Read between the virtual lines

Immersive… engaging … impactful… the next big thing! What platforms are the source of all this buzz? Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology—potential game changers for future marketing efforts.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) bring users more excitement than ever, from scaling mountains or skydiving to simply enhancing common routines. From a marketing perspective, these technologies allow brands to put their best foot forward and break through the clutter of traditional platforms with a more engaging experience. The addition of VR and AR to marketing efforts opens a world of possibilities, with experiences tailored by messaging, audience, time, place and other factors.

While VR has been hanging around for years as an exciting but not-quite-realized concept, today’s world sees it rapidly gaining steam as it transitions from technological dream to useful reality. We’ve rounded up a few examples of VR already gaining traction – in employee training, marketing and beyond.

Turn down the training risk

VR is now a valuable tool for companies looking to ensure safety and precision in employee training. VR can aid forklift operators or underwater welders by immersing them in virtual training before placing them in real-world work environments with real equipment – greatly reducing safety risks. Medical Realities takes VR to surgical heights by providing training for high-stress procedures that involve making clinical decisions. By exchanging literal life-or-death scenarios for a calm environment, VR moves the focus from the immense cost of an error to the learning experience. Providing training via VR encourages employees to fully engage in the learning process without fear of mistakes or operator error causing safety issues or other negative externalities.

Extend the brand experience

A certain golden-arched fast food titan is testing how VR can link McDonald’s with enjoyable experiences that continue long after the fries are gone. McDonald’s launched “Happy Goggles” in Sweden to make Happy Meals not only a source of sustenance, but entertainment. The Happy Meals include a cardboard cutout that folds into VR goggles. Simply slide in a smartphone and enjoy a virtual skiing game. While aimed at children, we’re sure this VR marketing experiment also caught the attention of adults.

According to Touchstone Research , 64% of baby boomers feel positively about VR — not too far behind the 71% of Millennials and 79% of Gen Z who also view VR in a positive light. These positive attitudes provide foundational interest to develop virtual reality as a tool meant for a variety of age groups, opening opportunities for marketers to take advantage and provide unique, brand-specific experiences to consumers.

Gaming that straddles the real and virtual provides real-world marketing benefit

Even if users are not using VR en masse just yet, AR has already briefly taken center stage, with a massive audience embracing a virtual world fusing with our reality through the Pokémon Go frenzy in 2016. Niantic brought virtual monsters onto city streets and parks by merging their digital creatures with our surrounding world through the bounds of a single phone screen. The game itself encouraged players to explore their cities and neighborhoods in real life in their quest to “catch ‘em all.”

Not only did Pokémon Go lay the groundwork for a culture that accepts a combined virtual and physical world, it brought opportunity for retail locations. Businesses took part, running Pokémon promotions and making storefronts and landmark locations into virtual collection points for players, called pokéstops, to increase foot traffic.

The media landscape is evolving, with virtual skiing and digital monster hunting laying the foundation for innovative marketing to take advantage. Whether offering the ability to demonstrate new products and services more easily or providing opportunities to piggyback off the latest craze, VR and AR open ways for brands to interact with and serve audiences they never have before.