VR's novelty is waning. It's time this young medium grew up

The novelty of VR is wearing off among consumers and brands, writes the founder of Surround Vision and creative director at Sky VR Studios.

It's a good time to be a VR content creator. Investment in new platforms and consumer hardware has fuelled a race to deliver the best VR campaigns to hungry audiences. But there are too many examples out there of VR for VR’s sake. This new genre needs help

Bjork is an artist who, in critics’ eyes, can do no wrong. But her recent Somerset House Bjork Digital VR exhibition received lukewarm reviews, suggesting the genre has reached a crucial tipping point. As we near the end of 2016 – arguably the birth year of mainstream VR – we are becoming more critical of the medium.

VR for PR

There’s a saying in the world of VR that goes ‘VR for PR’ – if you create a VR experience, you’ll automatically get attention, simply for the virtue of it being so new. But as VR becomes more widely adopted, by both brands and consumers, it’s harder for projects to achieve cut through… especially when too many people misguidedly think VR content creation is as straight-forward as throwing a 360-degree camera in the air. If VR is to really take off as a marketing medium, it has to start earning its place at the table by gunning for more than mere novelty.

Granted, we’re not all early adopters. There are plenty of people in the wider world who haven’t yet tried a VR experience. For them, the novelty value may still be enough of a draw. And they may be so seduced by ‘the new’ that they forgive poorly executed experiences, even when they’re left feeling sick. But with journalists becoming wary of publicising VR campaigns just because they’re VR, and with new consumer headsets popping up like breeding rabbits, how long can this reliance on newness continue?

For brands to start seeing genuine value from the medium, it’s time VR grew up. Their confidence in experimenting and investing (and so do justice to the medium) will only be sealed once ROI is demonstrated.

But what will this more business-focused phase of VR marketing campaigns look like? As VR matures, marketers will experience a more pressing need to justify their investments. So, first up, we need to inject a bit of rigour by applying all the analytics and metrics we’ve learnt from more established digital formats.

VR metrics

Dwell times, impressions, player operation metrics, CPMs… there’s scope for all these to be incorporated into the planning stages of VR campaigns. In this day and age of ROI-driven creativity, this type of analytical thinking should be a given for any medium, even it’s brand new. Which is why we’re already seeing a few VR case studies filter through that are bravely trialing these metrics.

So let’s look to push even further by investigating ways of integrating marketing functions into the actual experiences themselves. One thought is to use Oculus Rift’s new VR web browser to enable instant shopping through hyperlinked hotspots; something akin to a VR version of shoppable digital video. Perhaps this is the point where VR will really come into its own as a marketing medium.

This approach, though, comes with a major caveat. VR is about creating unforgettable experiences. So if we overload VR campaigns with too many blatant marketing messages and sales functions, it could end up as just another interruptive medium; a surefire way to ring the death knell and turn VR into yet another tech trend that experiences a phenomenal rise before crashing and burning.

Ultimately, waving goodbye to ‘VR for PR’ can only be a good thing. It will – in theory, at least – usher in an era of better-planned and executed VR campaigns. Only when VR content creators and marketers can work collaboratively to strike the right balance between mesmerising consumers whilst simultaneously satisfying KPIs, will VR reach its full potential as a sustainable marketing medium. 

Richard Nockles is founder of 360º VR content specialist Surround Vision and creative director at Sky VR Studios

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