Can you remember your first virtual reality (VR) experience? Was it a fantastically immersive, narrative-heavy, intricately designed masterpiece? If so, you’re one of the lucky ones. The majority of the general public who haven’t had the pleasure of getting into VR showcase events might simply stumble across a promotional stall in a shopping centre, try out an underwhelming marketing app, then shuffle away after politely commenting on how cool it was.
I’m not sure if this is coming as a warning to consumers or maybe as a lost plea floating in the wind to marketers, but making something VR for the sake of making it VR doesn’t make the product any more cutting-edge or modern, but instead drags down the impact VR will have on the people who will make it successful. Yes, of course making VR well known to the uninformed masses is a major key – I’m sure we’ve all lost count of how many times ‘mainstream adoption’ has been highlighted – but for major companies to take VR and sell it out for their own gain is just a little saddening.
Now this in no way knocks the quality of animation or video technology that is being used, because that is exactly the appeal of it and why we are experiencing this awkward mainstream marketing crossover. I recently spoke to the person who animated the peppercorns exploding during the Boursin Sensorium Virtual Reality Experience individually by hand, and when I had watched it the first time it was a cute and somewhat whimsical adventure – the animation is great. But despite the garlic tunnels, onion hoops and herby gardens, you have to stop and ask yourself: was the Oculus Rift made for these marketing gimmicks?
Other marketing strategies are carried out more notably by car manufacturers, but it is possibly even less understood. Car experiences in real life are massively popular for petrol-heads, but is there a point to being able to look round a car in VR when the majority of target consumers aren’t part of the demographic who would be interested in it? Again, the word gimmick comes to mind, and highlights how marketers will step not only on the shoulders but the head of VR to get ahead. Some may even go as far as to create a campaign at the expense of VR, such as with Jaguar’s Actual Reality prank which tries to cast VR redundant.
You cannot blame marketers for wanting to jump on board the VR train, and some are very welcome to if they have more of a reason to immerse consumers into another world other than to use a HMD as an attention-sucking television screen. Over in New Zealand there was a pretty triumphant cause as UNICEF immersed people into a Syrian refugee camp in Clouds over Sidra, which ended up doubling the rate of donations to the charity. The way this type of experience differs from shoving a brand name in your face is that the immersion is giving the viewer a whole new perspective that can change more than just your shopping basket. This isn’t to say every VR marketing experience should be deep and meaningful, but should successfully translate a fuller experience.