Is AR/VR enabling brands to improve audience awareness?

Advertising is now more about selling experiences rather than selling products and the best way to sell an experience is by blurring the lines between virtual & physical worlds, say experts

e4m by Shantanu David
Published: May 27, 2022 8:52 AM  | 7 min read

At a board meeting held earlier in May, Apple's top honchos were introduced to the tech titan's upcoming mixed-reality headset. As reported by Bloomberg, Apple has also ramped up the development of rOS — short for reality operating system — a software that will run on the headset, very recently.

According to industry insiders, these two developments suggest that the VR Device is ready to be launched in the next several months, exciting attention in a space that is seeing a lot of movement after a long pause.

Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming increasingly popular with advertisers over the last couple of years, and people, businesses, and governments are turning to digital solutions for real-world situations. Now with improved data bandwidth, increased digital adoption, and both companies and consumers looking for creative branding and service offerings, incorporation of AR/VR tech is rapidly rising.

As Kruthika Ravindran, Associate Director – New Business, TheSmallBigIdea, puts it, “Well, let's just say that the next big thing is no longer the next big thing! Advertising is now more about selling experiences rather than selling products and what better way to sell experiences than blurring the lines between the virtual & physical worlds?”

Akshae Golekar, CEO and Founder, Optiminastic Media, believes, mixed reality is the future. Mixed reality is nothing but an amalgamation of augmented and virtual realities, and, according to marketers, that’s where the future of advertising lies. “We've all seen the viral video of Mark Zuckerberg demonstrating Facebook's latest VR device and how mixed reality will look in the future. There will be a spectacled view of a parallel reality where characters will appear on screen, making it a great canvas for advertising and marketing.”

Shrenik Gandhi, Co-Founder and CEO, White Rivers Media, adds, “With the optimal usage of AR/VR in marketing, we are enabling brands to improve their audience awareness as well as conversions. The AR/VR technologies and devices have a predicted economic impact of $29.5 billion this year.”

“Picture yourself in the future. You are wearing a VR headset and walking along a lane. There will be no branded banners but since you are wearing a VR device you will see some really exciting marketing campaigns,” elaborates Golekar.

Adoption across segments

Dr. Meenakshi Aggarwal, CoFounder and COO, 4AM Worldwide, says that segments such as retail, education, gaming, and healthcare, where users need to experiment or try out options are benefiting extensively through this technology.

“Be it makeup brands like Sephora that allow users to try out makeup virtually, furniture brands like Ikea that allow users to design their rooms or e-commerce platforms such as Lenskart that allow users to take a selfie and try our various frames before choosing one, users get a chance to play around with products, options, designs and more before making a purchase,” she says.

“The other sector that has used this technology extensively, especially during the lockdown, was real estate. Potential buyers could experience a house and its surroundings without leaving the comfort of their homes. Even automobile companies are using this technology to allow users to experience a car drive,” says Aggarwal, adding that apart from facilitating purchase decisions, this technology is being used by various brands to create experiences that help in building brand awareness.

According to Gandhi many brands have already entered this ecosystem and making a difference. He says, “We are seeing the gaming, entertainment, media and retail sectors readily adapting the technologies to create immersive and interactive user experiences. Industries like manufacturing, education and healthcare are also coming forward to make use of these technologies for safer and improved practices.”

Golekar is very optimistic about where this technology will go, in terms of usage & brand acceptance. “I am also very happy to see India leading in this technology. I think the FMCG, fashion and entertainment industries are adapting to this new technology quite easily. It’s because they already have a set of users who are loyal to the product and who follow a specific genre of music or entertainment,” says Golekar, adding that this is also because they already have an established set of audience who is willing to move along with the artist or the product to a new platform.

“I also believe that a new segment of the market will emerge with time, as technology gains more impetus. A very clear analogy is exemplified by the “digitized” advertising and marketing industry. When digital marketing was emerging, influencer marketing as a segment grew exponentially, making the digital world a bigger and more impactful sector in the advertising industry,” adds Golekar.

Tomorrow’s devices, for today

When Google Cardboard, a user-assembled DIY device offering basic VR experiences, was introduced at a tech conference back in 2014, quickly followed by Samsung’s Gear VR headset and the US $2 billion acquisition of VR-tech by Meta (Then Facebook), everyone thought Virtual Reality was at the cusp of taking over all forms of entertainment and media.

But we know, almost a decade later, that’s not really the case, as virtual reality advertising requires the use of specific VR headsets that are not as commonly available to the Indian population as smartphones and desktops are. However, Gandhi believes that VR hardware accessibility will catch up due to the unmatched immersive experience that it can provide, and then both AR and VR advertising will become equally popular.”

Hemant Bhagia, Chief Experience Officer, Digitas, notes that with AR and VR, brands can create virtual interactions and engagements with the customers, ensuring more personalized relationships and personalized ad experiences. “This will give the customers an opportunity to access digital environments for things that are shut in the real world (for instance; due to the pandemic). It can give the customers access to Virtual Social Shopping Experiences that help them make a buying decision smoothly,” he says.

“Of course, AR and VR both demand specific devices which are beyond mobile phones and handheld devices, in order to provide Extended Reality solutions. It is for the future to reveal if there can be renting options, dedicated zones, and experience centers that will play a role in daily life,” he adds.

Marketing and brand heads say that these services offer high bandwidth and low latency allowing the user experience to mimic reality without any time lapse. “While AR simply requires a smartphone with camera and internet, VR requires head-mounted wearable devices such as Oculus, smart glasses, head up displays or larger setups in rooms or booths. For instance, Grohe used a simulated environment in a booth to create a shower experience for users,” points out Dr Aggarwal.

Golekar says, “In the future, VR headgear will be slimmer just like the glasses/shades you wear now unlike how it is now - heavy, bulky, and non-stylish. It has the potential to replace mobile phones since the screen will already be in front of you and you will be able to answer and make calls using fingers and hand gestures.” He further says, “This futuristic VR gear will replace a lot of hardware such as computers, laptops and phones."

Siddharth Devnani, Co-Founder and Director, SoCheers, notes that the adoption of any new technological introduction is truly complete when it can be easily and feasibly accessed by the masses. "While AR has somewhat reached there and is now in almost all mainstream phones, VR requires separate hardware. We have the open-sourced, DIY -friendly 'Google Cardboard', which is easily accessible at scale, and then contrastingly, we have devices like Oculus costing as much as smartphones. It will take some market push to reach critical mass, but it's not out of reach."

Amer Ahmad, director of technology, Blink Digital, sums up marketing sentiments by noting that AR/VR is going to be used across segments and especially AR, due to its in-built setup on most social media platforms.

“The brilliance of AR/VR is that it can be leveraged fairly seamlessly across categories, be it for interactive, educational, or immersive experiences. Meta's recent announcement of haptic gloves and previous acquisition of Oculus is a clear indication of how VR hardware is going to dominate the space. With each passing day, we get a step closer to Ready Player One becoming a reality,” he concludes.

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