TL;DR: Despite virtual reality entering the mainstream market in the past 12 months, the industry is already projecting a massive revolution in how consumers interact with content on social media.
The biggest shakeup in social media has been a long-time coming: Despite virtual reality having been around the 1950s, the technology is now gaining steam for both brands and consumers as a democratization of the technology occurs.
Marketers will soon need to leave the world of mobile-first for headset-first: Conference after conference is crawling with VR vendors. The key theme (both production, creative + technology) is switching to headset first — not browser/mobile. I’m not a purist in this instance, if the experience is good and consumers are going to watch, engage and create a connection with a brand then let’s distribute it.
It was just last month when the world saw the real-life application of VR with Facebook’s debut Facebook Spaces, using the Oculus Rift VR software and headset that the first acquired in 2014. Live 360, interactive VR, special audio and atmospheric rooms to enhance the VR experience are already in limited use but the storytelling is yet to catch up.
For marketers it is now easier than ever to shoot, edit and promote a 360 video on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo. In reality some of the best quality 360 is created with a series of RED cameras (in a jerry-rigged kind of situation) which doesn't come cheap. But as audiences become more accustomed to the format, the importance of creating REAL VR with a defined story and a reason to explore all aspects of the video is bubbling to the top of priority list.
At one session at SXSW started with the statement: “If you count views as a success measure of 360, you can leave the room now." Admittedly I adjusted myself in my seat and put my burrito away. This particular panel, stacked with some of the best minds in 360 production struck a consistent chord: No one was overly animated about a particular style of VR that was creating an experience that couldn’t feasibly be done in traditional ad format.
But the big question lingers: WHY 360? Why invest in the production time and equipment now that the organic reach benefit of 360 for Facebook has declined? And let’s be real – it’s hard to get a consumer into a headset to watch your 360 video ad on Facebook. The answer requires more research to support it, but if beyond novelty, VR has the opportunity to drive a much deeper connection between a consumer and a brand or idea.
There was a fantastic example of this at SXSW where The Home Depot had created a VR experience where participants strap on a headset with two controls and stack boxes in a Home Depot warehouse — WHAT EVEN IS THIS? — this is what I thought as I mocked it on Snapchat. The reality? There was a sizable line of badge holders waiting to stack boxes for three to four minutes with the Home Depot.
The democratization of the VR continues with evolution in capabilities and the accessibility of the format. It’s this opening up of the ability to create that will likely define ways of creating meaningful narrative for VR video moving forward. Oh and if everyone could carry a VR headset on the bus when they see one of our 360 mobile ads that would be grand.