Apple has started a trend to close down traditional advertising – what’s the next opportunity for marketeers?
iDisrupted Commentary by VR staff reporter, Laura Cox
Whilst at the iDisrupted Live event this September, the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift produced some contrasting reactions. Most people (including myself) seemed to approach VR with a considerable level of hesitancy, navigating around a city apartment whilst trying to get to grips with being able to see (and touch) things that weren’t actually there. The feeling is similar to how I would imagine an out-of-body experience. You’re conscious, you’re aware of what’s happening, but you’re still so utterly engaged with what’s around your virtual self that reality slips away. I found myself wandering off of the edge of the designated VR exploration area and stepping on an unfortunate by-stander’s feet. For gamers, this feeling is fairly normal because they’re far more accustomed to the sensation of movement, without actually going anywhere. But it’s going to take a while for other people to get used to it.
VR veteran Lynne Slowey was responsible for pioneering Virtual Reality at Thomas Cook. She has been described as one of the most knowledgable people on VR, winning what is quite frankly a formidable number of nominations and awards for her work.
“That’s the beauty of getting in early,” she joked. Lynne first came across VR after joining Thomas Cook around two years ago.
“They had managed to get their hands on an Oculus Rift DKII, and we had the funds to play about with it. In partnership with Visualise, we created the New York experience. There were some very fun parts to the demo, for example we actually mounted a camera on the roof of a yellow cab as it drove through Time Square.”
As well as jazz music and bright lights, there are also some harrowing parts of the experience, namely a visit to Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 bombings.
“We wanted to include the Ground Zero scene, and make it appropriate to what the viewer was seeing, so we cut the audio to just natural sound.”
With highly immersive platforms like VR, something as simple as the removal of a soundtrack can be massively effective. Lynne says that the power of VR for travel lies in helping the customer have a real experience, make choices and reach decisions.
But which main player will win the headset war, and which is her favourite?
“They’re two very different questions! The google cardboard is cheap and easy to use, it helps bring VR into homes. But for us the Samsung Gear VR has been great for bringing a high quality, immersive, Virtual Reality experience into the public domain. But the market is growing everyday, there’s so much more coming. I truly believe it will change the way we do a lot of things.”
With HTC releasing their own take on the headset next year, and the Oculus Rift consumer version steadily approaching, there’s definitely a lot to be excited about. And there’s also rumours surrounding the fairest tech company of them all, Apple Inc. Rumours began to circulate after they posted a very intriguing job offer.
“Apple mistakenly posted an advert for a VR related technical design job,” said Lynne, “But they quickly took it down.”
Who knows what they might be planning – but if you know anything at all about Apple products, it will probably be stunningly designed and have an ‘i’ at the beginning of its name.
So the travel industry has established that you can sell a holiday with VR technology, but what else can you do? What trends are emerging within this area, and how do companies keep up with them? As per usual with anything tech related, the emphasis is on making the seemingly impossible possible. In keeping with this, one trend has emerged which takes down the barriers between everyday people and the famous names of the fashion industry. Prestigious style events were once the premise of designers, celebrities, and privileged press pass holders, but now both Elle and Topshop have used VR to stream real-time catwalk shows to their followings. Picture this: you’re sat in front row seats with Beyoncé and Jay-Z to one side and the Beckhams on the other, watching supermodels in weird and wonderful outfits strut up and down to jaunty music. You might not follow fashion, but there’s no denying that the scenario sounds very cool.
The next steps in realtime streaming will take the viewer to sporting events like tennis matches (imagine watching Andy Murray play whilst eating strawberries and cream with his mum) and football games. This trend will also be applied to the music industry. Didn’t manage to get hold of those Glastonbury tickets? Never mind! Through their suppliers, sports tournaments, festivals and also one-off concerts will be able to sell the experience of the event without requiring the person’s physical presence. If you’re not up for the muddy struggles to the unthinkable Glasto portaloos, it’s a win/win situation. It makes you wonder, really – at what point will people give up on the air miles and take a holiday in their front room?
As well as offering live events, VR has been used to create entire stores. Multinational retailers Tesco gave customers a preview of their plans for a new supermarket layout using virtual programming. Viewers were able to walk around the various sections of the shop floor, as they would during a weekly or monthly grocery shop. Fashion label Ted Baker have also created an online virtual store, which can be navigated using laptop arrow keys, or by tapping a touchscreen. Argos have revealed their own virtual store too, which shows the new layout plans for their physical shop floors. Although at the moment these stores are accessible to the public through a computer screen, it won’t be long before they are created into fully immersive virtual environments.
Another particularly interesting development is the shoppable tag. These tags allow for instant purchasing whilst within the virtual experience, and in theory they could be applied to all virtual experiences – for example, you could buy a T-shirt from a virtual concert. Ted Baker have incorporated the tags into their digital shop, and it’s not hard to imagine this feature as part of a fashion show. Through using the shoppable tag, companies won’t only be able to offer a try-before-you-buy service, but a buy-right-now one, too. In other words, virtual experiences will capitalise on impulse buying.
Another trend comes in the form of seeing the virtual experience, whatever that may be, through different eyes. For instance, the Patron distillery at Jalisco, Mexico, have created a virtual tour called ‘The Art of Patron’, which is delivered through the eyes of a bee. The bee flies through the processes of creating the spirit, and ends with the finished product standing majestically on a sun-bleached porch. It really does transform vodka into the perfect result of devoted craftsmanship, and making vodka of all things look elegant is no mean feat. Through showing customers how a product is created, brands can enhance the image of their products. Consumers will always want to know if something has been made well, and by experiencing it (just like having a brewery tour) the appreciation for the thing itself increases. Stella Artois also chose to deliver their tour of Wimbledon from the skies, using a hawk called Rufus. Both brands use the flights of their mascots to their advantage, creating something even more out of the ordinary with which to awe their viewers. It makes the viewer want to invest in that brand due to an increased connection to it. How long before the honey bee of Jack Daniels gets to star in its own virtual flight? In fact, the Famous Grouse distillery at Glenturret in Scotland already has a primitive virtual flying experience as part of their distillery tour, and have done for years. Could they be looking to enhance their brand with a tour of the Scottish highlands? Watch this space…
It’s important at this point to emphasise the significance of the rise of the smartphone. Admittedly your grandparents might not own one, but a staggering 85% of the population do. Smartphone culture has had what appears to be a huge impact on the retail sector. Companies and brands haven’t just had to evolve to accommodate a surge in online shopping, but also mobile shopping too. That’s why cardboard headsets are such a good tool for extending company information. But not everyone has a smartphone, or an android phone for that matter, so how can they be exposed to mobile VR? Even if someone doesn’t own a smartphone, say for instance my own grandparents, they will still have some access to one, e.g., mine. Using my phone, I can show them virtual experiences. That’s something you can’t necessarily do with a headset, because in most cases it’s not exactly going to be something you keep in your back pocket.
Through its extensive range of capabilities, VR had allowed for a number of trends to spring up. Because you can bring all existing media into virtual spaces, almost anything can be done with it. You could be watching a premier league football match on TV whilst actually in a VR experience – maybe even checking out which tablet you want to buy in a virtual store. You can see the world through the eyes of an insect no bigger than your fingernail. And if this is all happening now, what trends will come next? No doubt they will incorporate other rising technologies. A marriage between 3D printing and VR will make the experience even more personalised, and not to mention much quicker. Even more time will be shaved off when online shopping means downloading a product directly to your own printer. Add cognitive computing to the mix and you could have an actual, high-street retail experience that’s almost entirely mechanic.