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Virtual Reality in Digital Marketing: Just Hype or the Future?

What seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie, quickly took the world by storm. Ever since the first VR headsets were released, more and more companies are on the lookout for ways to utilize the experience altering technology. Advertising companies are among the most eager to utilize the technology’s possibilities.

By using 360 videos and augmented reality, these companies are looking to enhance and immerse user experience. Real estate companies are beginning to recognize the value of 360 videos when advertising houses as well. VR is here to stay, but the question remains as to whether it will dominate the digital market in future.

Is VR the future of digital marketing or just hype?

Before this question can be answered, we need to take a look at the rate at which the technology has developed. In 2014, the total revenue generated by VR wasn’t even close to reaching $200 million. However, 2015 saw a massive jump to over $2 billion in revenue from software and hardware combined. The juggernaut that is VR has not slowed down one bit as this year, revenue is expected to reach $4.6 billion. Although most of the revenue is going into gaming and hardware, some companies see this growth as the beginning of a monumental shift in the way people want to experience advertising.

The rapid growth in revenue for the technology, albeit mostly for gaming, certainly has to generate hope and interest in utilizing VR for other avenues. Like any new technology, there are some kinks to iron out and development that needs to happen. VR is a new and growing technology, still in its early development phase. This boils down to a waiting game for future investors as the adoption rate for VR is still slow.

It costs around $500 thousand for the development of one virtual reality environment and the return on investment is not conclusive at this stage. There are many companies that feel that a tipping point is around the corner. They predict that within the next 6-8 years, mass adoption will be on the cards.

The other factor that is keeping investors from embracing the technology is the fact that there aren’t any clear monetization models for VR yet. However, companies like Amobee, Vertebrae, and MediaSpike are already utilizing the technology to great effect. It is merely a matter of time before more similar companies start to hone in on the advantages of VR and AR.

Video on Steroids

Using video as an advertising medium is by no means a new phenomenon. In fact, recent studies have shown that it is the number one content consumption medium today. Most of the top digital content distribution channels are utilizing video more and more. Predictably though, at one point or another, this method will become stale, and consumers will be looking for the next best thing, VR.

Truth be told, virtual reality is like a video on steroids, giving the user immersive and interactive experience. It gives new meaning to the phrase “try before you buy.” The travel sector has been using 360 photos and videos for a while, but the retail, real-estate and social sectors have all shown increasing interest in exploring virtual reality as the next frontier in digital marketing.

Although the future of virtual reality and digital marketing look promising, there are many factors that need to be looked at to get a more holistic picture.

Developers and cost

The technology is quite new, and the bulk of the yearly revenue that is being generated is for gaming and hardware. The developer ecosystem is still very fragile and for the most part independent. There are many small companies that are trying to get a foot in the virtual door, but their resources and experience are limited. They simply do not have the manpower to do mass-development. Developing new technology is also expensive, which is another area where these companies fall short. Companies like can provide budding developers with related training materials.

At this stage, virtual reality caters for a specific niche and consequently, narrowing the target market and making most virtual reality advertising campaigns unproductive. This niche, however, is dependent on hardware.

Impractical VR goggles look goofy

When the novelty of virtual reality goggles wears off, you come to realize that you look quite goofy while sporting your virtual gear. This is by far the most inhibiting factor that is keeping virtual reality from becoming the next digital marketing frontier. People are vain creatures and tend to feel quite uncomfortable if they do not present well in front of others.

The bulky headgear and what it does to your hairdo is one of the main complaints by both men and women. Not to mention the blind motions that the wearer does while interacting in the virtual environment. People become very self-conscious and, in the end, will reduce the VR headset as another form of entertainment, meant to be enjoyed strictly at home.

How does the future look?

Let’s face it. If virtual reality hardware doesn’t develop into something that is less conspicuous, it will never reach the heights of popular digital marketing that it can. By the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like there will be any notable improvement on the headset anytime soon. That is not to say that an improved headset won’t ever be developed. The only problem is that when virtual reality is revolutionized, it will in all likelihood cost a small fortune, which will again make it a viable technology for only a select few.

In the meantime, though, virtual reality might be paving the way for augmented reality to become the next big thing in digital marketing. The difference between the two is quite stark, but what makes augmented reality a more viable option is the unobtrusive hardware that can be developed.

In short, augmented reality is a mask or a layer of digital content that gets placed over the physical world. This enables the wearer or user to combine both the physical and the digital in ways never imagined of before.

In terms of hardware, AR can utilize mobile technology, glasses and in the not too distant future, ocular implants or contact lenses. Mobile devices already use augmented reality with apps like Pokémon Go, 4D Anatomy, and the 4D Elements apps.

So, is Virtual Reality the Future or a fad?

At present, virtual reality is largely all about the hype. The novelty has not worn off yet, but the industries that can actually use the technology are limited. The major benefactor of virtual reality is still mostly the gaming industry with the real estate and travel industries close behind.

However, in terms of immersive user experience, augmented reality will have a hard time in producing the same experience as virtual reality. For this reason, virtual reality is by far the leader in future advertising prospects. It will allow the user to experience a product or service in a way that augmented reality never will. It doesn’t merely mask the current reality but produces an almost tangible replica of the real product.

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