With both virtual reality and augmented reality being the headline grabbing attraction at MWC16, its appeal as a marketing tool to drive desire and innovation with any brand is potentially its immediate use, rather than the product itself.
With the exception of the brands who manufacture the products themselves, none use the technology for marketing purposes. Travel, hotel, and adventure clothing companies however are embracing it and seeing positive returns in some cases.
There are of course the odd examples, like Samsung rolling out Zuckerberg for the S7 launch and providing Gear VRs for all the delegates to use which created a media frenzy and a reaction to a photo which will be cemented in history for many years that provoked an odd sense of alarm. However I suspect Mr Zuckerberg was just enjoying the moment seeing several hundred unsuspecting journalists wearing his product, and relishing its third party marketing potential to bolster Facebook’s modest profits.
The clever driver here seems to be how all AR & VR brands have taken the opportunity to raise the profile of their products for their own gain, creating marketing opportunities through brand association, including more recently Coca Cola with Google cardboard and many others as they seek the next cool marketing tool.
Thomas Cook installed Samsung Gear VR headsets in 10 UK stores to let potential holiday makers see 360 degree views of sites in New York, Singapore, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece. Bookings of New York excursions increased by 190% as a result.
Marriott have used VR in a few ways, a 4D “teleporter” experience where users wore a VR headset whilst standing in a pod that would blow wind or splash water on them while they saw views of beaches etc. They have also offered Vroom Service, where guests can order a Gear VR with experiences from China etc. on it. Marriott have yet to see a return on investment.
Northface used Google Cardboard to make viewers feel like they were at the top of Yosemite National Park, achieving coverage in many large news publications.
Virgin Holidays used Google Cardboard in selected shops to show travellers things like a roller coaster at Disney land. Booking through those shops increased 60% YoY.
Now what each of these examples have in common is the experience and associating their brand, rather ironically in the case of a tour operator taking you on a VR journey without moving, with innovation where it would seem innovation is somewhat hard to come by. How else can you innovate a holiday or appeal beyond its practical use and realistic boundaries to capture the imagination and immerse consumers in your brand.
VR and AR without question are going to continue grabbing the tech headlines. And brands are right to align themselves with the technology to create awareness, hype and if possible innovation credentials for a brand, but is it in danger of becoming a bit hackneyed very soon? With VR in its infancy and the above examples being a handful of many, can a brand justify the investment and break through the noise to make it work to engage and drive sales of their products? I suspect brands’ realisation that VR can be used as sales portal is practical but as an advertising tool, it will face the same challenges content providers face with streaming to achieve cognitive brand recall and inevitable advert skipping VR users will demand.