Think virtual reality (VR) is the future of marketing? After CES—the world’s leading tech show—at the start of the year, it’s easy to understand why. There’s been a number of news articles telling us how it’ll change the world and disrupt the way brands work. And, more than anything, we’re warned that we need to prepare.
There’s a problem here though: The applications for VR outside of gaming are a long way off. So much so that while, yes, VR should be on every marketer’s horizon—that should be all. Our focus on VR has distracted us from the blossoming potential of VR’s unloved little sister, augmented reality (AR). With AR we’re seeing more and more real-world applications for the tech. And I’m not just talking about games or gimmicks.
Let’s talk VR
If you’ve ever put on a VR headset, you’ll understand why people get excited. It’s a surprisingly immersive alternate reality. And most now agree it’s going to change the way we experience brands and content forever.
However, even devoted believers don’t think that’ll be any time soon. Some, like Mark Zuckerberg (who’s personally invested millions in Oculus Rift), don’t see VR going truly mainstream for up to 10 years yet. Yes, you read that right. Ten. Years.
When VR’s time comes, it will be a game-changer. But until then, the cumbersome hardware and fragmented developer community means adoption will be slow. At the moment, it’s mainly hardcore gamers who are taking advantage of the tech, while typical marketers just don’t have the need for this stuff. Yet.
With AR, by contrast, we’re already seeing some exciting applications. I think the biggest reason to focus on AR, rather than VR, right now is glaringly obvious: AR is VR's gateway to mainstream success. Whether we’re talking device adoption or getting developers on-board, it’s already leagues ahead. And, crucially, it’s mobile friendly—giving it a huge advantage when it comes to attracting your typical mainstream adopter.
Time to get real
That’s why it’s time to take stock. It seems like marketers everywhere are getting excited about VR before we’ve even mastered AR. And the value of AR as a marketing channel can’t be underestimated.
The first thing to say is that AR is about so much more than Pokémon Go. We’re starting to see more and more AR experiences getting millions of users and downloads. Take IKEA’s popular Interactive Catalogue that lets you see how products look in your own home. A simple idea that solves a real problem.
Next, there’s cosmetics giant L'Oréal, which has been developing a range of technologies that turn your smartphone into a virtual mirror. With its popular Makeup Genius, you can test out all the products from the comfort of your home.
And then there’s the forthcoming Dressing Room by Gap. It takes realism to a new level, letting you try out the company's range in a virtual dressing room. Now you don’t even need to go into the store.
These are only a few examples, but the value AR brings should be obvious. What’s more interesting, from a marketing perspective, is that AR doesn’t seem out of place at all. It’s used in an intuitive and immersive way—as if it was the natural channel for these campaigns.
And that’s the true potential of this technology, because when market leaders see it as an essential channel, others will follow suit. It all makes 2017 an exciting year for AR—and digital marketers everywhere.
Luke Janich is CEO of RED²