What does the Oculus Rift launch mean for marketers?

Jason Dooris

Jason Dooris is the CEO and founder of growing Atomic 212, Australia's fastest growing media and marketing agency on the BRW 2014 list. Over the past 20 years, Jason has held a variety of senior local and global industry positions including CEO MediaCom UK, deputy CEO MediaCom Europe, GM Saatchi & Saatchi NZ, GM Ogilvy & Mather Australia, GM Dentsu Aegis Australia and consulting practice director, Deloitte Asia. His vertical experience covers most categories with a particular focus on retail, automotive and FMCG.

Facebook's Oculus Rift has finally launched. The highly anticipated product rollout has come with such a massive amount of buzz and hype that it’s difficult not to get pumped, even though there is such a backlog of orders for the device that it’s hard to call it an actual launch.

As a consumer, I'm eager to get my hands on my very own virtual reality goggles(I’m still waiting for mine to be delivered), to envelop myself in interactive 3D worlds. As an agency owner, I'm also excited at the possibilities for engaging virtual reality brand experiences, although I am still sitting in the ‘let’s wait and see’ camp. We’ve seen hype in the past, and it doesn’t always lead to a game-changer.

A war is brewing

There’s a war a-brewing. The big players are all battling for VR dominance, and Facebook has fired the latest salvo with its launch of the Oculus Rift. In fact, you can’t visit a single trade show these days without being bombarded on all sides by some form of VR or augmented reality. This momentum has been steadily gaining for a couple of years, but now seems to be reaching tipping point, particularly if you consider all the major product launches that are rolling out in 2016.

The Oculus Rift is the big name on everyone’s lips, but it is hitting the market amid a flurry of virtual reality and augmented reality activity. Other major launches in 2016 include the HTC Vive and Sony’s Playstation VR. And let’s not forget Google Cardboard – a cheap little cardboard device you attach to your phone and use to view 3D images and videos. Of course, this thrifty alternative will doubtlessly not be able to compete with the high-tech competitors, but you can bet your bottom dollar Google is working on something truly mind-blowing to take to its competitors.

Will VR live up to the hype?

But here’s the question on every adventurous marketer’s lips: What will VR mean for advertisers? Will the Oculus Rift live up to the hype?

I must admit, despite my excitement, I maintain a healthy dose of scepticism. I remember playing a virtual reality boxing game in Sydney back in the 1990s and thinking ‘Well this is a major letdown’. The buildup was more fun than the experience.

Until recently, this has been the issue with virtual reality – the tech has been unable to keep up with our imaginations.

There has been a definite shift in the last couple of years, a shift which has been pointed out on several occasions by Mark Zuckerberg. He obviously has an interest in peddling VR to the world – his company owns Oculus – but he has a point. He recalled recently that a couple of years back, people saw VR as a joke, destined for the scrap heap alongside all the other fads that never quite made it. But now, he believes the tech has well and truly caught up, and he is proclaiming the Oculus Rift as the future of social media.

Read more: Why virtual reality is opening a new world for customer interaction

There really is a sense of excitement in the air, and marketers should sit up and take notice. We live in a world where consumers are bombarded left, right and centre by brands and marketing messages. It’s so easy to get lost in all the noise. Imagine being able to engage with consumers in an immersive environment that is 100 per cent engaging. Imagine the opportunities from a content marketing point of view.

If the massive amount of competition in the market is anything to go by, then VR technology has certainly hit its strides, and the user experience has well and truly improved since the 1990s and my initial foray into less-than-impressive VR.

Don’t throw caution to the wind

Take a quick look at all the major companies getting involved in the VR space – you have the big players from the music industry, the film industry, the gaming industry and of course the adult entertainment industry all jostling for a seat at the table.

In the midst of it all, advertisers are sitting up and paying attention. The three dimensional video footage that you can find on YouTube is a small indication of the possibilities that VR might bring. I particularly love the content from Samsung: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gjR60TSn8Q

But there has to be a word of caution. Just because the technology is amazing, it doesn’t mean marketers should necessarily be putting all their eggs into the VR basket. The content coming out of brands like Coca-Cola surely is amazing, but Coca-Cola has a big enough budget to invest in something risky and not see any rewards. The brand has the budget to fail in some areas. The question for all other marketers remains: Will Oculus Rift be a game-changer or just another gimmick?

Here’s a few factors that indicate caution is the name of the game. First, the headset: People have to don a bulky device, which removes them from the world around them. It may be highly immersive but it does require effort for consumers to immerse themselves.

Second, the cost is prohibitive. It isn’t overly expensive, and plenty of people in my agency have already sent away for the new device. But when you consider the fact that consumers have to buy a VR compatible computer to boot, then you start to see the price shooting up.

Of course, the launch of Facebook’s Oculus Rift marks the beginning of a whole host of VR devices. These will only improve over time, as new generation headsets hit the market.

The launch of the Oculus Rift is incredibly exciting. What’s more, there is the potential for major advertising opportunities. I’m not saying marketers should avoid VR, in fact I think VR is something that should be keenly followed and potentially embraced. But let’s wait to see a few case studies before we herald a new dawn of marketing.

Tags: emerging technology, digital marketing, virtual reality, Oculus Rift

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