Nolan O’Connor, Director at NOC Marketing Consultants and CMO at ASP, looks at what virtual reality could bring to retail.
The events and leisure industries have always been about giving people an emotional experience, meeting or doing business face-to-face. The invention of virtual reality headsets, which provide the wearer with an immersive 360˚ visual experience, is bringing events, brand sponsors and their audience closer together while being in different locations.
Specially commissioned films can take the headset wearer to a museum allowing them to walk around and view the exhibits, backstage at a fashion show, on a helicopter ride, or around a retailer’s flagship store.
Spearheading the experiences, are the live entertainment and gaming markets which have always been amongst the first to take on new experiential technology. Think Universal Studios. You see it in cinemas with 3D Glasses and 4D experiences in the likes of Madam Tussauds where brands are trying to give someone an experience they might not be able to get somewhere else in order to sell tickets. Some retailers too have been trying out the technologies and different headsets, testing the Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, the Playstation Morpheus and the Google Cardboard offering which utilises the wearer’s smartphone. Most of them have only been available as developer models but Facebook, as owner of the Oculus Rift, has announced that it will be launching the Oculus at some point in the first three months of 2016.
Red Bull is known for creating fun and exciting events. The Red Bull Air Race is just one of them. The brand teamed up with visual arts studio Rewind RX by utilising the power of Oculus Rift to give consumers a taster of getting behind the controls of an Edge 540 aerobatic plane and experience the pace, twist and turns that a pilot goes through during the course of a race. Experiential marketing at its best!
Other Oculus examples include Canon and its sponsorship of London Fashion Week. It produced an experience of what it might be like to be a fashion model walking down the catwalk in Covent Garden; the manic environment that actually goes on back stage and what a model goes through before being rushed onto the catwalk. It gives a different perspective of the event. River Island became the first fashion brand to use Google Cardboard technology to make film content interactive when it partnered with the British Fashion Council and Google to unveil a CGI film experience and virtual reality app during London Fashion Week in February. Shoppers were also given their own Cardboard headset when they purchased from the Design Forum x Jean-Pierre Braganza collection that featured in the film.
Thomas Cook is introducing virtual reality content and headsets into a number of stores in the UK, Belgium and Germany following a trial at Bluewater during August last year. The initiative will allow customers to view a range of holiday experiences before they buy. These include a helicopter tour of Manhattan, a trip to the pool at a SENTIDO resort in Rhodes or a visit to the restaurant in a SunConnect resort in Cyprus.
With Facebook and the gaming industry taking virtual reality into people’s home from the end of this year and Google’s response to Oculus available for just £4.95 it is a technology that will soon be on the rise.
Whether consumers’ experience of virtual reality comes from a travel agent, a fashion retailer or a brand-sponsored event the experience is the same – immersive and engaging. Will these same people go on to buy products? If used in the right way the Oculus or Google Cardboard could bring them closer to the brand or product and in the way that any positive engagement is good news for retailers, it’s the same skills that are then needed to turn that engagement into sales.