In 2016, so much of our reality is now spent consuming technology. From desktops and televisions at home, to laptops and tablets at the coffee shop, to smartphones and Apple watches at a sporting event, our devices follow us everywhere we go. How many of us are guilty of checking our smartphone while simultaneously browsing the web on our laptop with our TV turned on in the background? A recent study found that teens spend an average of 9 hours a day on media devices – that’s more than an hour longer than the average person sleeps!
The way media is currently consumed is largely determined by viewing content. In television, for example, the networks and studios provide the content and point-of-view while the viewer is just along for the ride – and can either watch the show, change the channel, or turn off the device. But what if technology allowed content to not only be viewed, but actually brought us in as part of an immersive experience? Enter virtual reality.
According to Google, virtual reality or VR, is “the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.” It’s basically a way to immerse yourself in a seemingly real environment from the comfort of your own home. The uses are endless, and impact goes far beyond gaming. For teens looking to have some fun, gaming will take on a whole new shape as hand-held game controllers are left behind in favor of the user feeling like he’s cast into the video game. These types of games can be developed into physically active experiences, which can get kids off the couch and exercising. Who would turn down exercising if it meant pretending to be a knight fighting a dragon or some similar adventure? There are endless applications for education that can take the learning experience to entirely new levels. Rather than reading about Philadelphia in 1776, a student could virtually be in the same room while the Declaration of Independence is being signed. The Washington Leadership Academy discusses applications such as the millions of school kids who don’t have access to proper chemistry equipment. A virtual chemistry lab could allow these same students to conduct virtual experiments with even greater educational benefits than a fully stocked lab. Likewise, arts and literature students, who in the past gained knowledge through textbooks, could walk the streets of Paris with Picasso and Hemingway, learning first-hand about their works. The ability to visit far-off destinations through VR could greatly benefit the travel and tourism industry as well. Imagine being able to test the waters off the Indonesian coast before booking that dream vacation.
With every great idea there are always challenges, and VR is by no means immune. According to Adweek, one of the main challenges is whether there is enough content creation taking place to entice consumers into purchasing an expensive headset. The counter argument by content creators is whether there are enough headsets in use to make VR a good investment. It will take willingness from both sides to push the medium forward. A Nielsen survey of 8,000 consumers found that nearly 24% will likely use or purchase VR in the upcoming year. By 2020, Forrester is projecting that more than 52 million headsets will have sold in the United States. Headset manufacturers have made it relatively easy for consumers to buy their products. A Google Cardboard can be obtained for $15, even encouraging users to download apps, develop and create content. On the higher end, an Oculus Rift headset will run a cool $600. Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion and has already begun incorporating 360-degree video into the Facebook feed. Google is leveraging both Cardboard and YouTube to garner user interest and push new content.
How will the growth of VR users and content impact the advertising community? In an Adweek survey of 1,300 adults, 71% of respondents perceive that VR makes brands seem “forward thinking and modern.” Additionally, 53% of consumers said they would be more likely to purchase brands that use VR.
Brands have taken notice and are starting to experiment with virtual reality. Some prime examples include huge brands like The North Face testing out a virtual dog-sledding experience last year in South Korea to help increase winter coat sales. McDonald’s developed an experience to let users paint and design their own Happy Meal boxes at the SXSW arts festival. Taco Bell even launched a pop-up VR arcade in NYC which allowed visitors to choose between a street-luge race or swimming with sharks.
These forward-thinking brands also understand that it comes down to the quality of consumer the platform can reach. Nielsen research states that “those who plan to try VR outspend the average consumer in most purchasing categories, spending nearly twice as much on live event tickets, quick-serve restaurants and alcoholic beverages.” According to Adweek, “Not only does VR broaden the narrative spectrum in which brands can credibly captivate audiences, but it also offers the potential to close the culture gap by adding more depth, human emotion and interactivity to the storytelling experience. More than ever, humanizing the brand experience matters.”
Where does virtual reality go from here? The sky is the limit when it comes to this evolving technology. As brands and consumers adapt, the boundaries will only continue to expand. Someday I envision a world where live events can be streamed virtually. Imagine feeling like you’re on the sidelines as your favorite team scores a Super Bowl touchdown. Go Eagles! And go VR, because this technology has the potential to be a touchdown for users and advertisers alike.