In 2015 through 2017, virtual reality (VR) campaigns were a hot trend that brands were experimenting with, but VR in marketing quickly stalled. A lower than expected adoption rate of VR hardware among consumers is largely thought to have been the culprit. This year, things started looking up for VR in marketing, as the technology has become more convenient and affordable given the introduction of the Oculus Quest headset in May. The big question for marketers to consider is whether VR is now here to stay and if so, how can it be used to drive engagement and reevaluate communication models with the customer. 

“What you saw happening with VR is happening with every new technology. The [term] ‘hype cycle’ perfectly illustrates how evolving tech develops over time,” explains Nils Wollny, co-founder and CEO at holoride, an in-car VR experience start-up. “There is usually a big hype around new technology, so everyone is jumping on it, and then this gap of disappointment comes, where everyone says, ‘Ok, the expectations are not fulfilled by this great new technology.’ And then [the tech] reaches the Plateau of Productivity and becomes a part of our general life. This is exactly what happened to VR, but it’s not an unusual development for any new tech. Every new technology has to go through this [process].” 

As recent as last year, analysts were skeptical about the VR tech utilization among consumers. In the report, “Virtual And Augmented Reality Users 2019” eMarketer researchers anticipated that this year, only 42.9 million people would use VR and 68.7 million would use AR at least once per month, prediciting that VR would slow down as AR picks up. Another survey from Perkins Coie showed that 41 percent of respondents felt that the most tangible obstacle blocking mass virtual reality adoption was user experience issues, such as uncomfortable hardware or technical glitches. 

The VR/AR experts’ predictions for 2019, however, were more optimistic. In January, Ricardo Justus, CEO, Arvore Immersive Experiences told AList his expectations for VR in 2019 were “steady growth of the home-use space, amazing new location-based experiences and new and surprising device announcements.” 

Today, brands from diverse sectors are indeed tapping into the technology in more creative ways.

Google recently partnered with the Château de Versailles and now takes VR users on a private tour of the French royal residence. Fashion companies have incorporated VR influencers into their marketing initiatives with Chanel, Prada, Vans and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty currently leading the pack of established companies that drive brand awareness with VR characters. Balmain even created a whole “Virtual Army” on influencers. 

In the world of auto, Porsche debuted virtual reality technology and Land Rover, wowed the crowds with the new Defender VR experience at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. 

Wollny points out that VR marketing has an important place in gaming and entertainment. Earlier this year, DreamWorks collaborated with Walmart to promote How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and allowed the fans to dive into the movie world right at select Walmart parking lots during the promotion of the film. Additionally, Universal Studios partnered with Ford on a campaign that started on October 14 at Universal CityWalk Hollywood, where people were able to jump into a Ford Explorer for a Bride of Frankenstein-inspired experience. 

It is quite possible that brands that master VR in the coming years will be the most successful at harnessing the medium’s creative potential. These brands need to remember, though, that while a fully immersive experience that shuts out the physical world makes a great tool to deliver a company’s message, a successful VR marketing campaign, first of all, caters to the customer’s desire for personalization and delivers a truly exceptional experience that consumers can’t find elsewhere. 

So, what is the future of VR marketing? According to experts, we’ll soon see the Plateau of Productivity of VR in action, meaning the technology will be more relevant in customers’ daily lives.

“We can already see that with devices, like Oculus Quest, which is an affordable, stand-alone virtual reality device, VR will have greater impact on the daily life of customers in the coming months, bringing new opportunities to marketing. There is also a big opportunity for brands to build stories for interactive experiences that don’t feel like a commercial or campaign but [offer] infinite worlds to build on and provide new experiences. We’ll also see things like product placement but in a smarter way than product placement in a movie, for example, because a product or a brand can be a part of the story people interact with, which feels more natural than simply placing something somewhere and have it captured by a camera,” Wollny said.