12 Mar 2018 16:51 IST

Virtual reality: the new marketing reality

VR could reach up to 170 million users by the end of 2018

Imagine you are skiing in St Moritz one day and exploring Zambia on a Norman Carr Walking Safari or driving a yet-to-be-launched Tesla Roadster 2.0 the next. It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But it’s actually doable because of virtual reality (VR). And businesses are increasingly exploring the use of this technology to promote their products.

Although it is in its nascent stage, VR technology offers riveting user experiences that help brands establish their story and product. The projections for VR usage are rather optimistic — it could reach up to 170 million users by the end of 2018, a sharp growth from the 43 million users in 2016.

Some companies seek to create remarkable experiences for their customers through customised VR development, coupling their products with a gripping story and a context. The preeminent accomplishment of using VR for marketing is that it transforms the user into a superhero by placing her/him in the middle of the action.

Automotive industry

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo pioneered the use of this technology in the automotive industry. Customers were given the opportunity to test drive the new Volvo XC90 using Google Cardboard. Jaguar Land Rover — official partners of Wimbledon 2017 —followed suit by creating a tour of the courts, with tennis star Andy Murray as a guide, in order to appeal to a distinct audience. This move secured their visibility as the main sponsor. Mercedes-Benz spared no expense when they planned the 360-degree VR video for its concept EQ models (an intelligent electric mobility offshoot).

In airspace

Heard of First Airlines, an airplane that flies to Paris without actually taking off? After fastening their seatbelts in business-class seats, 12 passengers were pampered with a four-course meal, before immerseding themselves in a 360-degree VR tour of the city at a fraction of the cost of an actual trip to Paris.

VR and advertising

Knowing the development costs, is it worth it including VR in an advertiser’s toolbox? Or is it just another fad? Best practices prove that this technology ought to come into play when it allows people to fully immerse themselves in an experience that may be funny, emotional or intriguing.

In fact, the rule of thumb for deciding if VR is worth investing in or not is to ask yourself, as an advertiser, if the story you want to tell your customers needs every detail that the virtual world can provide.

Challenges to watch out for

One of the striking problems is its reputation as a device for geeks and gamers. Most people don’t see it as something that can enhance their daily lives. A quick-fix for this challenge is for marketers to work with designers and create experiences targeted at groups other than gamers. For example, one could use location-based features to replicate places such as the Konark Sun Temple or the Himalayasto promote tourism.

Another major drawback is the cost. If you want a fully-loaded immersive experience, you need a full-fledged head mount that will cost at least ₹20,000. In addition, the head mounts available in the market are uncomfortable due to their bulky design. Their shape is neither pleasing nor chic; one could be reluctant to try the experience because of this, too.

The way forward

VR’s untapped potential lies in its ability to help customers discover new dimensions to a product at their own stride. If VR has to be successfully used on a larger scale in marketing, it needs to swiftly become mainstream. Before it becomes ubiquitous (like smartphones), it can be used by brands to sell themselves effectively. But to scale further, VR needs to produce measurable results, and not just restrict itself to being a ‘wow’ factor.