Q&A: 360-degree VR Just Tip Of The Iceberg

Among marketers, virtual reality is the hot new thing. Every brand, it seems, is looking for a way to connect with consumers in an alternate, three-dimensional world where they are the star. For the most part, that has resulted in a number of experiences that use 360-degree video to showcase a new environment. 

For VR studio Brightline Interactive (which has worked with clients such as Toyota, Marvel, Samsung and Verizon), such experiences are just the tip of the iceberg. Company CEO/CCO Erik Muendel and Principal Tyler Gates spoke with Marketing Daily about the future of this emerging technology. 

How are brands currently using VR?

Gates: Right now, it’s so new, a lot of people are doing VR and don’t necessarily understand everything that can be done with it. What we see predominantly are 360-degree video experiences. We like to draw a distinction between 360-degree video content and interactive VR. We create interactive VR content. 



How do you explain the difference between the 360-degree video and “interactive virtual reality?”

Gates: 360-video content is shooting in real life. It’s taking a camera into an environment, [and] producing a fully stitched together image of an environment. The reason that’s being done so heavily is it’s the most known. People get it right off the bat. The biggest difference for us, and why it matters to brands, is we’re creating ways for the consumers to interact with the environment around them, which is a much more specialized task. 

Muendel: We can actually create those environments. The technology allows us to create something that’s like a real environment. 

Gates: Interactive VR … generates more impact. We’re trying to create a relationship between consumer and brand. Since advertising began, it’s always been about trying to elicit an emotion so that a consumer feels a relationship between the product and themselves. …There’s a subject on a screen and there’s a story being told and the brand is asking the consumer, “Can you see yourself in this character?” With VR, there’s a major shift in that instead of me watching a subject on screen, I am now the subject.

Why would you want to create a more immersive experience, which generally requires more equipment than a portable headset or something to hold a smartphone?

Muendel: The more that you can integrate physical elements into the experience, the more natural it’s going to be. There’s things we can integrate like a fan that tricks the mind into feeling that you’re in the moment at that time.

Gates: If the brand’s goal is to get the consumer to feel some sort of emotive reaction to elevate the perception of the brand, [and they] put out a poorly executed package, it actually works against the brand. That’s what we’re seeing a lot of now. We’re two years in from the first Oculus experiences out there, and we believe the 360-video phase is going to wear off because the novelty will wear off. 

What should brands be looking for with VR, specifically when it comes to evaluating their results?

Muendel: We use creative technology to surprise people, to motivate them to do the social share. The more compelling the technology and the more unique it is, the more they’ll share. We want to show people the experiences, capture it and share it on social media. What else is unique about VR is if there’s an activity or a sequence of events that a person goes through that is a surprise or is of particular interest, we can track that. Just as you can track clicks on video, we can track behaviors in a space.

Gates: There’s a lot down the road in terms of biometric tracking. Being able to use cameras and sensors to understand people’s sentiment when they’re doing an experiment, to understand their eye movement, what their attention span is.

Is there a product that you couldn’t use VR for? How would you do VR for something like laundry detergent?

Gates: There have been technologies that have come out where we’ve seen brands cram themselves into the technology and it hasn’t worked out. But with VR, it’s a technology, but it’s also a medium. It’s on the scale of radio or television.

One of the most popular demos in VR right now is called “Job Simulator.” It’s really simple and mind-numbing. You get to be in a virtual cartoon world and perform simple tasks and it’s very immersive. You could do something literal like that or you could do something that’s more abstract that could allow people to be in the washing machine where they’re surrounded by orange and blue and soap suds and you could wave your arms around to move the suds. 

Do marketers yet view or think of VR as a whole new medium? What’s it going to take to change that?

Gates: … It’s still viewed as a trendy hardware technology. But hardware technology aside, when you think about the psychology of the consumers, what this technology allows us to create is a completely redefined consumer-to-brand experience. It’s nothing we’ve been able to see before or create. We’re able to make the consumer the character that used to be on-screen.

The brands are still looking at VR as somewhat of a platform. When a new technology is introduced, people frame the new technology based on their understanding of the current thing closest to it. That ends up driving how they use the technology. That’s why people are using 360-video technology so much. But we view this as a new technology that allows us to do things we’ve never done before, but doing that and pushing that boundary is what makes it possible. 

[This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.]

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