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Immersive Advertising is Becoming a (Virtual) Reality for Brands

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/03/2016 Advertising Week

By Susan Smith Ellis, Chief Marketing Officer, Getty Images

Technology is changing the way people lead their lives and experience the world around them. From virtual reality to augmented reality, tech is opening up new ways to engage our senses and has given us the opportunity to travel to real or fabricated places without ever leaving our sofas. Naturally, advertisers need to experiment with these new ways of interacting in order to serve more compelling content that meets the consumers’ growing appetite for more lifelike and immersive experiences.

Virtual reality is increasingly becoming readily accessible. 2014 saw the launch of Google Cardboard - the DIY virtual headset - which is available for consumers to purchase at an affordable price. 2016 is set to be huge for VR, with Oculus Rift all set to launch to consumers later this month, which will no doubt open up a whole host of opportunities for advertisers. It’s safe to say that this market will only grow and that we will see a range of new entrants and innovations appear over the coming months and years. A new report by Digi-Capital predicts that investment in augmented reality has already reached $1.1bn in 2016 so far. Furthermore, about 14m virtual reality devices are expected to sell worldwide this year according to TrendForce. It’s clear that the desire for VR is already here and growing fast.

It therefore comes as no surprise that brands are jumping on the VR bandwagon very quickly. Earlier this month, McDonald’s Sweden developed Happy Meal boxes that are easily transformed into VR headsets. The limited run of 3,500 ‘Happy Goggles’ were made available at 14 McDonald’s restaurants across northern Sweden. You could argue that this is just a fun and fast marketing ploy from McDonald’s to tap into the demand for VR rather than a fully formed campaign, however it does demonstrate the impact and consumer excitement around this technology and thus opens the doors for more advanced uses from brands in the future. 

When in 2015 The New York Times mailed out 13-million Google Cardboard sets with its Sunday newspaper, technology giants WIRED commented that, “We had a collective sense that our kids were experiencing something meaningfully new. Not just an encounter with a new technology, but with a new way of relating to technology.” It is this ‘new way of relating to tech’ that is the most striking. While these DIY cardboard VR sets are still in their infancy, consumers are getting used to interacting with them to the point where it will seem incredibly natural, and almost expected. We have witnessed interactive advertising thanks to the likes of Facebook and Instagram, so the natural evolution is immersion.

McDonald’s is not the only brand to be riding the VR wave. In February this year, Coca-Cola also released a tutorial demonstrating how to make VR sets out of old Coke bottles. If two of the world’s biggest brands are looking at how this piece of tech can revolutionise experiences, there is definitely something to it.

However, the impact of these new technologies also hinges on the assets being available to use with them. Our photographers are already shooting 360 content and last year at Getty Images, we announced that we’d be making our premium 360 degree imagery available for the Oculus Rift VR sets. The availability of 360 content will play to consumers desire for immersion, by offering a deeply engaging VR experience of beautiful creative stills, alongside some of the world’s biggest moments in sports and entertainment, be it the Olympics or the Oscars.

The future for VR looks bright. As the technology grows more intelligent through trial and error and people become accustomed to using it in daily life, marketers and advertisers can harness VR to create truly immersive campaigns. Like, hiking boot brand Merrell, who launched a VR ad this year which allowed the audience to feel as though they’re walking over a rickety bridge in the mountains, immersing them in the type of adventures that they could have should they buy Merrell hiking boots.

Imagine a world where rather than rushing out for Boxing Day sales, shoppers can access the local shopping centre whilst still tucking into turkey leftovers. Wonders of the world that people once stared at with wide eyes during documentaries will be a click away through the headset.

Other than the obvious novelty and excitement around VR that makes it an ideal marketing tool, it is also quickly becoming the only truly immersive experience to capture people on an emotional level. By putting on a VR headset all exterior sounds and sights are blocked out, the person is transported and cocooned in the world that has been created for them – a world that is personal, tactile and captivating.

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