Virtual Reality: Still Swimming With Sharks

“I want to live in there,” squealed a friend’s 7-year-old daughter. She had just taken a virtual swim with sharks through Google Cardboard. But, alas, kids bore quickly. Even in shark-infested waters.

With “VR … revenue … forecasted to reach $4.6B in 2017”, according to Marketo’s “Virtual Reality is Now a Marketing Reality,” marketers are again taking notice of a technology first hyped in the 1990s. Back then, the vision for VR was as big as it is today, but the technology wasn’t mature enough.

In recent years, VR has become more accessible. At the same time, marketers have placed a budgetary premium on the “customer experience.” This confluence has made VR a safe bet for marketing innovation and experimentation. And brands have made quite the splash:

  • Coca Colaliterally launched VR fireworks when it took families on a virtual ride on Santa’s sleigh. 
  • Lowes used VR to give Millennials the confidence they need to take on home improvement projects.
  • Tom’s takes retail customers on a virtual “giving trip,” where users experience how the shoemaker benefits children in need.
  • And HBO helped viewers “ascend the wall” in the Game of Thrones opening sequence.



For many brands, though, the development and execution of a VR experience is just too great to take on. Consequently, VR’s tacit promise to make the customer experience great again, in many cases, falls flat.

As with most “new” technologies, brands should obsess less on the newness and instead weigh the pros and cons, and approach VR with a clear purpose. Here’s what I believe are some of the technology’s pros and cons:

CONS of Virtual Reality 

PROS of Virtual Reality 

Cost. The content experience is typically custom built, and can be expensive.

Content scarcity is an opportunity to differentiate, and also, contemporize your brand. Low-cost entry points do exist, such as Google Cardboard.

Tough to Scale. For the best experience, users have to wear the goofy headset or assemble their phone into a clunky contraption AND download an app. 

Brands can transform the ordinary (retail stores, tradeshows, and conference rooms) into immersive experiences. 

Data Standards. None exist yet. 

VR forces marketers to think singularly about the customer experience.

Some thought leaders think VR is being oversold (again) before it’s ready for prime time. Even after one experiences dozens of the best “immersive” VR examples, the novelty quickly wears off unless it’s well produced. 

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum has one of the better experiences going, with its "Styles and Customs of the 2020s exhibit." Users don VR headsets in a controlled environment to experience the end of the world.

Back in the real world, the customer is in control, where everything is harder. So it’s not a surprise the usual suspects are leading VR innovation — entertainment groups and technology companies. But even big-time gamemakers like EA, whose very future may hinge on VR, are watching the market until it reaches critical mass.

So, is VR a realistic way to connect your brand to improve the customer experience? I think so. But much like mobility, there won’t be a single tipping point or “year of VR.” The technology is evolving rapidly, and by all accounts, will hit mainstream. Eventually, markets will adjust, and marketers will adapt. Those who start early and think strategically will earn an advantage.

1 comment about "Virtual Reality: Still Swimming With Sharks".
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  1. Laura Barton from Outlyer Technologies, April 25, 2017 at 12:21 p.m.

    Found your commentary interesting Shaun. Yes, if you're looking to do "in-VR" advertising & marketing reach isnt' there and cost can be an issue depending on how elaborate an experience a brand creates. That said, consumers don't have to have expensive VR headsets (Rift, Vive or PlaystationVR) nor do consumers have to download a VR app to experience VR or 360 content for that matter. The technology exists today for the ordinary banner / display ads we see on browser & in app to feature 360 content (videos & images) with 1-touch vr mode (viewable via cardboard) - that means there's reach (more than 2 billion).

    As for the cost issue, a well produced piece of 360 content w/ VR mode doesn't have to break the bank ($20-$50K vs $500K-$1mil) & 360ads w/ VR mode can be created by using 2D assets many brands have today. 

    When it comes to data - 360 & VR ads are a marketers dream b/c they introduce an entire new set of data collection points. Yes, the metrics for ROI & baromenters for success need to change as CPE makes much more sense than CTR (360VR ads are all about branding - not click throughs). 360VR ads also tackle the viewability issue as they track this easily! As for effectiveness, we have a 360VR case study that shows 360VR ads created using only 2D assets acheivied 85% ad engagement! you can access free case study here:

    And finally, I agree, it's the first movers who will win this game as 360VR ads that can be experienced today via any smartphone, tablet, or desktop, on any browser & in app are the bridge to in-VR ads and more sophisticated AR ads as well. Exciting times in the ad biz for sure! Thanks for the thought provoking insight Shaun! 

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