Commentary

Branding In Social VR

In proclaiming that social VR is poised to become “the most social platform” during his appearance for Samsung at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg painted some immersive moments for his audience to contemplate.

“Imagine being able to sit in front of a campfire and hang out with friends anytime you want,” he said. “Or being able to watch a movie in a private theater with your friends anytime you want. Imagine holding a group meeting or event anywhere in the world that you want.”

Marketers no doubt will have their seats at these meet-ups and kumbaya moments. And the $2 billion Zuckerberg spent for Oculus Rift suggests that the branding will be a lot more engaging than having a digital bag of Kraft marshmallows available to roast at those campfires. I asked Alan Smithson, CEO of Toronto-based Shok Kreative and author of a whitepaper, “Virtual Reality for Marketers 2016,” what those executions might look like.

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What are some examples of engaging brand content we’re likely to see when Oculus Rift hits the market later this year?

Alan Smithson: Oculus is going to launch with a bunch of video games to a group of hardcore gamers. What I would like to see is brands partnering with these first games, like Eve: Valkrie and Technolust, to do relevant, authentic, in-game advertising that enhances the game. For example, [having] Redbull available in a game that literally gives you wings allowing you to fly.

Where I really see scalable marketing opportunities for now are with Google Cardboard and GearVR activations that are compelling…. I think any time you can do personalized marketing, you win as a brand.  

We have tons of data from people who login using their Facebook accounts, so it would be amazing to use this data to give users an experience that is unique to them. Also using gaze control to create pop-ups and Easter eggs will give each experience that added excitement.

I want travel companies to start doing more exciting experiences that tell stories. Marriott Hotels did a room service VR experience that had four really boring interviews with people that left you wondering, “Why did they do that?”

What I really don't want is for brands to use VR and 360 video without thinking about why they are doing it…. Marketers need to be diligent to not make VR a platform filled with stupid advertising that goes the way of the QR code.

Instead, consider:

  • In-game advertising.
  • Geo-targeted VR experiences.
  • Custom data-driven VR experiences.
  • Exciting travel experiences.
  • Relevant, authentic and non-salesy content.

How quickly will social VR be adapted by a critical mass?

Smithson: I think we will see a mass adoption much quicker than anyone imagined. There are billions of dollars being thrown at VR now, and every agency we have met is thinking, “How do we get into this VR thing?”

My prediction is 2016 will be the introduction, 2017 the mass adoption, 2018 ubiquitous adoption and 2019 and beyond everyone will sell their VR headsets in favor of the newer, cooler AR glasses (or hopefully, contact lenses).

Will VR change our social interactions as much as smartphones have over the last decade?

Smithson: VR has the potential to change social interactions, and having tried AltspaceVR recently, I can see the appeal of a social environment where you can do things together. My guess is that companies like Quantum Capture and Objex Unlimited that are doing high-resolution, full-body scans in order to make a 3D printed version of yourself will shift to creating really high quality avatars of you for use in social VR.

Facebook is the social platform, and they have the biggest stake in the VR game to date --  so you can bet things are going to get social immediately. Facebook just announced they are increasing the resolution of their 360 videos by four fold. The race is on to share your life in VR.

1 comment about "Branding In Social VR".
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  1. Ted Fagenson from Skrownge, February 25, 2016 at 12:06 p.m.

    Brand messaging, awareness, and advertising can be embedded within today's mobile game frameworks, VR is simply an extension to this capability.  The core issue is that most brands do not yet accept the use of mobile games as a medium to engage consumers.  They continue to pour their advertising dollars into social media instead.  Games are inherently interactive and engaging with the added value of achieving a higher retention value.   Our forecast is that 2016 will be the first year that in-game mobile advertising is understood with massive adoption ocurring in 2018.  VR is more likely to accelerate thereafter. 

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