Sometime in 2016, marketers are going to add a new phrase to their lexicon: viral Virtual Reality (VR) experience. And the competition to be first in viral VR will be intense.
Someone's brand is always the first to go viral. In 2005, when YouTube was still a curiosity, Nike released a video featuring soccer star Ronaldinho's crossbar challenge that became arguably the first branded viral video. While other brands' videos have since garnered more views, Nike gets to claim a "first" in marketing history.
When it comes to making VR marketing history, in order to earn such a designation, a brand will have to create an experience on a VR device that's so compelling that others will have to try it out.
Savvy publishers are already seeing the potential. In early November, The New York Times shipped Google Cardboard devices to its 1.1 million print-and-digital subscribers. Many got their first taste of VR via "The Displaced," a multimedia experience that detailed the plight of child refugees, and an ad for sponsor GE.
Why will 2016 be a breakthrough year in VR-based marketing? There are three key reasons:
1. Four VR headsets will be on the market. Oculus, now a unit of Facebook, may be the most famous company that doesn't actually have a product on the market. However, sometime in the first quarter of next year (the company hasn't floated a specific date), the Oculus Rift will retail for more than $350. That's not the only VR device, though. In 2016, consumers will also be able to buy the Merge VR headset for $130, the HTC Vive (rumored to be around $300) and the Sony Morpheus (no price yet.) Between the four, analysts project sales of 12.2 million units in the first year, and that's not even including Google Cardboard, which could act like a gateway to these more elaborate (and expensive) VR experiences. Media companies will quickly fill the void with content. As we've seen, The New York Times is eager to be the first out of the gate.
2. Brands are already all over VR. Considering how few people can actually access VR, it's surprising how many brands have already released VR experiences. The list includes brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Marriott, Volvo, and Virgin Holidays. Most CMOs these days are hyper-aware of new media platforms, though. The costs to develop a VR experience are as low as $50,000 and the costs of missing out on the next big platform is too high.
3. It's an ideal storytelling platform. VR provides an immersive experience that will make movies look two-dimensional. When you get sucked into a movie, you are still aware of your immediate surroundings and the gap between you and the screen. With VR, that disappears and you, the viewer, are actually taking part in the action. This is an ideal platform on which brands can tell stories that have emotional impact. The natural inclination after such an experience will be to evangelize and tell friends that they need to try it as well. Facebook's backing of Oculus will provide an ideal mechanism for such sharing.
Making VR Marketing History
All of these reasons make it likely that someone's brand is going to create the first viral VR experience in 2016. Up until now, there haven't been enough devices on the market to make that possible. The market has been too small. Now, savvy brands are thinking hard about how to create a compelling VR experience. One of those brands will make marketing history in 2016.