Let’s face it. VR marketing is terrible. Unrealistic images of people wearing an HMD and reaching out for something. I have just described 90% of VR marketing imagery. Do a search for stock on Getty and see what comes up.
It doesn’t help that most of the HMDs people wear remind me of the Megadeth “Killing is my Business” album cover.
VR as a vertical is not meeting sales and adoption expectations as a whole for a variety of reasons, and bad marketing is one of them. How to fix it?
It’s Not About the Hardware
One of the main drivers in VR marketing are the major HMD manufacturers: HTC Vive, Oculus and Samsung Gear (made by Oculus). These are hardware manufacturers trying to drive sales for a 170-360 degree immersion technology that’s inherently difficult to show in a 2D advertising or website experience. Instead we are left to try and grasp the feeling through a model’s overly exaggerated expression in a photo of them wearing the hardware. And that’s the rub. It’s not about the hardware, it’s one hundred percent about the experience.
Google tried (and partially succeeded) in making the hardware a fashion statement with their Daydream HMD case for the first Pixel phone. Instead of going black or white, they chose cloth in a variety of subtle patterns. It looked friendly. I didn’t look too bad when wearing it either.
Facebook tried super hard when it first launched its avatar-based community VR platform through Oculus. This was pre-Oculus Go. They deftly hid the tethered cable and made little to no mention of the computer hardware requirement to drive the experience. When potential customers peeled back the layers, the price-point and technical side of things was too steep for mass adoption.
Samsung Gear had the most potential, even though most experiences were not true VR, more 360 video. Still, using the Oculus store was a treat in itself but the GearVR HMD, first white plastic and then black plastic, was again un-attractive in today’s world of beautiful industrial design.
The idea of selling the hardware over the experience is a complete miss. This isn’t an iPhone or pair of Beats headphones. The HMDs are not sexy items to show off to friends. They are simply a means to an end. And the end is what will sell VR: the experience itself.
The Power of Immersion
Another major VR player not mentioned yet is PSVR. Playstation’s HMD is perhaps the most interesting of all with its outward-facing blue LED light strip across the brow. It makes you look more spaceman than insane asylum escapee. PSVR was so good experientially, it pretty much ruined 2D FPS and driving games for me. Once you get that extra FOV, you’ll crave it when playing 2D games on your TV. I am hard to impress. And the PSVR experience is pretty damn impressive. The outward appearance of the HMD allowing me to have this experience is completely tertiary. It could be pink and green with “idiot” scrawled across the front and it wouldn’t matter. I am on the inside, experiencing dozens of different worlds. It’s the content and the delivery that wholly matter.
NextVR, a 170-degree VR live event content provider for the NBA and many others, provide an opportunity at the events they are broadcasting to give people who have never tried VR, a chance to. It isn’t true VR, it’s 170 degree video, but the effect is enough to whet the appetite of many for true 360-degree VR. NextVR’s compression algorithms and cameras are the best in the business at delivering this content in a manner that is consumable for many, even those who are more prone to motion sickness.
Outside of these few VR evangelists, how do you sell this immersive experience in a 2D ad and web world to a mass audience? Current IAB units and bootstrap card-based websites will not suffice. Showing a giant image of your HMD will not suffice. Showing a person that isn’t you wearing an HMD and pointing at nothing will not suffice.
VR Ad Units and Website Technology
Ten or more years ago when Apple was first selling its iPod and then iPhone in its early heyday, it paid untold amounts of money to create out-of-the-box, never before seen ad units at the top of CNN, Yahoo and others that blew me away at the time. It cut through, made me take notice, and were more immersive than much of what I have seen in the last 5-7 years.
How do we create immersive off-site ad units? How do we create 360-degree website experiences? One of the obstacles to achieving immersion is that 50% or more of potential customers are on mobile, a 5.5-inch screen. Not a very immersive medium due to limited screen size.
Another issue is that a user’s path through VR is self-initiated. When I view a 360-video from GoPro, I have to move the camera around to understand I am in a 3D world, viewing it through a 2D plane. Otherwise, it looks like a typical 2D video without my interaction.