OmniVirt's Michael Rucker On Virtual Reality

If there was one technological development that piqued marketers’ interest this year, it was virtual reality. The technology’s ability to immerse consumers into a new world in which they are surrounded by a product experience is truly enticing. But the technology is still new, and as with most things new, there is a steep learning curve involved, and as many missteps as successes. 

As chief operating officer and co-founder of OmniVirt, which helps develop 360-degree and virtual reality video for publishers, Michael Rucker has a hand in helping create a platform for this technology. Marketing Daily spoke to him about where things are and where they’re heading. 

Q: What role has virtual reality played in the marketing world in 2016?

A: Virtual reality has been the hot new platform that most agencies and marketers have looked to for experimentation and something new and exciting. This year has really been around testing and trying, and there has been a lot of learning. Next year is where we see an opportunity for much more scale and return on investment and experimentation.



Q: What have marketers learned from this experimentation this year?

A: They have learned the challenges around production and the new medium and type of format to create around. And in some cases, they are realizing that creating 360-degree video and VR narratives is not the same as creating 2D content.

Q: What is that difference?

A: From a 360-degree video perspective, [the question is] how is the fact that this is being captured in a 360-degree experience adding to the narrative and story that I’m trying to tell versus detracting from it? I have seen a lot of lazy creative where a person sticks a GoPro rig on a car and drives it around a racetrack. That might be cool the first time you see it, but when that becomes common, it’s hard to tell the difference between them.

Q: What considerations should marketers have when developing this further in 2017?

A: I’d say the first thing is being clear about why VR is part of something I want to create. The reason we have seen people in the entertainment industry, the travel industry and the car industry lean so heavily into VR is that their industries work so well with the immersive narrative form. For the general marketer, the question is, does this add to the story that I’m trying to tell, or am I just doing VR because I can do VR? That’s the first question they should be asking themselves. 

Q: How do you go from answering that question to the execution?

A: The next question to ask is, how do I get people to engage with this content? And how do I get distribution and scale? That’s another area that marketers have struggled with this year. One of the challenges that exists today is there’s still limited headsets. This year, if you wanted to do something through the Google Cardboard app, you had to download something via a native app to experience the content, and we don’t think that’s makes sense for a marketer. The next question is, “How am I going to get my audience to engage with the content?” 

Q: As VR becomes more scalable, what are we likely to see from marketers?

A: I think you’re going to see more and more investment. The biggest challenge is, if you don’t have scale and distribution, it becomes difficult to justify the experimentation and investment in creative. This year, you saw a lot of experimentation because it was new. I think you’re going to see more investment into 360-degree video content and VR content because they can get the scale and distribution they want. 

Q: What was the best VR marketing experience you saw this year?

A: In terms of a specific example, I think Netflix’s “Stranger Things” execution was fantastic. VR is an incredibly immersive experience, but it’s also to some extent isolating. Netflix was able to take advantage of that isolation [for] a show that was about creating fear and a horror experience. Compared with a flat 2D execution, this virtual reality experience had people screaming. 

Q: What do you expect to see as more people pick it up?

A: I think you’re going to see a better understanding of what type of what creative works and doesn’t work. If you don’t have a lot of audience engagement and usage, you don’t really know if it was successful. When we have content that requires a downloaded app, and you don’t have a download, you don’t know if that’s because the content wasn’t good, or whether it was because downloading the app was a pain. Once you have those learnings you’re going to get better at creative.

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