Virtual Reality – It’s a Thing Now

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 comments

  1. I think no technology has ever completely followed the hype cycle more than VR. My wife and I just watched Disclosure, a sort of mediocre-but-decent mid ’90s movie based on the Michael Crichton book of the same name. In the movie, Michael Douglas works at a Seattle-based tech company that is working on, among other things, a virtual reality system. It’s almost laughable how primitive it looks, but people really did think that VR was a thing in the mid-late 90s. It only took about 20 years for the technology to catch up, and honestly, having used the Oculus Rift, we aren’t quite there yet.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Rift is extremely cool, but we’re just not quite there in terms of resolution, dealing with the visual/spatial/inertial disconnect, and computing power. My brother had to spend like $1500 on a pretty beefy desktop computer to run the Rift well, and even that doesn’t keep the frame rate high enough to overcome some of the nausea/headache issues.

    We’re closer than we’ve ever been to realizing useful VR, but we are at least two generations of hardware away from it being viable for the mass market. I don’t think the latest generation of game consoles has the processing/graphics hardware to run it well, despite Sony/MS’s claims to the contrary – so that’s going to be a barrier to adoption as well.

  2. I completely agree with Jonah. VR is a great application of computing and human-computer interaction that, as far as im concerned is finally here to stay, but it will need some time to mature. I’m currently developing a few different applications in VR both for the Rift and Cardboard VR, but to be perfectly honest, both platforms come with some nausea and disorientation. Once pixel densities get around the 500+ ppi range on screens in VR hardware, then I think we’ll truly be onto something with the medium. Not being able to discern individual pixels will make the entire viewing experience much better and believable. With this change though, computing power will too have to get better. Right now, the cheapest oculus certified pc that is certain to work well with the first consumer version of the rift is $900 which will keep VR from the mass market for at least another few years. It’s certainly exciting though, and as you’ve sighted, already taking off in a number of industries/spaces.

  3. This is a great post, Christine. I believe that virtual reality has tremendous potential, but it may take some time to get there. I agree that the key use is to provide and share experiences. Part of why Facebook bought Oculus VR is that they see the potential for VR to be used as a platform to share experiences. VR follows the natural evolution of platforms like Facebook from initially sharing information through text-based posts, to photos and video, and now VR. It is fascinating how organizations like Ocean Spray are using virtual reality as a way to better inform customers about their product and test out a new form of marketing. Virtual reality seems like it will be especially useful in creating an emotional connection to brands. I noticed the New York Times and TOMS use of virtual reality and tried them out on my phone (without Google Cardboard). I thought it was a cool experience, that builds on the shared experiences of platforms like Snapchat. At the same time, I have some concerns about VR. While it can create more immersive experiences, it may make us even more distracted by technology and less concerned about the actual world around us. I imagine a family physically together, sitting around a dinner table, but each in their own virtual worlds with their VR headsets. Hopefully, we can find a way to harness the potential of this platform, but use it in moderation.

  4. Nice post. I hadn’t really heard of virtual reality until one of the presentations earlier in the semester. I had no idea companies were actually using it to provide additional experience for its customers. I think it will still take a few more years for people to really embrace it, but it seems like you’re right in that VR is here to stay. It will be interesting to see how professional sports organizations use it too. It makes me wonder if VR will hurt ticket sales in the future because people feel that their virtual reality experience is just as good as being at the game. I don’t personally think it will, but it will be interesting to see where it goes.

  5. Nice post, Christine. I was at the American Marketing Association conference this week and one of the vendors was selling VR to “feel” experiences. This company would set up shop outside of city hall and find newly married couples (or people getting their marriage license) and invite them to participate. The couples would be transported to popular honeymoon destinations, like Hawaii, and participants said they could “feel” the heat and humidity. The company would then send them to London via VR, where it was dark, rainy, and gloomy.

    I think VR has a lot of potential for changing the way marketers do business because the opportunities are endless. Marketers need to make sure their messages resonate with customers on an emotional level and VR is a cool way to do this.

  6. When it comes to virtual reality the first thing that came to my mind was the ability to travel without traveling. Google already use 360 cameras to capture street views, and there are sites like 360cities.net that allow users to share 360 photos of famous tourist attractions around the world – I think it’s just a matter of time for 360 cameras/ technology to get popularized and incorporated into our everyday communications. Meanwhile, travel destinations and some brands can already leverage existing technology to enrich customer’s experience or generate more leads like your Ocean Spray case has demonstrated.

  7. Great Post! I think virtual reality is the next big thing. It lets you experience things in a perspective that you may not have the opportunity to if not for virtual reality. For example, I recently watched a video on how Clemson football has started to use virtual reality for their players to use to get ready for each game. The quarterback is able to use the goggles and essentially get practice reps without any physical exertion. This was a great post and i think Virtual reality is the next big hit in our society.

  8. ariellebudney · ·

    Nice post Christine! I’ve been largely oblivious to the progression of VR until taking this class. VR always seemed like some futuristic idea that was better suited for movies than reality, but I’m starting to realize that we’re a lot closer to making this happen than I thought. I think VR has a lot of practical applications, especially in marketing. People always crave experience; it’s not enough to just look at something, we want to be doing something. The downside to this technology is that it could be used to serve as replacement for “real” experiences. I think technology can definitely enhance our lives, but it can be dangerous to get too immersed in it. Good job!

  9. This is a really interesting post! I love thinking about this topic because it seems like the limits are endless. I think its use by OceanSpray is surprising, I would not have associated OceanSpray with this sort of future-esque marketing, but I think it is smart for any brand. I read a blog post earlier that detailed the MLB’s use of VR and I hope the trend continues into other sports! This is exciting and I can’t wait to see how it continues to grow!

  10. Christine, loved your post. I think Ocean’s Spray use of VR is an excellent addition to their Bogs Across America tour. It is very in line with the company’s focus on the “owner growers” as well as their heritage and POD as a company. Overall, I agree with @jonah741 in that mainstream use is still some years away. Our regular computers would need to be able to handle the computing power and the price would need to decrease somewhat as well. That said, it would bring about much richer brand experiences and like @soniamfurtado said, I also think it could greatly impact the future of marketing when you can step into a store, for instance, and completely visualize a room, a product, etc, even if they don’t have it in stock. Thanks for sharing!

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