Why I’m Excited About Virtual Reality as a Branding Tool

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Sherry Shaffer

Andy Maskin recently posted an article on Adweek about why marketers shouldn’t get too excited about VR. I must respectfully disagree with him. I’m very excited about the possibilities.

Maskin’s argument is that the technology, though far advanced from the wave of VR development from the 1990s, is still too unwieldy and expensive for mainstream adoption. I agree that’s the case for 2015 and early 2016, but I make no bets for 2017. That opinion also completely takes Google Cardboard, Gear VR and their relatives out of the equation. The phone-based VR is not as sophisticated as Oculus Rift, but there’s no denying that it’s already out there and being used for branding. (Check out how Birchbox is using VR to promote their men’s subscription.)

Look, I’m no expert. My introduction to VR has only been in the past few months when I began consulting with an artist who is working on a virtual environment business. I now browse the internet for VR news, I have sites like WEARVR send me their weekly new offerings—most importantly, I’m a member of a local VR group. If you think the technology is moving slowly, you’ve got another thing coming. In my group alone I see new surprises each month—we talk about what’s next and what everyone is working on. Worried about nausea from quick movements? They’re on it. Want to be able to use your hands to move things around? The tech is there. Not interested in gaming? No problem, there are a myriad of uses that are in development right now. Last month I “rode” in a sidecar driven by a weird cartoon character through a maze of rooms while being chased by another motorcycle. I could look around; I could feel the ups and downs of the street, I darn near felt the wind in my hair. This month, I rocketed from a conference room, floated in space and watched the Earth spin. Neither experience caused nausea or disappointment—it was all wonder and amazement at the possibilities.

With the much-anticipated Q1 2016 launch of Oculus Rift looming in the near future, there is a veritable flurry of activity of new content development. New stuff is coming out daily and most of it for free. Granted, a lot are samples of what will be released in full—for a price, of course—after the launch, but it’s there. Everyone knows that you’ll have to have quality, fully developed content come spring or you’ll get lost in the shuffle.

My point? If you justify ignoring VR because you think it’s going to take a long time before mainstream adoption, you’re going to lose out. Adoption of new tech is getting faster and faster—Millennials and younger are not afraid of it—and pricing will fall as the companies hone their product. There are several companies with VR headsets either on the market or coming out soon. These companies are committed to making VR into the next technology craze.

The quick and nimble marketer should start exploring the possibilities now. Don’t jump on the bandwagon later, create the bandwagon now.