Controlling the VR and AR narrative at Advertising Week

Early adopters sound off on how brands can engage consumers through virtual reality and augmented reality.

L-R: Eric Grant, Jerry Hudson, Michael Kuntz, Gene Lewis, Daniela Lobo, Timothy Whitney on a panel on virtual reality at Advertising Week.
L-R: Eric Grant, Jerry Hudson, Michael Kuntz, Gene Lewis, Daniela Lobo, Timothy Whitney on a panel on virtual reality at Advertising Week.

NEW YORK: Brands that can make virtual reality and augmented reality experiences feel nothing like marketing will make the best use of the nascent technologies, tech junkies from the agency and client worlds said Wednesday at an Advertising Week event.

"The VR medium has been around for 30 years and getting better and better," said Daniela Lobo, brand and digital strategy director at SapientNitro. "But you could even challenge that and say the Sistine Chapel from the 1400s was an immersive experience, a way to get people into that transformative world."

MediaPost’s Online Marketing Media and Advertising AR/VR event was hosted by Absolut Labs director Afdhel Aziz, who delivered the keynote about the vodka company’s high-publicity VR gaming app, Absolut deadmau5.

Aziz recapped the process in which his team created a campaign at scale with universal appeal while harnessing the power of mobile, incorporating VR, and promoting a message consistent with its brand.

"It launched to massive publicity [in June]; we were lucky it was a week before Pokémon Go — thank God," Aziz said. "The numbers have been great and the immersiveness of people wanting to spend time in what is a ‘brand experience’ to the point of being experiential is fantastic. If you create stuff that’s so compelling, people stop thinking of it as advertising; they will tell their friends about it and be immersed in that world as well."

A growing body of research shows the AR and VR hype is real, with SnapChat and Pokémon Go being two of its greatest success stories. Some analysts have said the anticipation may reach critical mass as consumers flock to buy headsets this holiday season, transforming the curiosity technology into a $2 billion industry.

The panelists were giddy about that proposition.

Asked by moderator Eric Grant of Razorfish where they see the industry in the next couple decades, Digital Pulp chief digital creative officer Gene Lewis said, "Tinder VR."

Building teams to handle VR content has also presented a challenge because talent is in short supply, which is compounded by the high price tag of hardware.

"[It] is something we’re probably all hurting for," Lewis said. "So you look to build from internal. The excitement this is instilling in people is the feeling I had back in 1998 and 99, that excitement of constant evolution and newness, and we’ve been wanting for that for a while now. So there are a lot of people willing to take the leap."

The panelists said the augmented reality and virtual reality revolution will affect the healthcare, education, travel, cause, automotive, retail, and entertainment industries.

However, another challenge is getting both clients and employees comfortable with the technology, said Jerry Hudson, VP of future experiences and head of FutureX Lab at Moxie.

"We like to bring in [all our] employees, so they know what it is and can talk about it smartly to the clients," Hudson said. "But we love bringing in the clients, too, having innovation days or a drive-by to the office, so they can experience it. It’s an education process."

"It might be more helpful to think of it as experiential than a traditional media asset," added Timothy Whitney, VP of production, studio at Rain.

When it comes to "wowing" the clients into asking for a VR project, first-hand experience with the technology is the surest way to describe it. Lewis said his agency is most effective selling at a convention.

"That invitation is a powerful first step," he said. "What convinces our clients is allowing someone to emotionally connect, because they’re part of something, rather than have them observe or read about it. That’s a level of practicality that completely resonates."

The bulkiness of the devices are a problem, too, but as the technology accelerates and makes them more portable, the panelists said there should be a commensurate rise in sales and interest.

"Yes, the devices themselves are certainly a big part of what’s going to drive this forward, but the amount of content out there available to experience isn’t quite there, as well," said Michael Kuntz, SVP of digital at USA Today Network. "But as you see more content creators enter that space, that’s when you will see a big take-off."

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