Virtual Reality: What’s Next?

virtual reality

By Samy Simorangkir, Art Director & Lead Motion Designer

On September 28, I attended an Ad Week panel entitled “The Virtual Reality Audience Explained.” Leaders in the field discussed the imminent future of virtual reality (VR), which, in many ways, is already here. Here are some key insights gleaned from the discussion, as well as what they mean for us as social media marketers and content creators.

Predictions for VR in the Coming Year

  • More buzz-worthy content will be created in VR. Consumers will be spreading the word about VR content that they’ve experienced, which will in turn send more viewers to this type of content.
  • We grapple with finding how VR fits in the daily life of the media consumer. Several years ago, the thought of consuming video on your mobile phone was far-fetched. Today, we take it for granted. Many of the panelists predict the same sort of ubiquity with VR in the near future.
  • Brands will have passed the experimentation stage. Right now, the space is new, and we are just dipping our toes in the water with one-off content. Within the year, and we will see a greater focus on strategy, objectives, and best practices.

A World of Potential 

VR allows people to experience an environment they would otherwise not get a chance to. It's huge for journalism. Panelist John Solomon, CCO of Circa News, predicts that every reporter will eventually have a VR camera, and The New York Times has already been employing the use of VR to tremendous results:

It's also huge for brands because a product or service can be brought closer to consumer than ever before. There is an opportunity to create experiences that are not just unidirectional, but where actions of the viewer are directly affecting the content. Since you can’t view the entirety of the content at once, you have viewers returning to engage with the content multiple times to see what they missed. It could contain directional audio, where what you are hearing depends on the direction you are facing. And, as with Jon Favreau’s “Gnomes and Goblins,” the user behavior could directly affect the outcome, which also encourages repeat engagement to see what alternatives will be generated by different actions.

Furthermore, according to Mike Bloxham, SVP of Frank N Magid Associates, VR is "experiential marketing on a mass scale that is measurable." As long as you define what it is you want to measure ahead of time, the insights you gain from VR content about your audience could be invaluable.

Possible Challenges 

With any new platform, there is bound to be some concern or hesitation from the audience. Perhaps the user is a parent who is worried about the effects of VR on their children. Or maybe they are a jaded consumer who thinks it's a gimmick. As marketers, we need to be aware of those concerns and address them before we establish strategies and executions.

One of the main concerns discussed by the panelists is the general trend of shorter attention spans, and the speed at which people consume media today. John Solomon has found that viewers of Circa News tend to drop off at around two minutes, and that a 1:15 length garners an 80% completion rate. VR more often than not requires the viewer to drop everything and engage with the content, as opposed to viewing a static image or traditional video while having several other windows open. It requires some effort to consume and is less conducive to multitasking than other forms of media.

What VR Means for Social Media

Time will reveal what technologies will develop to make virtual reality more ubiquitous on social media platforms. For now, we already have 360 photo and video. Netflix has done an incredible job of promoting their hit "Stranger Things" with a video that immerses you into the environment that exists in the show:

Arguably the most important thing to remember when creating content for 360 or VR is to make sure there is a reason for you to be putting it in this format, and to make sure that it wouldn't work as just a static image or traditional video. Think about if you want the viewer to be immersed in an environment, or if you want to engage them with a game, or if you want the viewer to experience a narrative from a first-person point of view.

One possible way to combat the hindrances to convenience and choice that VR presents is exclusivity. Mike Bloxham makes a comparison to television programming prior to the prominence of on-demand, streaming, and even DVR. TV succeeded back then because a viewer was forced to watch something at a certain time. After that window of time, it was gone. This increases the demand and urgency to consume any given piece of content. It is particularly relevant at a time when live content is booming, with Facebook and Twitter Live, as well as Snaps and Instagram Stories that disappear after a certain amount of time. It could perhaps be the answer to how to get consumers to engage with VR content: Reward the sacrifice of one minute of undivided attention with the chance to view something exclusive that they may never get the chance to see it again. To find the balance between the quality of content and the ease of consumption will continue to be the challenge here as we learn to navigate this new medium, but there is no doubt that it is here to stay — at least for a little while.

What has been your experience with VR in marketing? Do you have any predictions or concerns regarding the future of VR? Tweet me at @silentmacaroni or leave a comment below.