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The 2014 purchase of Oculus VR, the leading manufacturer of virtual reality (VR) hardware, by Facebook for $2 billion signalled the dawn of a new era, and both tech companies and marketers are trying to figure out how to best navigate (and profit from) this new form of interactive technology. Though most virtual reality products and “augmented reality” experiences are still in the testing phase, many financial and tech firm are predicting the VR industry to become a monster in the coming years—Deloitte, for example, believes that virtual reality will make its first $1 billion in 2016, while Digi-Capital, a digital firm, forecasts that virtual reality could be a $30 billion market by 2020 (Re/Code). With so much hype surrounding this new form of entertainment and technology, brands are now examining the viability of virtual reality advertising and, in some cases, even developing brand-focused VR experiences and marketing campaigns.
Science fiction films like “Tron” and “The Matrix” have long placed the advent of virtual reality as something that occurs in the distant future, but film innovations and increased computing power have now made VR equipment accessible to brands and, to some degree, to everyday consumers. Samsung’s VR Gear headset is already available in the United States (retails at $99), and Facebook-owned Oculus Rift is scheduled for release in the first few months of 2016.
According to a recent article by Anne Cassidy at The Guardian, even the New York Times is using virtual reality to immerse readers in the world’s biggest events—the media company’s VR app places users in the middle of films about children uprooted by war and at the center of Paris following the November 2015 attacks.
The ability for virtual reality technology to place users at the center of an experience—whether it be attending an exclusive event, taking a tour of a vacation resort, or trying out a new pair of hiking boots (as retailer Merrel recently made possible for customers through the power of VR)—has left the world’s most innovative and tech-savvy brands clamoring for ways to create new, immersive marketing campaigns.
For 2014’s FIFA World Cup, advertising maven Coca-Cola developed a VR experience that allowed participants to explore the locker rooms and take the field at Brazil’s Maracana Stadium; at the most recent Detroit International Auto Show, Nissan created an interactive concept car and virtual landscape for attendees to navigate and manipulate (Adage).
Virtual reality campaigns are expanding to encompass influencer marketing partnerships, too. Global industrial and automotive brand Castrol took advantage of virtual reality technology to create a fully-interactive driving experience with professional F1 driver Matt Powers and YouTube influencer Austin Evans. The behind-the-scenes look YouTube video, which featured both Powers and Evans wearing Oculus VR helmets while “drifting” around a virtual landscape, garnered nearly 200,000 views in its first 5 days and illustrated how integrating virtual reality into influencer marketing collaborations can generate new and high levels of engagement.