What do consumers need?
There are two main types of VR devices: headsets with their own
displays and cases that use a smartphone for the screen and
processor. Powerful headsets like Facebook's Oculus Rift and HTC's
Vive plug into PCs and provide 360-degree head tracking. Many also
require PCs with high-end graphics capabilities and cost anywhere
from $600 to $800. VR might get a new boost in October, however,
when Sony introduces its
PlayStation VR headset at $399.
The $99 Samsung Gear case, introduced in November, is
even more accessible, keeping costs low by tapping consumers'
Galaxy smartphones to handle the computing and display. And then
there are essentially disposable cases, most notably Google Cardboard, which are
cheap and frequently given away. So if the content is compelling
enough to make consumers want VR, the hardware shouldn't be too out
Who's the audience?
VR reaches a limited group for now, with gamers chief among
Some stats show that over 20 million Americans have tried VR
either through headset sharing or at an event.
But VR hardware shipments will total just 9.6 million worldwide
this year, according to a recent forecast from International Data
Corporation. By comparison, smartphone shipments this year will
total nearly 1.5 billion, IDC says. VR hardware is expected to
rocket to 64.8 million shipments in 2020, on the other hand (as
smartphones climb to 1.9 billion).
Awareness of VR today remains low, with about 80% of consumers
only occasionally or even never hearing about the technology,
according to SuperData Research, which specializes in data and
insights on the global games market and playable media
There's also some fear that virtual reality could go the way of
3-D TV. Despite the hype and manufacturers' invstments, 3-D failed
to take off, partly because consumers didn't like wearing something
on their faces to watch. That challenge goes double for VR, where
the headwear is heavier, costlier and more obstructive.
The good news for marketers even in the early stages of VR
adoption, or perhaps especially in these stages, is that the tech
appeals to younger, tough-to-reach consumers, typically in the
12-to-17 and 18-to-34 demographics.
The audience for 360 video, in contrast, is substantially
larger: Anyone on Facebook or YouTube can watch it today.
Should your brand experiment with VR?
Stop. Before marketers even think about whether to jump into
virtual reality, they need to ask themselves if they already have a
clear content marketing strategy involving platforms that are
already in wide use.
"If you don't have a well thought out content marketing
strategy, start there," said Adam Simon, director of strategy, IPG
Media Lab. "It is cheaper and easier."
For those with a good content strategy in place and video
already going out the door, the next question is whether making
that video immersive makes sense, Mr. Simon said.
Some industries lend themselves to VR more naturally than
others. Travel, in particular, could be one of the biggest
beneficiaries. "It will change the way we travel and the way the
travel industry markets itself over the next five years," Mr. Simon
Entertainment companies such as video-game makers and movie
studios should also emerge as leaders in the field. For automakers,
VR could transform the test drive.
GroupM's Ms. Tilds said high-end fashion companies can use VR to
offer unique experiences to consumers.
What content works best?
VR isn't about pre-roll or a 15- or 30-second spot. "It is an
opportunity for brands to create entertaining content that adds
value to the consumer," Mr. Raciti said.
There's no data yet showing what length is ideal. "We've seen
things that work that are much longer than you would expect," Mr.
Simon said. "But we're talking TV lengths at most, not
two-and-a-half-hour epic films."
Product placement is an option. "But since the medium is still
developing, there are no turn-key formats or 'commercials,'" Mr.
Simon said. "When they arrive, it's unclear if we'll even consider
them 'commercials,' since they're unlikely to interrupt the flow of
While 360 video doesn't provide the same experience as true
interactive VR, it is much more accessible and not as expensive to
create, making it a good place for marketers to start, Mr. Simon
said. "I do not recommend brands immediately start creating
immersive worlds," he said.
Do's and don't's
For the first time, the screen being used won't be a rectangle
and people will be able to look wherever they want. For this
reason, marketers can't apply what they are doing in TV or digital
to VR, Zero Code's Mr. Raciti said.
VR has also got to be video that consumers will want to seek
out. Brands can't push just anything out there and expect people to
absorb the message—an important distinction.
Marketers should do significant planning and commit to putting
in more time when it comes to VR. In that sense it's the opposite
of the churn that has become the norm in social media and regular
video for some.
And finding the right producers, directors and developers is a
must. Poorly executied VR can be worse than ineffective for
marketers; it can make people feel seasick.
Storytelling talent is no less important, particularly for
those, such as marketers, that have more than one goal for their VR
content. It is essential for marketers to work with developers who
know how to tell brand stories, Ms. Tilds said.
And marketers can't forget the sound, which is just as important
as the visuals, Mr. Raciti said.
Small audiences for VR mean e-commerce providers won't invest in
the field for some time, Mr. Simon said. Still, he noted that
Amazon has a team working on VR and augmented reality. Once Amazon
gets in, e-commerce will add a whole new dimension.
There are also a few companies building tools for VR analytics
and tracking. "That will be the piece of the puzzle that makes it
viable for advertising," Mr. Simon said.