AR and VR are taking product experiences to the masses

When used effectively, alternative realities can play a vital role in marketing and helps brands tell complex and sophisticated stories, writes Tim Jones, creative director at RPM.

Automotive sales are at an all-time high, with a total of 2.63 million new cars hitting the UK’s roads last year.

Putting aside any anxiety around the effect this news will have on the planet, and ignoring the truth that much of this growth can be attributed to an exploding global population and a burgeoning middle class, credit must be given to the brand owners and agency guardians who have refocused the industry’s attention on the power and importance of brand experience.

A decade ago, it seemed that the industry had forgotten a car is defined by the experience it gives you, arguably more than any other purchase. You don’t test drive a toaster after all.

I personally blame Wieden & Kennedy. The best agencies in the business were too busy trying to out-Cog Honda to worry about the total brand experience offered by their clients.

But something changed… was it that technology caught up and brands finally started offering solutions that could deliver premium brand experiences at scale? Perhaps it was the fact that brand strategy matured and increased the ability to offer truly engaging solutions across channels.

I personally blame Wieden & Kennedy. The best agencies in the business were too busy trying to out-Cog Honda to worry about the total brand experience offered by their clients.

Perhaps more likely, the ghost of Henry Ford, pioneer of the test drive, visited industry CMOs in the night to urge a return to form.

A wealth of recent digital automotive experiences proves that technology has been the key. Most of these are impressively made, some offer brilliant consumer solutions whilst others offer little more than shallow, albeit sexy agency case studies.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have allowed brands to take their product experience to the masses (assuming "the masses" all have Blippar, Google Cardboard and the inclination).

You can now get in the car, customise it from every angle and even go racing in it – sort of – from your bed or desk.

Considering the investment required to build, manage and drive footfall to dealerships and showrooms, alternative realities are obvious and effective ways to encourage consumers to be more "hands on". A word of caution with this tech, however. It can never be used to replace an actual real world experience.

A colleague, visiting a shopping centre experience for a leading manufacturer, said he was asked to queue PAST THE ACTUAL CAR to "experience" the new model in virtual reality.

New experiential technologies have an exciting place in the industry but they should be treated as one more tool to drive people into "real-world points of purchase", where product qualities are tangible, brand values are lived and felt, and identity can be flawlessly executed.

A word of caution with this tech, however. It can never be used to replace an actual real world experience.

That said, when used effectively, alternative realities can still play a vital role in marketing and can help brands to tell very complex and sophisticated stories. Honda used touch sensitive VR to celebrate a benefit that is not easily demonstrated at the point of purchase in the real world: reliability.

By using the latest in virtual reality, they took potential customers through the journey of a car break down and proved their proposition – Reliability: you'll miss it when it's gone.

New experiential technologies have an exciting place in the industry but they should be treated as one more tool to drive people into "real-world points of purchase".

The luxury automotive sector has always maintained a competitive edge within real-world environments. A defensive marketing director would argue that premium margins allow for more investment per acquisition versus the volume driven mainstream, but this is a lame excuse.

Luxury marketers simply chose to remember that their brands were built on experiencing the product; glance along Park Lane, London's bricks-and-mortar-Mecca, where Mini and BMW have replaced Lamborghini and Ferrari, and you will see which brands that have got their priorities right.

Meanwhile Ferrari has just unveiled plans to build its fourth theme park. Brand experiences, by their very nature are designed to interrupt the everyday and can help to create fame and reinforce brand values.

Switched on car marketers will need to use these new tech innovations to create experiences that prove they are a brand that "does" as well as "says".

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