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What is it with technology?

17th Nov 2015
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What is it with technology? You get to work in the morning and by the time you’ve had time to add that fourth sugar to your morning coffee, a piece of technology has been released, adopted by those with thick rimmed spectacles and suspiciously skinny jeans, and discarded for being past its sell by date. It’s almost impossible to keep up. 
That’s what makes the latest craze, all the more unusual. This is something I was messing about with before my mum stopped cutting the crusts off my sandwiches or I was allowed to travel to school unaccompanied. More than 20 years ago my father knew a guy that ran some of the local arcades. He had asked dad to try out something that he was considering adding to the row upon row of Street Fighter, Operation Wolf and Pac Man. It was a helmet, that when placed over your head transported you to another world. At least that was the promise made by the rather jaunty looking fellow on the box. Truth be told it was a rather more blocky experience involving demons from another dimension and a pair of hands that supposedly belonged to the hero of Doom. 
Whilst I spent a few hours running around, aiming like someone trained at the James Bond Bad Guy’s School for Shooting, I could never have suspected that in two decades time retailers would be installing these virtual experiences in an effort to get people to buy holidays or the latest fashion. 
I would never have suspected it, but that’s precisely what is happening on our high streets today. A few weeks ago I selected Virtual Reality (VR) as a topic for this post, and since then I’ve been over whelmed by just how many instances of it I’ve seen in the press. I’m not sure if this is the same phenomenon experienced by people that have just bought a new car – and suddenly that’s all they can see on the roads – or whether we have genuinely reached a point of wide adoption. Maybe it’s a little of both. 
The reason for the resurgence is probably in your pocket right now. Before recently, the thought of people walking around with an HD ready, portable digital screen in their pockets was laughable. Now if you don’t have one, you’re laughed at. Most smart phones contain an accelerometer and a gyroscope, vital components in this technology. Combine these things together, and it’s no surprise VR is in rude health. 
You only have to look at the names of the players in the game to truly understand the step change that’s going on out there; Google has Cardboard, Facebook has Oculus, Samsung has Gear, Sony is about to launch their version –  once known as Morpheus and now imaginatively titled ‘VR’. You can stream live in 360 glorious degrees on YouTube or play an immersive video on Facebook. And that’s before you get to the brands that are using it. 
A few years ago Topshop placed you, front row and centre at a high end fashion show. Red Bull put you in the pilot’s seat at Air Race. Apple even got in on the game recently by creating a fully immersive 360 video with the band U2. In the last few weeks news of Netflix, Hulu and 20th Century Fox involvement has hit the press.
I’ve written before about the temptation of a brand to want to get involved with the latest technological trend. I can almost hear those marketing planning meetings for next year, with someone waiting to check the box that says VR. “We need to do a VR campaign Brian. Get it done. No I don’t care what it is, just get it done.”
As with all new technologies, it has be something that helps to enhance the message you, as a retailer or brand, are trying to communicate. It shouldn’t be the reason for the communication itself. I’ve seen two recent executions that met this latter condition so well, and deserve mention. The first of them was created by VR content creators Visualise, for Thomas Cook. They created an experience that let you visit the hotel you were going to be staying at. You could have a look around the rooms, the pool area, the lobby or the bar. That’s a wonderful way to add value to the retail experience. It takes away a lot of the apprehension we all experience when we arrive at the destination, hoping not to find a half built hotel and a hole where the swimming pool will be. Just as importantly, it worked incredibly well for Thomas Cook too. 
The other experience was film related, and created by Sony Pictures using Sony VR technology. It was for the latest movie, The Walk, about walking on a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York. What made the execution so spectacular was not the stomach churning 3D, but the fact that they created some theatre around it, including gluing half a hosepipe to the floor for people to step along. It’s a small touch, but it made it feel like you were really there, walking between the two buildings. All it needed was a fan to create a bit of wind.
VR will not be for every brand, but there are so many applications that can be relevant to your campaign. But before you go racing into creating a beautiful 3D world, please think about your objectives. If VR is the best way to communicate those messages, then wonderful. If not, think twice before spending your budget on something that will be lost in the noise that the technology is starting to make.
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