By Blake Bowyer, Director of Digital Strategy
With the emergence of devices like the Oculus Rift, Avegant Glyph, and Sony’s Project Morpheus, popular opinion is that virtual reality (VR) is where the world’s headed. Soon, instead of stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, we’ll strap on a headset and escape to the plains of Africa or go for a stroll on the moon. It’s true – at some point, that’ll happen. Like computers, our houses will all have VR devices of varying complexity and use them to take us somewhere fantastical or connect with others.
And while that’s awesome (and it is awesome), we’re human beings and we’ll always crave the good old-fashioned real life. No matter how sophisticated VR becomes, tangibility trumps all. Simply, the long-term cognitive satisfaction we get from actual reality is far greater because of our memory-making abilities and the value we assign to experiences. That is, my assigned value for a trip to Thailand is greater if I actually go because I spent $10,000 and 1.5 travel days to get there. With VR, the assigned value is inherently less, because the investment is simply putting on a fancy hat.
While VR is a quickly-maturing space, the road to brand supremacy is not paved with Oculus Rifts. A notable trend is developing: IRL – In Real Life. Instead of making real experiences virtual, IRL is transforming virtual, hypothetical, or fictional environments and bringing them to life.
We saw it when T-Mobile teamed with Rovio to allow consumers to slingshot Angry Birds on the streets of Barcelona. Staples brought Dunder Mifflin’s once-fictitious paper products to its stores across the U.S. HBO took commuters back to the 1920s by transforming the NYC Subway. And most recently at SXSWi, Pennzoil created a life-sized Mario Kart track, complete with RFID tags on the racing surface that acted like icons in the game, slowing down and speeding up the carts.
How does IRL work for brand s? The formula has been similar to how a brand would use a celebrity or spokesperson:
- Determine a brand message
- Identify partners with fan equity in your target
- Tie-in partner with the brand message
- Reverse engineer reality from fiction
- Leverage equity to create brand engagement
Source: GamerHub TV.
Brand s can leverage the value of a TV series, a video game, or an entire fictional universe to excite the property’s fans around your brand . It’s a valid approach – especially as consumers continue to crave tangible, talkable experiences in the face of digital overload.
For brand s, there are three key watchouts when exploring this approach:
- Don’t under-deliver on the experience. Listen, if you can’t recreate the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles underground HQ, don’t. It’ll just be a letdown.
- Align the property’s audience with your target. It sounds obvious, but it’d be easy to leverage a trendy property without considering if you’ll reach the right people.
- Be true to the property. There’s nothing that will cause a backlash like betraying a beloved property with its fans. See: Every comic book movie ever.
Ultimately, reality and virtual reality will coexist as marketers harness both. But while VR headsets command eer the headlines, consider how brand s are using IRL to create impactful, engaging experiences that stick with consumers. And don’t leave a red mark on their face.