Recent product launches such as Google's Daydream and Sony's Playstation VR headsets would suggest that virtual reality (VR) really is on the verge of mainstream adoption. What began as a niche and gimmicky idea is finally speeding up its journey into wider usage, and the media has been watching its every baby-step with an attentive eye. With interest hotting up by the day – especially in the run up to Christmas - and more consumers and brands  entering virtual worlds, what opportunities does this growing medium present in the marketing world?

Total immersion

What separates VR from more traditional advertising is its ability to capture consumers like no other. Once they're inside, it provides total immersion within an environment, presenting the opportunity to build positive brand affiliation through an engaging experience. If served effectively to a consumer it has the capacity to leave an impression much deeper than any other form of advertising.

The Full 360°

There are a number of key considerations when creating marketing content. How do you make advertising and marketing relevant? How do you serve content that doesn't appear to interrupt? It's here that VR holds a major advantage over more traditional forms of advertising. By letting audiences interact with content, VR allows for active engagement, rather than having content thrust upon them. With ad giants like Facebook recently investing a further $250m in VR, it's clear that our worlds are set to become increasingly more virtual. 

Research from the IAB has found that 70 per cent of people who watch television second screen at the same time. The impact of a televised advert on a consumer who is too busy looking at a separate screen doesn't compare to a full immersive, 360° VR advertisement that lets them get involved in the story conveyed. During a time when ad blocking is expected to grow by double digits this year and next, it's never been more crucial for the marketing and advertising industry to create content that beats the block, and captures consumer attention.

New Dimensions

When this immersive medium is combined with tailored, quality content, the power of VR advertising for brand awareness has great potential. Take HBO and Game of Thrones as a recent example. To accompany the television series, post-production house Framestore created 'Ascend the Wall', a complementary VR experience that offered consumers the chance to live out the Game of Thrones experience from their living room. If you were already a Game of Thrones fan, this experience would add a whole new dimension and affiliation with the brand. Audiences get to be part of the TV content they love. Meanwhile, if you had no knowledge of the television series, immersing oneself in an experiential Game of Thrones environment is going to build an impression of the brand that lasts much longer than your average commercial. It will leave them coming back for more – exactly what advertisers want to achieve.

And of course, it's not simply in media and advertising that we're seeing such a huge shift towards VR content. The automotive, education and not-for-profit industries are all seeing the benefits of content immersion and 360° experiences. Recently, we worked alongside Italian production house, Radical Plans, to create a first-of-its-kind documentary, entitled 'No Borders'. The award-winning film is an immersive experience that follows the current refugee crisis in Europe, filmed in 360° video. VR has the ability to place an individual within a situation they would otherwise never be in. It makes the incomprehensible understandable, and could provide a whole new dimension to the not-for-profit industry. We are entering an age where we can deliver entire experiences to a consumer, from the comfort of their own living room - a feat that no industry should ignore.

One to Watch

However, we do currently face a number of barriers preventing VR from reaching mainstream use, including production costs and distribution. At the moment, quality headsets are expensive, and the number of consumers who possess a VR headset is low. At The Foundry we are looking ahead two hardware cycles – a time where the technology has drastically improved, and its presence in our day-to-day lives is substantially more common. There is already software out there, such as Cara VR, streamlining the process of VR and 360° video creation for more widespread use, but this will not happen overnight.

The future is looking increasingly virtual, but at the moment the hype overshadows the reality. However, we are reaching a turning point. More headsets like Google Daydream are entering the market, and the recently launched Playstation VR will only increase consumer adoption. Four years down the line, when the tech is more accessible and engrained into our daily lives, we may be embracing advertising through a whole new lens.