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How virtual reality will bring brands further into our headspace, changing the way we work and play

AOL’s Arthur Tindsley explores how virtual reality will enable brands to make meaningful connections with customers.

It is now a case of when, not if, virtual reality (VR) will become mainstream. With the advent of more and more VR hardware, from Facebook’s Oculus Rift which just recently announced the availability and pricing of its headset, to Sony’s PlayStation VR and HTC’s Vive, VR is poised to be a platform that completely reinvents how we work, play, share and collaborate.

Consumer spending on VR hardware and software could reach $21.8bn by 2020, according to one report. That’s not to mention Microsoft’s augmented reality (AR) hardware, the HoloLens, which layers the digital world on top of the real one.

Having been at this year’s SxSW, it was clear how prevalent the technology world believes VR (and AR) is going to be in the next generation of consumer and business experiences. From experiencing life under the ocean to riding rollercoasters, and from standing on a 3D rendition of Mars through images relayed from Nasa’s Curiosity rovers to first-person shooters that immerse you in the game like nothing before, VR is, almost literally, another world of escapism.

What really interests me though is how this technical medium will enable brands to talk to their customers. As John Rousseau, executive director at Artefact said at SxSW, VR allows us to mainline into users’ consciousness. So it’s imperative that we in the media world start thinking now about how we help brands make meaningful connections to consumers through these devices and not simply wait to see what this new wave of technology will do. Gone are the days where the catch-all term ‘digital’ meant throwing your brand’s print or TV ad into ‘online’ – we’re seeing the results of lazy, interruptive and intrusive executions with consumers choosing to block advertisers in their browser and through their apps. We can’t allow the same mistakes to be made when brands inevitably begin to want to find consumers in this new, highly interactive and highly immersive environment.

Being a creative technologist, I get to try my hand at the latest tech: some of which is really exciting, some of course less so. VR for me has the potential to create incredible branded experiences that consumers will absolutely choose to engage with. Imagine your next movie trailer puts you as the main character as you fight the bad guys or battle a dragon. Imagine being able to get a flavour of what your favourite theme park is like before booking your tickets – interacting with some of the rides and meeting some of your favourite characters. Imagine being able to bring your business to life virtually for your consumers, or even being able to be ‘in the same room’ with your business partners. As Confucius said: “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

If we work hard now to find the best, and right, ways to engage with audiences through this new medium on behalf of brands, it can only be a win for the marketing industry in the long run. VR will open up amazing new ways to connect with consumers for a whole host of different verticals – I am envisaging applications from entertainment to retail, from automotive to travel and many more. I’m massively excited to be getting in on this early. Let’s see where this new world takes us.

Arthur Tindsley is a London-based creative technologist at AOL UK

This piece features in The Drum's special 20 April issue which has been guest edited by BMB co-founder Trevor Beattie.

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