Virtual reality (VR) covers a whole range of content. In its simplest form it is 360 degree video content and at its more technical VR can be a fully immersive experience, creating an out-of-this-world world.
Up until now VR has seemed out of reach from everyday consumer use. However, as various headsets launch to the public, 2016 could well be the year it finally takes off with the masses.
Headsets, such as Samsung's VR and HTC's Vive, which will be compatible with the latest mobile handsets, will make VR accessible, transforming gaming, film, music and entertainment.
So you can get used to this on your morning commute: http://ir.net/news/virtual-reality-headsets/124116/virtual-reality-public-train/
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For PR and marketing the prospect should be hugely exciting. Our job has always been to take audiences on a journey - whether that's through ideas, words, images or 2D video - and VR allows us to bring that journey to life like never before.
One of the biggest and most obvious opportunities is for travel, leisure and tourism brands.
Lots of travel and leisure brands are already creating 360 degree video
content for marketing channels - to show places and experiences in virtual reality. Emirates hosts a whole catalogue of virtual tour videos, taking people around the world, on its Emirates360
Of course, this type of content is extremely valuable, giving guests an immersive experience to see and explore a landscape, moment in time, destination or activity for themselves. Whether it's to look around a hotel room before booking or to get a taste of a holiday destination before they arrive. And this will be even more valuable when review sites such as TripAdvisor start supporting VR, making the technology an industry-wide reality.
However, at the moment content is largely functional and whilst that might help a consumer make a decision on what hotel to stay in, brands need to go beyond simply 'showing people around' in order to truly influence not just sales, bookings and visitor numbers, but perceptions of place, experience or brand to influence where people choose to visit.
At the moment, very few travel companies are using VR technology to do something seriously creative, which is where the opportunity lies, to gain media exposure and increase engagement.
One of the few VR PR campaigns to grab the attention of the media so far, was Marriott's 'Travel Teleporter'
, giving guests an immersive brand experience. Headsets available at two hotels allowed guests to order a Samsung Gear VR to their room, loaded with three videos. The videos took guests to different parts of the world, joining travellers in Chile, Rwanda and Beijing, who interacted and shared their feelings to an unseen camera.
Whereas Alton Towers has taken VR one step further, using VR to enhance the rollercoaster experience. The park's Galactica
will combine VR headsets during a rollercoaster ride, taking guests to outer space in a full sensory experience.
So why aren't more travel companies, destinations, tourism agencies and leisure brands exploring VR creatively? Surely by now we know that it's the brands that are the innovators that reap the rewards of embracing new technology?
Of course the cost of creating a simple 360 video is reasonable. However, creating an alternative reality in video is considerably more expensive, which is especially risky when the uptake of headsets is speculative and ROI is unknown.
But if the initial forecasts are anything to go by, we should be planning our VR campaigns now - IHS forecasts that 7m headsets will be in use in 2016 and 38m sold by 2020.
The beauty is that at the moment there are no rules and plenty of space for brands to be innovative. So now is the time for marketing and PR teams to start getting creative with virtual reality.
After all, it's only a matter of time before we will all be able to create user generated virtual realities. So now is the time to start exploring VR in PR campaigns, before other people are creating content without your control.
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