SXSW: When it comes to VR we’re not in Kansas anymore

Whybin\TBWA\Digital Arts Network Sydney
By Whybin\TBWA\Digital Arts Network Sydney | 23 March 2015

Our team from Whybin\TBWA\Digital Arts Network travelled to Austin, TX and SXSW to speak about our experience in Virtual Reality (VR) development and building a branded VR experience for our former client NRMA Insurance. Turns out, we were one of many teams drinking the VR Kool-Aid as SXSW 2015 saw a plethora of VR content producers, developers, hardware makers and general enthusiasts discussing ideas and promoting their latest inventions.

But in this world of endless 360 3D fantasies, what truly constitutes a 'virtual reality' experience and how can brands take advantage of this amazing new experiential tech?

Does a 360 video played through a mobile phone, strapped really close to your eyes count as a VR experience? Is something automatically considered VR because it's played through a VR headset? Or does VR only come into its own when users are transported into a multisensory virtual-world environment where they can see, hear, feel and explore the world around them?

We believe the opportunity for brands in VR exists when the audience is able to FEEL something, not merely see it. All things considered, the SXSW verdict is still out regarding the role of VR for advertisers and brand experiences. While the accessible platforms such as Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR are ripe for 360 video experiences, they may lack the processing power to run intense computer generated graphics. Plugging into a home PC, the processing power is certainly available to run incredible interactive simulations at over 60 FPS, but some hardware makers still seem more focused on the gaming side of VR and see it very much as a home-bound activity.

VR is still in its absolute infancy, so it’s a bit early to make a judgement call. That said, one thing's for sure: the weird and wonderful world of VR is moving at light speed. We were lucky enough to preview some exciting new demos in Austin and our minds were blown, even more so than our first Virtual Reality experiences. Due to confidentiality agreements we can’t go into too much detail, but we were shown a particular new VR experience that is so incredibly immersive we cannot fathom that any brand owner wouldn’t be excited.

One thing everyone agrees at SXSW 2015, both in VR and generally speaking, is that it's time to stop advertising and start entertaining. Consumers cannot be tricked – they know they are being advertised to. User experience must be at the forefront of all we do; forget about business objectives if your users aren’t having a nice time. And when it comes to entertainment, it's time for brands to really step up and provide value for their fans. Assuming that product benefits are already widely understood, the best way for brands to add value is to make their audience FEEL something: make them smile, make them cry or blow them away with immersive sounds and graphics. VR is capable of doing all of these things really well, and so much more.

So, dear Marketers, what’s holding you back? Virtual Reality gives you and your brands the opportunity to wow consumers (old and new) with experiences they could never have in real life. After all, thanks to today’s VR possibilities the world is not just your oyster; it's anything you want it to be. We're not in Kansas anymore and your bravery, imagination and trust in your creative partners can provide a winning combination that will guide us through this strange new world.

We want to know, if you’re the head of marketing for a famous brand – what could be next for you? Or what are you waiting for? There is a big space opening up for a brand to be first to own VR. We are ready if you are!

Sean Gardner, Ben X Tan and Russ Tucker presented Crashing Oculus Rift and Hacking New VR Experiences on behalf of Whybin\TBWA\Digital Arts Network-Sydney on Monday 16th March at SXSW.

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