Kierkegaard said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” And the same rings true for brands. Companies and organizations worldwide are expected to spend more than $583 billion in advertising this year in an effort to try to communicate the uniqueness of their brands (eMarketer).
Traditionally, advertising has been fairly passive, with consumers seeing versus experiencing the message. Newer tactics like digital and environmental advertising are one step closer to interactive. But not until virtual reality and augmented reality have consumers truly been a part of the advertising experience. Here’s what some brands are doing now, and what brands across industries might do in the future to allow target audiences a truly immersive brand experience.
Augmented reality (AR): Adding to the world you know
Pokémon Go is the best-known example of augmented reality. Looking through your device, you can see Pokémon characters in the real world—it augments what’s already there. But your brand doesn’t have to be a game company to achieve the potential benefits of augmented reality.
Companies across industries are extending flat advertising into a 3D experience. Point your smartphone at a poster and launch a video, or point it at a billboard and it may extend into the periphery, sharing additional details about the product or brand.
For example, Wired ran a Showtime ad on its cover that launched an animation, a game and videos promoting the show "Dexter." Starbucks ran a similar campaign to promote its holiday drinks last winter, and theater chains are following AMC Theaters' lead, allowing moviegoers expanded experiences when they point their phones at static posters.
Brands in any industry can build on this idea. Picture your target audience aiming their phones at your transit ads to reveal an informative video that they actually have time to watch during their commute. Or zeroing in on a poster in a doctor’s office to open a landing page with a sign-up for a health seminar.
Another approach takes a cue from brands like furniture retailer Wayfair, which uses augmented reality to place a piece of furniture you’re considering in your home. Real estate companies could augment reality by allowing customers to see their own furniture in a home they’re considering buying. And doctors could augment reality by showing patients how a scar might look after an orthopedic surgery they’re considering.
Virtual reality (VR): Creating a new world
According to Inc., “Leaders in certain verticals—fashion, auto, travel—are already taking the plunge into VR content production, leveraging the technology to dazzle their customers, make headlines, and gain a competitive advantage over their more cautious corporate counterparts.” But as VR technology becomes increasingly mainstream, brands large and small have the opportunity to push their marketing forward with virtual reality.
Virtual reality commercials, where viewers experience an immersive, 3D experience, are here. When shoemaker Merrell debuted the first “walk around” VR commercial at Sundance in 2015, it raised the bar. Now marketers don’t have to tell consumers about their brand experience; they can invite them to put on a headset and experience it themselves.
The possibilities across industries are vast.
- Education: Take elementary school students on field trips to the Amazon Rainforest or Saharan Desert to let them learn about science in cutting edge ways.
- Technology: Allow influencers to experience a first-look product demo from anywhere, virtually transporting them to a trade show or event.
- Travel: Go beyond reviews by inviting consumers to walk through the lobby and a guest room of a hotel they’re considering.
- Health care: Ease anxiety of prospective patients by allowing them to listen to a doctor philosophy video inside a real clinic setting.
- Financial services: Start a personal connection before meeting prospective clients by letting them experience a 360-degree boardroom discussion of the firm’s priorities.
- Nonprofit: Bring potential financial donors from around the world to the lab to witness discoveries in action.
Whatever the creative execution, it seems consumers want more of these immersive ads, so long as they’re made well. According to Mashable, “The digital ad industry’s biggest trade group says consumers want to see more commercials they can immerse themselves within—as long as they’re done right. A new report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau on Monday pointed to substantial growth potential in the nascent world of virtual reality advertising, despite some marketers’ concerns that the technology is destined to stay a niche offering.”
With the Googles of the world making VR accessible with cheap VR headsets like Google Cardboard, AR and VR may not stay niche for long. And from there, the sky’s the limit for brands. But ultimately, what it all comes down to is the creativity of people.
“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”