Published: 23 May 2016 Lets get this out of the way: I’m excited about VR. Despite my previous insistence that I would never again be in the first-wave of purchasers of new technology, something about VR has me fascinated.

Perhaps that fascination is tied to growing up in the early 90s, where the promise of future-tech like hoverboards, dinosaur zoos and this crazy thing called “the internet” seemed just around the corner. Whatever the reason, I’m enthralled by the possibilities that a simple Head Mounted Display offers not only for my inner child, but for the changes it will bring to worldwide industry, and especially the world of marketing.

There are many obstacles in the way between that time and now, however there are very clear solutions to getting over them.

Challenge #1: Awareness

Currently there are four ‘echelons’ of VR for consumers. Starting from the bottom rung we have the flimsy Cardboard VR offerings (£10-£20), then the Samsung Gear VR (£80), the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift (£499) and finally the HTC Vive (£689). At about 6 weeks since the two latter headsets launched, there are only an estimated 90-110K units in consumer’s hands. “Hands” is a quite an apt term to use, as the Vive boasts the inclusion of touch-controllers that allow users to interact with the virtual space, by touching, picking up and throwing objects – as seen below in wish-fulfilment game, Job Simulator.

Marketing VR in the early stages (which we are still in) is an intensely satisfying process to observe and brainstorm about. Even though VR has been getting resurgence in publicity since the Oculus Rift Kickstarter way back in 2013, I regularly speak to people in my industry who still have no idea that the technology exists on a consumer level.

How it will be overcome:

Luckily for VR, video content like Job Simulator naturally lends itself to viral sharing and outreach. YouTube Partner collaboration has been instrumental here, as famous gaming and tech channels were gifted various VR headsets to play and experiment with, as well as review, un-box or take apart. Big names like Wired and PewDiePie are giving a big push to consumer interest in VR technology, and TV News stations like CNN are now featuring the technology. However, there is another key problem here…

Challenge #2: People don't really 'get it' until they try it

Awareness simply isn’t enough to really sell the concept. Now that I have my own HTC Vive I can truly say that all the reviews and videos just don’t get the message across. As Morpheus said in 1999 documentary The Matrix, “No-one can be told what [it] is… You have to see it for yourself.”

To put it another way, imagine if you were told to market the concept of heat to a world full of people who had never experienced it. You can write the world’s greatest copy, but the majority of people wouldn’t be sold until they sat down in front of a fireplace. It’s the reason Alexis Sitaropoulos of Contiki brought a pair of Samsung Gear VRs in to his talk at our annual TravelTech Labs event: You really have got to see it to believe it, and with a price tag this high it takes belief to sell.

How it will be overcome:
The early stage of truly positioning VR in the consumer mindset depends on widespread demonstration campaigns. Once the initial lack of availability calms down, you’ll be able to walk into any Currys or PC World in the country and try out one of these headsets for yourself. From then on it becomes a case of the consumer becoming an ambassador by demo-ing them to friends and family (something I'm currently doing). To see how effective this is, you need only take to YouTube and see the videos of excited early-adopters showing their grandma how it feels to stand at the bottom of the ocean with a Blue Whale, or letting their dad board Apollo 11 as it makes it’s historical landing on the Moon – all with huge smiles on their faces as VR instantly ‘clicks’ for them.

In short, the fuss about VR won’t really make sense until you try it, but with more and more owners and stores offering demos, the odds of you getting that opportunity are becoming more likely every day. And that means that more and more brands will want to get on board as the user-base increases. Which brings us to our third challenge.

Challenge #3: The price of producing content is too high for most

This is something I hear a lot about video.

For those who aim to develop VR apps and film 360 video for marketing purposes, you might guess that the price would reach into the hundreds of thousands, and honestly there’s no reason it can’t. Recently even the directors of Avengers: Infinity War were talking about “using” VR in the upcoming movie.

Hollywood aspirations aside, the general presumption people make is “its expensive enough to create video content. I don’t even want to consider what making VR content would cost.”

How it will be overcome:
In fairness, that presumption makes total sense. VR means 3D, which means a 3D camera, which means more complication and a higher cost. And that’s before we consider things like apps and game “experiences”, like Ikea’s recent release of a 3D virtual space designed for viewing and walking around a new kitchen design. That’s a big undertaking, but you needn’t consider a team of 3D Modellers and Developers to consider producing VR content.

Just a few days ago, Facebook made the news with the release of their own 360 camera, as well as allowing 360 videos and photos to be hosted on your own timelines. The good news is that the tech required for creating this content is incredibly cheap! 360 cameras compatible with Facebook/YouTube can be purchased for as little as £300, and with an entry price that low, you can soon expect stock photo/video sites to start jumping on the bandwagon, so after a little while you wont even have to shoot the footage yourself.

You might ask “whats the point of 360 videos and photos anyway?”

Well as this is a burgeoning new technology, and with that comes the advantage of being one of the few brands actually producing content for that technology. As you may already know, retention rates for Facebook videos rapidly drop off after just a few seconds, but you can bet that giving a user a “new toy to play with” via a 360 video is going to keep their eyes on the content (and more importantly your message) a lot more than a simple video.

VR technology is being taken advantage of as we speak, and it won’t be long before it becomes the norm. We at Sagittarius will soon be purchasing our own 360 camera and I’m terribly excited to begin coming up with content with it, as well as thinking of ways we can use it to help our clients.

For now though I think I’ll dive back into Job Simulator...

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