Is Virtual or Augmented Reality the Next Big Thing in Advertising?

The following is a guest contributed post by Shawn Walker, VP, Strategy & Product Development at Symphonic Digital.

Is virtual reality advertising’s next big thing? Or is it augmented reality? Perhaps neither is as far away as you may think.

If you’ve caught a Weedle, Rattata or Pidgey — or any of the Pokémon Go creatures, you’ve already dabbled in augmented reality. Star Wars makes it possible for fans to become a Jedi Master and fight Kylo Ren (that’s the bad guy for non-geeks) without traveling to another galaxy.

As the world of technology continues to change, so does the disruption of advertising and marketing. From paper to online publications to YouTube to SEO, virtual and augmented reality are next. In fact, in many cases, brands have already implemented augmented or virtual reality strategies — and we can expect more and technology improves.

If you’ve “tried on” glasses online using Topology Eyewear’s that allows you to see virtually how glasses fit your face, you’ve experimented with augmented reality marketing. Snapchat integrated augmented reality into their ads like placing a flying car from the Blade Runner movie right in front of users. Augmented reality is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are “augmented” by computer-generated or extracted real-world sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, haptics or GPS data.

“To understand how virtual and augmented reality fit into a paid digital advertising ecosphere, brands first have to understand the moving parts in their simplest form,” said Steffen Horst, CEO of Symphonic Digital.

Virtual Reality is a fully immersive computer simulated environment that gives the user the feeling of being in that environment instead of the one they’re actually in. YouTube allowed advertisers, including the automaker Holden, to use 360 videos to have a virtual car driving experience directly in an ad (example: The best way to experience the virtual reality aspect of these videos is using a headset like the Oculus Rift (for as low as $349), but it’s possible to watch them in a web browser to get an idea of the experience. For a taste of the virtual reality experience, the entry-level device like Google Cardboard (about $15) enables people to use a smartphone to connect into virtual environments.

According to research by Deutsche Bank, in 2016, there were about 22.5 million mobile VR users worldwide, up from nearly 6.5 million in 2015. Another report released in February by Yes Lifecycle Marketing stated that only 8 percent of companies were currently using virtual reality in advertising. However, the potential is there. For example, if a fictitious shoe brand wanted to promote their product on their website, shoes that were shipped from abroad, two partner ad agencies would work together — the Creative agency and the Execution agency.

The Creative team would produce beautiful images and videos along with clever headlines to capture an audience. The Execution team would find intelligent ways to target the audience and optimize paid media.

“From there, imagine if Google Shopping Ads could allow potential customers to try on shoes before they even hit the brand’s website for a sale,” said Shawn Walker, Symphonic Digital’s vice-president of strategy and product development. “Imagine if Facebook Dynamic Ad campaigns used carousel ads that let you virtually try on every color of shoe. We’re not there yet, but these platforms are known to catch up quickly — so we could be there soon.”

Walker says the end goal is for online companies to get customers to make a purchase with fewer steps, which is expected to happen as technology improves. However, virtual and augmented reality is not expected to completely replace the need for a physical trial, but it will stimulate higher-quality leads. Following the Zappos model, people will order what they want counting on awesome return policies.