When we spoke on whether emerging technologies were hype or an opportunity, one of the trends that skewed more toward opportunity was virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). According to the Gartner Hype Cycle 2016 report, though still at least five years out from reaching their full potential, these technologies are on the cusp of climbing the plateau to becoming a productive investment.

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Andrew Robles

How these trends can be utilized in the advertising space was the focal point of Vanik Interactive’s presentation, which I attended this month. Now with more standardized toolsets, developers are not as limited to hardware as before, yet there is still a split between what can be accomplished with each device. So what are the current movers and shakers in VR technology? And how can they be utilized for our clients?

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are by far the most immersive of the technologies out there (disclaimer: only the Vive was available for use at the presentation). The combination of various inputs—such as handsets, trigger buttons and touchpads—with motion tracking ability whisks the user away to another world almost immediately, even via a simple drawing simulator. After mere moments of placing shapes and colors in a 3D space, I was left tearing like in the commercials. However, the devices currently require being tethered to a powerful computer, so they would be limited to convention exhibits and for clients with deeper pockets.

While shedding the wired and computer requirements, the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream are still limited to pairing with Samsung and Google Pixel phones, respectively. Ironically enough, the commercial mentioned above was advertising the Samsung Gear, though I didn’t come away with the same experience as the more powerful Vive. Still, pairing their much more approachable price point and a courier with the supported device, these headsets would make a more feasible addition to exhibits or presentations with the right software.

The Google Cardboard is the cheapest way ($15) to provide VR engagement to customers, and it holds an advertising advantage over the Gear or Daydream: branding. The capacity for printed graphics on what is basically a cardboard box that turns most mobile devices with VR applications into a headset could draw in potential customers from afar as they watch users shamble around wearing a client’s very own branded device. And while the other phone-paired headsets do provide additional inputs, I found the virtual experience with the Cardboard more than comparable.

The most intriguing device to me was the Microsoft Hololens. Advertised as a “mixed reality” headset, the Hololens provides spacial recognition through a top half video screen that superimposes virtual elements in your environment to interact with. Admittedly it is difficult to see the virtual half of the headset at times, and while the price point is still a little high to warrant application in the current marketing scope, I wouldn’t be surprised if it crept into the space where Google Glass failed to find success in the next few years.

In addition to the VR devices, we were introduced to some of the applications of augmented reality that Vanik Interactive has released in the marketing space. I previewed different projects such as 360° 3D videos and catching cell proteins out of the air, all engaged using just a mobile device. In this way, AR seems like a great way to extend a customer’s interaction outside of a booth or convention, whether it be casually through a downloadable mobile app or an additional experience from within the client’s brick-and-mortar locations.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us as partners to help the client decide what type of throughput versus engagement a VR or AR campaign could return for them. While VR is becoming more and more accessible and its growing capabilities can go beyond advertising, the current restraints of required hardware and pricing limit its usefulness to more of an introductory engagement at a destination outing. It’s AR that can put that interactive experience in the customer’s hand—and hopefully in their mind—to take home and engage with the brand beyond the scope of a marketing campaign.