Honda and Telefonica: virtual reality is not a passing fad for marketers

Virtual reality (VR) tools are on the brink of mainstream adoption and consumer acceptance, as signalled by Facebook and Microsoft's involvement. This could present fresh opportunities for brands - if marketers are brave enough to use the fast-developing platform. We asked top marketers; is virtual reality a passing fad as a marketing tool?

A passing fad or here to stay?
A passing fad or here to stay?

Martin Moll
Head of European marketing, Honda


The technological innovation around VR is rapidly improving and evolving, led in particular by the gaming community – and the more realistic and believable the imagery (and removing the motion sickness that is common now), the more I think brands will use it as part of their marketing mix.

I don’t mean the everyday ‘bread-and-butter’ campaigns, but more as an enhancement to specific ones that are heavily brand/desire-focused. VR does capture the imagination, and is a powerful tool as a teaser experience, such as exploring products both inside and out (for example, futuristic concept cars).

However, there is nothing as evocative (especially in the automotive sector), or which can truly replace the sheer excitement of the smell, look and feel of physically experiencing the product. VR’s role will be as one consumer ‘touchpoint’ to amplify the campaign objectives

Jonathan Earle
Head of customer strategy and development, Telefonica

Innovation is really important, as it has the ability to excite, engage, and entertain consumers. Through digital and data-driven marketing, brands have the ability to be relevant in a manner that can surprise and delight their audience. At Disney, we are always looking for ways to innovate in terms of how we connect with our guests and make experiences more compelling; whether that’s through My Magic Plus in our theme parks, or creating birthday calls from our characters to support the bedtime routine.

Innovation can be expressed in many ways; through content (new ways to tell stories, such as Frozen and Maleficent); product development (apps and games like Infinity); and marketing (using technology to create personalisation).

Innovation is also really important in attracting the best talent to a business, which, in turn, keeps teams motivated and passionate about working for their brand.

Michael Lee
Executive planning director, VCCP

Existing applications of VR lean toward the novelty end of the marketing spectrum. However, in the long term, there’s significantly more potential in VR than previous fads, such as the industry’s rather underwhelming use of 3D printing.

The more practical, mass-usage opportunities are obvious in a range of categories, from highly immersive virtual test-drives to exceptional entertainment experiences for consumers who couldn't be there in person.

Cost remains a key obstacle to making widespread application achievable, but with ingenious solutions such as Google Cardboard’s lo-fi alternative to Oculus Rift, the increasing accessibility of VR technology should undoubtedly improve the quality of marketing ideas in this field.

If only they could solve the motion sickness issues (for me at least).

Anil Pillai

UK chief executive, Digitas LBI

In light of Microsoft’s announcement of the HoloLens augmented-reality headset and Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, marketers would be foolish to discount the possibilities of VR.

It’s still early days, but as the experiences the technology offers become more and more lifelike, and as the big tech players continue to invest, the potential for those brands that are willing to be brave is huge.

This is yet another example of the dilemma a lot of marketers face – whether to take a chance on an emerging technology or to rely on tried-and-trusted solutions with proven results. But if you ignore technology, you run the risk of being ruled by it.

Iain Millar

Head of innovation, Rufus Leonard

The current wave of interest in VR is centred on Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard, but it’s all happened before with other forms, such as Second Life.

The important thing is that because people are excited and these technologies are generating press, marketers are excited and finding ways to use VR to engage. On the face of it a lot of that is a fad – simply exploiting what is popular.

Yet the impact VR can have on people can be significant. Some of the best current examples are immersive VR documentaries that provoke an emotional reaction – these are huge opportunities for marketers when the technology and situation are right. The current tech is a bit weird and isolatory, but there are times, like on a long flight, where it could be perfect to transport you to another world. Then VR could be easily, effectively and beautifully employed as a marketing tool, albeit to a small market.

Victoria Fox
Chief executive, Lida

In its current guise it is easy to dismiss VR as a gimmick.

However, Facebook didn’t invest £1.2bn in Oculus VR on a whim, it saw the potential of this new communication platform.

It isn’t a fad. Isn’t it, in fact, nirvana for marketers once we refine the execution?

In direct marketing there’s an old rule: don’t tell your target audience the benefit of your brand – instead bring it to life and show them. This rule has been true for decades. VR is a tool that helps us do that, delivering immersive brand experiences directly into the homes of our consumers. Imagine IKEA enabling customers to visualise furniture in their own living room. It’s the ultimate selling tool.

While it seems that VR is failing to deliver at present, it will evolve in our tech-driven world. The execution is the fad, not the concept.

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Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit www.marketing-society.org.uk