LONDON: Virtual and augmented realities offer brands the opportunity to build profound emotional connections and become the portal to new worlds, a new WARC report claims, but only if the experience adds value to the consumer.

In a WARC Best Practice paper, How to use VR and AR in your marketing strategy, Tamara Sword, strategist, marketer and founding director of TRM&C Ltd, argues that "If VR is an 'experience machine', traditional approaches to advertising in VR are tantamount to torture" which marketers force on audiences at their peril.

Instead, agencies must think laterally about how to create a valuable experience and how this fits into the brand's business strategy if they are to prove that these burgeoning technologies are more than a gimmick.

The potential market for AR should be much greater than VR, she says, with "near-ubiquitous" smartphones available at a far lower cost than full VR rigs. However, self-consciousness remains a significant barrier for both platforms.

But to bring the technology out of the early-adopter phase, the focus must be less on hardware and more on AR and VR as a way to access "compelling new forms of content".

This will be possible, Sword suggests, if the tech giants, Facebook, Google, and Apple "double down on AR"; greater access will in turn drive greater adoption across categories such as health and FMCG, as well as media and entertainment.

It's projected that close to $30bn will be invested in these technologies by 2020. Yet the biggest threats to mass consumer adoption, she observes, are the manufacturers, brands and creators "not striving beyond the initial wow factor".

In order to "win hearts and minds", Sword recommends channelling the proven emotional connection that VR has established in past campaigns: the United Nations' Clouds over Sidra in VR, for example, doubled the rate of donations to UNICEF.

Central to implementing these technologies in a marketing context is the identification of the key business problems and value propositions of the campaign. This will allow brands to choose the technology that best suits the core objective, informing investment decisions.

"If reaching the maximum number of potential viewers is paramount, a 360 degree video available on YouTube to anyone with Google Cardboard could be your best bet," Sword says, arguing that a new platform requires new ways of branding.

"Not every brand needs to create their own VR experience. Collaboration unlocks creativity – and it's creativity that VR needs to engage audiences."

Data sourced from WARC