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Advertising Week

VR Needs a 'Chewbacca Mask' Moment

By Published on .

Tarif Sayed
Tarif Sayed Credit: Advertising Week Europe

Virtual reality is being held back from the marketing mainstream by a skeptical public and reluctant advertisers, according to speakers at an Advertising Week Europe session on VR and branded content.

"We're not even at VR 1.0. It's more like VR 0.7," said Nokia's head of VR technologies, Tarif Sayed. He added, "It's a chicken-and-egg situation. Content creators say it's too expensive – and you're not going to shift headsets if there's no content."

Examples of VR marketing from the Abu Dhabi tourist board (for which CNN created a virtual trip to the city) and Jaguar Cars (who worked with Mindshare to create an immersive experience of the Wimbledon Tennis tournament), were presented as best in class, but even their creators admitted that there is still a long way to go.

Chris Cardew, Mindshare U.K.'s head of strategy, said, "It was a great way to prove Jaguar's innovation credentials and to cut through the sponsorship clutter." However, he acknowledged that VR cannot yet provide anything like the full, exhilarating experience of driving a Jaguar.

Pokémon Go signaled a breakthrough moment for VR in games, just as the Oscar-winning "Avatar" did for 3D, but there still hasn't been a big cultural moment to shift VR marketing up to the next level. Dan Calladine, head of media futures at Carat, said, "A lot of VR stuff is really good and we share it around but there's been nothing that 50 of your friends have been posting on Facebook in a day. We haven't had [Facebook Live's] Chewbacca mask moment yet."

James Hunt, VP at the Create Group at CNN International Commercial, suggested that a more sociable VR experience might help to move the game on. "At the moment," he said, "VR is quite a solitary thing. I'll be interested to see technology create a VR environment where you can interact with other people. Right now you put the headset on and stagger round for a couple of minutes, then try and explain it to your friends."

That same social behavior was identified as another potential tipping point by Mr. Cardew, who said, "[Gen Z] are obsessed with following their favorite celebrities or influencers and immersing themselves in fandom. If anything's going to turn them on to VR it's giving them access to worlds they can't get close to, like if Kim Kardashian started doing it. We need to find out what they want more of, and how VR can feed that need."

Both Mr. Cardew and Mr. Hunt said that their projects had taken them about four months to complete last summer. Mr. Sayed responded by saying that technology is advancing so quickly that the same work could now be done in 20% of that time.

Even so, Mr. Sayed estimated that good VR is still a couple of years away. He said, "What we don't like about VR right now is that we don't have a VR camera. Everything is done in 2D using multiple cameras together to create a 360 [effect], using the same old post production tools. We need to be challenged, that's what drives us forward. "

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