Emerging TechnologyAR & VRWhat the future holds for AR and VR

What the future holds for AR and VR

Despite all the hype, AR and VR haven’t yet achieved critical mass, but the best is yet to come. Here are four things to keep in mind as that happens.

Remember how a couple of years ago, the whole industry seemed to be buzzing about virtual reality?

It was the star of trade shows like Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress. Facebook launched Oculus Rift. Brands like Marriott and McDonald’s were creating really cool experiences. And then the conversation seemed to stagnate.

VR and augmented reality—which involves virtual elements superimposed in the physical world, like a Snapchat filter—didn’t blow up when or how we thought it would, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead, like all those thinkpieces said it was.

By the way, other things that have been declared “dead” include email, The Internet of Things, YouTube, Snapchat, TV and… OK, fine, MySpace actually is dead. What those things have in common is that they were forced to evolve as the world around them changes.

“Some people thought it would become a daily habit of all users to put on a headset every day. But they overlooked what you’re actually asking somebody to do: Tune out the entire rest of the world and give their undivided attention to the VR experience,” says Alex Krawitz, SVP of Content Development at Firstborn, a digital agency which has created immersive VR experiences for brands like Mountain Dew and Patrón. “Compare that to mobile or any other screen, where it’s pretty easy to multitask.”

There are still some obstacles facing VR and AR before they achieve critical mass, such as the bulkiness of the hardware and the expense, both for the people creating content and consuming it. There are also some misconceptions about the technology that marketers need to keep in mind. Here, we debunk four of them:

1. VR and AR aren’t interchangeable

VR and AR obviously have a lot in common, but they’re not mutually exclusive. Brands can use both, the way Patrón has an immersive VR experience that gives consumers a behind-the-scenes view of its tequila production and a complementary AR app with a chatty bartender.

According to Krawitz, clients often ask which technology they should use, or if they should opt for AR because they assume it’s cheaper. It can be, but comes with its own hurdles.

Because AR involves a virtual element in the real world, it requires an app. According to an App Annie report from May, the average consumer only uses nine apps each day.

“Downloading an app is a lot to ask of the user, but there’s a small window of time where someone will try an AR experience just to try it,” he adds. “Thinking of utility and entertainment, it just has to be useful.”

2. VR requires different skills than standard video

One mistake Cortney Harding, founder of VR/AR agency Friends With Holograms, sees often is marketers trying to take VR into their own hands. While brands are increasingly taking whatever they can in-house, VR is a tricky one to pull off because standard video people don’t necessarily translate.

“VR requires a whole new language,” says Harding. “You need someone who knows how to shoot in VR, how to design in VR and how to think in VR. If you’re trying to make ads in VR without truly understanding how to do it, it’s almost always going to lead to failure.”

Harding recommends that marketers experiment with 360-degree cameras and hone their VR skills, but leave things to an expert until those skills are more developed.

3. There are opportunities beyond huge executions

“Branded VR experiences” is often synonymous with the huge blockbuster executions where you’re virtually snowboarding with pros or flying a Star Wars aircraft. There are plenty of opportunities for marketers that aren’t so big or so expensive (Forrester Research reports that a fully interactive ad could cost upwards of $500,000.)

Krawitz sees particularly high potential in not just the gaming space, but B2B.

VR and AR can allow prospective customers to interact with your product. They can also serve as a training tool, something KFCnot a B2B brand, but innovative nonethelesshas already experimented with.

4. Valuable analytics

VR technology is well-regarded as a platform for data visualization, allowing researchers to see complex data sets in a different way. VR and AR can also provide marketers with valuable data, some of which is similar to typical video metrics and some of which is more sophisticated.

Google’s guide to video ad performance includes number and length of views, clicks within the video ad and engagement with interactive elements. However, not even Google can tell whether someone was actually paying attention to the video or if it was just playing in the background, ignored.

VR analytics tell marketers much time people spend in an experience and more importantly, what exactly they’re doing there. Heat mapping features let it be known where the user’s eyes are at any given moment. And because the technology demands people’s undivided attention, the experience is inherently engaging. New research from video platform YuMe and Isobar found that VR advertising is highly memorable, with 70% aided brand recall across the ads.

What’s next?

VR and AR’s “shiny new object” status seems to have transferred over to artificial intelligence (AI), which could potentially play a huge role in the technology’s future.

“AI can play a role in how people use VR experiences, but not if you Frankenstein something together. It has to be a natural integration,” says Krawitz.

That’s all speculative, of course. But one thing Harding is sure of is that VR and AR will get much bigger, even if it doesn’t happen the way people initially expected.

“My sense is that next year, we’re going to start seeing a really slow ramp-up and then it’s going to be a hockey stick,” she says. “Mark Zuckerberg wants to get a billion people in VR. That Facebook is so committed to make this happen gives me a lot of hope.”

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