The most recent example of a mass scale activity where a brand supplemented its ‘traditional’ communication by Virtual Reality (VR) is that of Tata Tiago’s advertisement in a national daily. The activity was conducted in April this year, where the newspaper carried a DIY virtual reality headset in select editions. The initiative, part of Tiago’s #Fantastico campaign, gave consumers a chance to sample the brand’s VR content, albeit at a very basic level. Elsewhere, in Sweden, McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion activity titled Happy Goggles allowed users purchasing a Happy Meal to transform the boxes into temporary VR headsets.
Now consider Deloitte Global’s A Billion Dollar Niche TMT Predictions 2016 study which looks at 2016 as a time when companies will experiment with VR for sales and marketing purposes more than ever. MarketsandMarkets’ recent report, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Market — Global Forecast to 2022, finds that globally, by 2022 the augmented reality market is expected to reach $117.40 billion (at a CAGR of 75.72%). The global virtual reality market is expected to reach $33.90 billion by 2022 (at a CAGR of 57.84%).
A growing consumer market has led APAC to be the fastest growing region in this space. The commercial vertical, through retail, marketing and advertising, is allowing more and more brands to try their hand at providing a VR or an AR experience to their consumers. Take Etihad Airways whose latest advertising campaign includes a 360 degree
virtual reality film titled, Reimagine.
Shane O’Hare, SVP, marketing, Etihad Airways sees the film as the brand’s ‘first big step’ towards creating remarkable ways for people to have a sensory experience. “It’s not just about telling stories anymore — it’s about creating interactions and experiences where we can engage people,” he says.
The parameters which decide the scale of a campaign, aside from the core idea, are anything between costs to replicability and if measurements allow, even estimated ROI.
VR and AR ‘campaigns’, if we can call them that, currently walk the thin grey line between being an advertising campaign or an event activation. The fact that there is this perceptible difference in how a brand or an agency views such initiatives speaks volumes about the pace of success of these tech innovations in that particular region. Does that then mean that storytelling will now have to share the spotlight with technology?
Left brain vs right brain
A creative idea emerging out of a ‘traditional’ advertising agency already needs to prove its malleability to diverse delivery mediums or platforms. Creative agencies have a limited time frame to acquire expertise to provide solutions that suit a VR or an AR execution. This would depend upon the time the Indian market takes to reach cost and quality democratisation in this space. In this regard, markets such as the US or Western Europe are ahead of India, admittedly.
Globally, we have in the past seen brands such as Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Mondelez, Heineken, PepsiCo and Audi taking such campaigns to a different level, to name a few. They have been memorable, with some campaigns winning industry awards. The Indian market is nowhere close to either that scale or technological knowhow. Sonal Dabral, chairman and chief creative officer, DDB Mudra, recalls Bill Bernbach’s words, “100 years from now, the idea is still going to be more important than the technology in the world.”
Technologies have always been changing and will keep on changing but all of them will be based around the brand’s story, Dabral surmises. The answer to using any technological innovation for advertising or marketing should be dictated more by the purpose of it than even the creative idea. Prasanna Kulkarni, head—creative, digital, Cheil India, emphasises the need for brands to stop looking at VR or AR as a separate silo. “VR and AR as unique storytelling experiences are gaining momentum both in the Indian context as well as internationally. They are a part of the overall idea,” he says.
“The usage of this technology purely depends on the intent of the brand communication that defines what you want to deliver basis the target audience.”
Another example is of Renault India which went the virtual showroom way to launch Renault KWID last year. The showroom was conceptualised to let consumers experience the Renault KWID from the comfort of their homes through a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Consumers had to enlist to attend a virtual session to understand the product. At the end of the session, the consumer could also ask questions and get them answered in real time. Sumit Sawhney, country CEO and managing director, Renault India Operations, says, “In a period of three months, we saw over four lakh users visiting our virtual showroom website and there were over 500 sessions organised. An unprecedented number of customers were able to experience the Renault KWID through these sessions.”
The advertising that the consumer is used to has brands fight for her attention by being where she is. VR, more so than AR, is a tad more disruptive in the sense that it requires proactive efforts from the consumer to want to be receptive to the experience. This is in addition to demanding a certain level of behavioural change when it comes to using the relevant hardware. The onus then lies on the brand to decide which of these mediums to make available as a brand experience platform, if at all. Vikram Menon, president and country head, OgilvyOne Worldwide, India, notes, “There are very few people who have the technology to experience VR. While there are a few players with VR headsets, it’s still years away from being anywhere close to mainstream. To that end, brands that do create VR experiences are doing it more to make a statement rather than to get that experience in front of a lot of people.”
The bottlenecks, and making it work
Any technology to enjoy a mass audience requires a stable infrastructure supporting it. In this case, that ranges from a basic cardboard to heavy duty VR headsets. The technology is largely in the developmental phase at best with corresponding costs. Some brands, from time to time, manage to circumvent the need for consumers to individually have hardware, and use OOH instead. Such campaigns, of course, are short-term. However, this does not promise to hurt the brand’s budget any less. As Haresh Nayak, MD, Posterscope India and regional director, Posterscope APAC, explains, “The technology costs in India are a little higher as compared to spends. If, say, a brand is doing an AR campaign in the UK, it will be relatively cheaper to market size and spends. In India, if a brand has a budget of `1 crore and it is required to spend `30 to `40 lakh just for augmented reality, it isn’t feasible.” An average mid-scaled AR campaign in India, say a four-city campaign would set you back by `2 – 3 crore, he provides. A lack of infrastructure coupled with strict norms that disallow certain movements, use of colours, location restrictions, size etc of a billboard also work against a brand considering OOH.
The key then to utilising VR and AR effectively also lies in how brands perceive and treat these platforms. While evaluating how a brand wishes to use VR or AR, in some cases, it can run the risk of seeming gimmicky. Integrating the technology in the storytelling, Kulkarni provides, where there is an actual need coupled with a strong concept, is the key to avoiding a gimmicky execution. Arnav Ghosh, MD, Blippar India, shares, “Brands need to understand AR/VR is at a very nascent curve; it is about giving consumers a choice and another way to connect with the brand. Reach and costs are perceived bottlenecks, especially in India where brands spend through the roof on TV for 30 seconds of consumer time.”
Does it then come back to advertising agencies not supplying ideas that could lend themselves to VR or AR? Can the Indian advertising industry soon reach that stage where ideating for VR or AR becomes part of the core strengths of a creative agency? Dabral thinks the time is now. “Agencies need to be in the know of all the latest developments in technology because that’s where the biggest disruptions of today are happening,” he states. “When used to further the brand experience, technology gives us a great opportunity to impact business and culture. But at the same time, it’s also important to have the support of a great agency-client relationship, because new-age ideas really need a combined effort to make them happen.” Clearly, putting all your eggs in either the TV or OOH basket isn’t a great idea either. As a word of caution, he asks brands and agencies to recollect a time when digital was still considered a western medium because it didn’t have enough reach in India. But that change didn’t take long, did it? Food for thought.