Blurred Lines in Virtual and Augmented Reality: Marketing Stunt or New Brand Products?



In true SXSW form, I was greeted at the W Hotel entrance on my way into a session by Mark Cuban.

Me: “You’re Mark Cuban!”

Mark Cuban: “Every day.”

This interaction set the tone for the rest of my morning as I joined a stand-out breakfast symposium that aimed to explore the blurred lines of technology meeting branding titled “Let’s Break Tradition: Virtual Reality in Public Relations” hosted by PRWeek & MSLGROUP.

As Robert Scoble transitions from his post next month as Rackspace’s Futurist to UploadVR’s Entrepreneur in Residence, I was interested to hear his thoughts on how brands can leverage this space. Joining him on the panel were Jon Hackett, Director of Emerging Technology, Nurun; Jeff Melton, SVP of Global Technology and Platforms, MSLGROUP; Jim Marggraff, Founder and CEO, Eyefluence; and Tara Kriese, Senior Director, Marketing Samsung Electronics America.

Scoble was adamant that in the next 10 years we are going to see social change – a paradigm shift – that will impact our culture even bigger than the Macintosh computer.

The short-term wins of VR marketing are in the out-of-home experience brands can bring to consumer audiences by bringing smiles to their faces. In our data-driven industry, Scoble suggests that we might take stock of “smiles per experience.” While the VR experience is still only available at on-site activations, the hurdle will be bringing these authentic experiences to scale.

Samsung is cognizant of this. While they hosted a virtual reality lounge at the SXSW to highlight their partnership with Six Flags theme park, they also are about to launch their Gear 360 cameras. Kriese, representing marketing at Samsung, shared their strategy for introducing new technology to the mainstream market.

By tapping into the most pervasive existing technology – the smartphone – Samsung is aiming to get consumers on board with this new realistic photo and video capture. The 360 Gear also provides a rich social storytelling platform for brands. Samsung has already begun working with media makers and influencers who are eager to create content with this new technology.

Having seen the output of this new camera in an image capture of myself talking with others at my table, I can say first-hand this is a new way to capture a moment and bring it to life at a later time. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a brand can tell a complete short story with a 360 immersive image.

Storytelling with VR is merging into the product lane in ways that are only just beginning to take shape. Samsung’s partnership with Six Flags reaches beyond experiential marketing into a new product offering. I had the opportunity to experience the SXSW Samsung VR lounge, featuring the 5D roller coaster: chairs that moved in sync with the VR story. The experience was very immersive and I definitely felt like I was on a roller coaster – admittedly closing my eyes at several points since I’m not the biggest theme park fan.

While that experience brings the virtual world to the end user, I’m even more interested in the opportunity for brands to immerse us in an entirely new realm.

Six Flags locations around the US are starting to roll out their Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus) ride: The New Revolution Virtual Reality Coaster. This experience is the first mainstream product of its kind. Six Flags is not only able to enhance the consumer experience, but along with Samsung’s technology they’ve built a new product.

Other brands have been playing in this space as well. Sephora teamed up with Modiface, an augmented reality mirror to let consumers try on makeup in a virtual capacity back in 2014. The takeaway from SXSW this year is that these are humble beginnings for what could turn into essentially virtual products; an entirely new playground for physical to digital opportunities for brands.

Scoble pointed out on the panel that people have already validated the concept of paying real currency for virtual goods as reflected in the popularity of the game Second Life. As VR and AR adoption rates grow and developers keep exploring, there’s the certain possibility that as humans and consumers, we will be living and consuming somewhere between the real and virtual worlds.

The lines between pure play marketing and product interactions are blurring, as consumers are moving into an integrated and connected world. Where technology is advancing, brands are having to quickly decide which platforms help them not only tell their story in an authentic way but also convert audiences to consumers.

About the author: Marley Kaplan

As Head of Innovation at Kinetic, Marley Kaplan is responsible for activating audiences on-the-move. Marley keeps brands ahead of the curve by leveraging her experience with media agencies, global startups and accelerator programs, including 500 Startups and DreamIt Ventures. She resides on the Lower East Side in New York City.

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