teams take the VR headsets to meetings with clients and create opportunities to experience the VR tool at roadshow sessions and tentpole events.