Virtual reality, or VR, has been the next big thing for a long time now. I never really took it seriously and paid it little attention, assuming the technology was still a long way from commercialization. But just within the last four weeks, I’ve come into contact with virtual reality on several occasions. I can’t help but think that VR might actually be here now, and it’s starting to make a splash.
AdAge has put VR on its list of trends to watch for 2016. Marketers should heed their advice that consumers are increasingly craving experiences rather than merely purchasing physical goods, and the growing gaming and entertainment industry looks poised to more heavily lean on virtual reality, making the technology a must-have if you want to stay in touch with this segment of consumers.
Ocean Spray, the Massachusetts-based co-op making the majority of cranberry juices and snacks, recently came to campus for an information session. And it was very unexpected that they brought with them two Oculus Rift headsets, hooked up to MacBook Pros. It turns out that the company, in its push into international markets, but even within the U.S., has noticed that most people no little to nothing about how cranberries are grown and harvested. For the last few years they’ve brought real, miniature cranberry bogs to cities around the country as a promotional tool to raise awareness and educate consumers about how their grower-owners make a living.
Now Ocean Spray has entered the space age, employing VR to take consumers along for the ride for a day of cranberry harvesting. They let everyone at the info session put on the headsets and sent us on the experience of The Most Beautiful Harvest (follow this link to check out the short video and you can get the 360 degree experience on your computer as well). At first I felt silly moving my head every which way, but soon I really thought I was right there. You can look around and see what’s going on all around you, see the cranberry bogs, see the farmers standing in them and going about their harvest work. It was really quite amazing (and a little unsettling when you looked down and instead of seeing your knees and feet you see the road or the bog below you). Ocean Spray is going to take this VR experience on the road, enhancing it even further with an entire booth that will make it feel even more real by blowing wind and the smells of the cranberry bog at you. This is a whole new phase of marketing – and rather than marketing their products, their marketing the experience and enhancing customer knowledge and awareness. In other words, Ocean Spray, together with a handful of other, non-tech firms, is already ahead of the trends for next year.
And so is TOMS Shoes. The California-based company known for its “One for One” business philosophy where if you buy one pair of shoes, another will go to a child in need in the developing world is taking cause marketing to the next level with VR. TOMS is using VR to prove they’re as good as they say they are and to increase charitable giving. Their film, which you can watch on YouTube or in select stores on a Samsung VR headset, takes the viewer on a road trip, or Giving Trip, as TOMS calls it, to a village in Peru, and experience first hand the joy of the children receiving shoes and other much needed items. Again, it’s all about the experience.
It is also quite astonishing how well these 360 degree view films are already integrated on YouTube and other platforms where you can use the arrow keys or a little icon in the corner of the screen to change to angle and view everything around you in a bird’s eye perspective.
Lastly, the New York Times recently sent out little cardboard VR sets. At first I didn’t know what this weir box was, but then I looked it up on their website, and it turns out that together with your smartphone and headphones, you can now experience (yes, experience!) news from around the world in a new, immersive way.
I’m curious to see where it will take the world of marketing and news reporting, in addition to creating whole new ways of enjoying games and entertainment. This new emphasis on experiences is definitely a very different approach than directly peddling your wares, and in my opinion, it makes being marketed to more enjoyable. So after years of only hearing about virtual reality, having experienced it first-hand and having VR pop up left, right, and center, I believe there is good reason that the technology has arrived for real this time around.