Why brands should avoid the VR bandwagon

Why brands should avoid the VR bandwagon
Lucinda is an Account Executive at European technology PR agency, Firefly Communications. Firefly provides go-to-market commercial messaging, paid and organic social media campaigns, analyst relations programmes, content for marketing automation engines, crisis communications training and handling – and of course, traditional media relations. Lucinda is responsible for the day to day management of technology clients in HR, cloud, memory and storage and consumer technology industries.

Over the past three years, VR has evolved from a lab experiment to a platform for the media and consumers to engage with.

As it grows, more news organisations, marketers and PRs want to get involved to explore new storytelling possibilities. Due to the immersive nature of VR, brands can give people an incredibly powerful experience.

But is it too early for brands to invest in VR?

Digital priorities are based on audience’s needs, and with good quality headsets costing around £500, it is unlikely that many people will be able to engage with VR content.

Yes, there is Google Cardboard but it’s hardly the same quality of experience. Similarly, due to technological restrictions, great VR content is limited.

So, should brands be using VR now – demonstrating innovative thinking? Or should they wait until the technology has evolved?

Bad content will kill VR

People’s early experiences of VR will make or break it. 3D TV died due to bad content and the lack of universal use, and it’s a good reminder for those investing in VR.

the key is to create compelling VR content that gets people coming back

If brands want to jump into VR with two feet they need to invest in producing amazing VR content. Companies are now devoting more time into thinking about what works in VR and the challenges involved in VR storytelling and 360º content.

The key is to create compelling VR content that gets people coming back for more. And that’s not necessarily the right format for all brands. Not yet, anyway.

Niko Chauls of USA Today said:

“Nothing is going to be more effective in getting people to consume more than compelling content experiences in any content category, and nothing is going to be more effective in getting people to NOT pick up a VR headset than bad content.”

The evolution of our living rooms

VR is not the ‘next TV’, you cannot expect people to wear a headset in their living room and engage with your content every day. If you do start trialling VR content with your customers you must consider their surroundings.

Are they viewing this in their home?

If so, should they be standing, sitting?

Our living rooms weren’t designed for VR, our sofas are static and furniture is placed so we’re sat comfortably. VR needs us to move and look around.

our living rooms weren’t designed for VR

At the moment, VR is a gimmick which needs to find its USP. Until then, it will be something that people use once or twice but then set aside. So, if you want to start experimenting with VR content you should first think about how people are already consuming it.

It is unclear as to how many people are using their headsets and how frequently. Therefore, you need to know your demographic and try user experience testing to see if your customers will respond well and engage with your content.

Furthermore, don’t create VR content because you want to jump on the VR bandwagon. Your content must be appropriate for VR and have a level of specificity that is unique to your brand and audience.

A couple of years ago outdoor retailer Merrell launched their advanced hiking shoe. To accompany the launch, they created aVR experience at the Sundance festival.

The experience involved users wearing an Oculus Rift headset while walking across bridges, holding physical ropes and touching a rock wall. The aim was to make people feel as though they were going on a hike. Merrell were able to look beyond the living room and create an environment for VR to be enjoyed in, resulting in a more immersive and exciting experience.

Headsets: Mind the gap

Currently, there are around 2 million high-end headsets worldwide.  

These headsets cost around £500 each which significantly limits the amount of people able to watch VR content.

headsets cost around £500 each

Also, if you are putting out content on high-end VR headsets, brands need to also build each piece for other VR platforms such as Google Cardboard.

Rendering content down from high-end headsets to some of the basic platforms such as Google Cardboard and low cost 360 can be particularly costly and will dilute the overall experience, resulting in an ineffective VR campaign.

It is perhaps best to focus on producing excellent content for one platform and engaging a smaller audience than trying to put all your eggs in one basket.

It’s a question of who not how…for now

What do you want from your VR content?

Do you want to focus on quality, experience, or reach? For brands wanting to reach the masses, there’s no point in investing in VR. It’s too early.

for brands wanting to reach the masses, there’s no point in investing in VR

However, if you want to make an impact on a small group, a VR experience could be incredibly powerful.

For example, Marriott Hotels recently created the first-ever travel experience. Using the Oculus Rift, they send guests to Wal’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui and the top of Tower 42 in London. They create a real experience, considering the environment and the audience they want to reach, which gives people a glimpse of what it is like to be really there.

If VR is going to be a long-term strategy for your company, then brands need to invest like Marriot Hotels.

Virtually educated

The truth is that VR is still at its early stages. Whilst the technology develops and consolidates, there is still a lot of work to be done to educate the public about VR and its uses.

Brands have a responsibility to show consumers why VR content is worth engaging with.

It’s still worth brands experimenting with VR, and there are low barriers to entry like using basic VR approaches such as 360 and Google Cardboard. But to bring to life the immersive, exciting storytelling experiences that come with VR, it is essential that tech companies, brands, news organisations and media agencies all work together to overcome the challenges that come with it.

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