By Kristy Hesom

In a struggling economy like ours, it might seem unrealistic that such a technologically-advanced medium is necessarily viable on a big scale. In order to understand whether virtual reality (VR) marketing could be a reality for South Africans, we need to better understand what it is, how it works, and the role it can play in marketing. 

What is virtual reality marketing?

According to Ulrico Grech-Cumbo, CEO of DeepVR, a virtual reality content company; “Virtual Reality marketing is really about brands being able to engage with consumers on a much deeper and more compelling level, using the format to communicate their brand-stories, values and products.” 

What this means is that brands use this technology to give consumers a ‘virtual’ experience. This experience can vary between going on a holiday, driving in a car, or being part of the production of a consumable product. Ultimately, the possibilities with virtual reality are endless. 

Why should marketers and consumers be interested? 

In Understanding The Virtual Reality Comeback, an article written by the team at digital creative agency, Cubezoo, they say, “There’s no product or service that won’t reap generously from a product extension and experience like this.” They use the example of Marriott Hotels, who have used virtual reality to create a 4D Honeymoon ‘test’ experience. Who wouldn’t want to test out different destinations before paying an arm and a leg to actually visit them?

Locally, Old Mutual gave runners the opportunity to improve their Two Oceans Marathon experience with the Oculus Rift. Runners (and non-runners) could experience the run virtually, while at the same time, getting expert advice on challenging areas of the race from veteran runner, Bruce Fordyce. 

In such a busy world, people want to be a part of something more. “For the first time in history, we can put people inside the content,” points out Grech-Cumbo. And that opens up endless opportunities for brand-consumer engagement. 

Immersive experiences do not only benefit the consumer, they also benefit the brand itself. When consumers are engaging with your brand in a way that they cannot even begin to compare to other brands, they are more likely to choose you before anyone else. 

Naledi3D, who specialise in the development of VR simulations, echoes this on their website: “Successful and innovative marketing is key to remaining competitive and growing your sales and exports. Exporters who can better differentiate their offering via a richer, more satisfying purchasing experience also have a better chance of sales success.”

The future of virtual reality marketing

In South Africa, several brands are already using virtual reality marketing, such as Old Mutual and South African Tourism. One of the challenges, however, is that not everyone has access to the technology.

“Traditionally, virtual reality experiences have been limited to face-to-face activations using special headsets; but both YouTube and Facebook now support promoted 360° video campaigns on their platforms in South Africa,” says Grech-Cumbo, and this vastly extends the reach of the experiences.

“Based on conversations we’ve been having”, says Grech-Cumbo, “2016 is going to be a huge year for VR marketing in South Africa. We'll be seeing far more campaigns across the spectrum, from high-reach campaigns (viewed on desktop and mobile) to high-experience face-to-face activations using headsets like the Oculus Rift.” 

You can watch a video on virtual reality marketing campaigns here

Have you had a virtual reality marketing experience? Tell us in the comments below.