ARE INDIAN BRANDS READY TO ADOPT VR?

Submitted by admin on Tue, 07/19/2016 - 15:29

Virtual Reality is grabbing a lot of attention from brands across the world, thanks to its highly immersive nature. Can the technology be as effective for the Indian marketer?

 

By Samarpita Banerjee

 

When popular Hollywood movie Matrix released in 1999 and introduced audiences to an intriguing world of virtual reality, it was pegged as a work of science fiction. About 17 years later, virtual reality (VR) is no longer fiction. It is increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives, not only via video games and movies, but also in the marketing and advertising of brands.

Globally, brands have been quick to realize the potential of VR, and have moved to capitalize on its possibilities. Brands such as Coca-Cola, GE, Volvo, Etihad Airways, etc, have come up with exciting VR campaigns that have captivated audiences. A media brand, the New York Times, used VR to enhance its story-telling, and its campaign ‘The Displaced’ on the horrors of war won a Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year.

Indeed, at Cannes this year, the spotlight was on VR, which has entrenched itself in marketing. Though it is still at a nascent stage of development, experts said that the huge scope of VR signals the possibility that it will one day overtake even Television. While TV shares a story, they pointed out, VR shares an experience with the aid of cutting edge technology, and a Deloitte report pegs VR as a billion dollar industry globally by 2016. 

Closer home, more and more marketers are warming up to the idea of using VR. The uptake is slow, but steady; the most recent case being Tata Motors’ promotion of its new car Tata Tiago with a massive VR campaign, that saw the brand distributing cardboard VR goggles with copies of the Times of India. Early adopters of VR in India include Renault India, the Lodha Group, One Avighna Park, Red Bull and Kingfisher, while others like Land Rover, Mercedes and Hindustan Unilever have reportedly shown considerable interest.

Meanwhile, in India and elsewhere, VR content creators lead efforts to target ‘VR Virgins’, i.e, those still uninitiated into the world of VR, and extend the experience to them, convincing advertisers to take the brave leap into an immersive virtual world.

 

BRANDS REVEL IN THE 360-degree EXPERIENCE

At the moment, VR is popular as wearable technology that is tremendously immersive and has the potential of transporting audiences virtually into an unreal/simulated world. The entry of Facebook and Google in the VR industry with the acquisition of Oculus and the launch of cheap VR gear is probably the most important factor that made people sit up and take notice of the technology. Additionally, Samsung’s launch of its Gear VR headset also helped make VR more accessible to consumers.

While initially VR was looked at as a technology that could only find relevance in immersive video games, ‘The Displaced’ shattered this belief. A collaborative effort between the New York Times and VR studio Vrse.works, it follows three children in South Sudan, Ukraine and Syria, taking viewers right into their lives, and presenting an almost surrealistic experience of walking or running around with them, and the scars of war.

Currently, other publications in the US including The Frontline, The Wall Street Journal, and AP are also devising strategies to fit VR into their story-telling. A recent report by Goldman Sachs Research predicted that the virtual and augmented reality market is expected to become an $80 billion market - which is roughly the size of the desktop market today - by 2025. The number hardly looks unrealistic, considering that global brands such as Coca-Cola, GE, Volvo and McDonald’s are including VR in their marketing strategies.

In the news is Etihad Airway’s VR campaign titled ‘Reimagine’ featuring its brand ambassador, Nicole Kidman. The five-minute 360-degree video takes viewers right into one of Etihad’s new Airbus A380s flying between New York and Abu Dhabi, and allows them to follow the actress across the aircraft. Talking about the campaign, Shane O’Hare, Etihad Airways’ Senior Vice President Marketing, says, “We wanted to share Etihad’s story in a completely new way, using technology to make our consumers a part of the narrative and to experience an Etihad Airways A380 flight first-hand, from anywhere.”

 

 

INDIAN VR-SCAPE: BOTH ‘VIRGINS’ & PRACTITONERS

 

While VR is becoming increasingly popular globally, marketers in India too are on a slow but steady track to adopt VR. On Tata Motors’ campaign for Tiago, a spokesperson from Tata Motors says, “Tiago is targeted at young, urban customers who are very technology-savvy. We decided to use the latest technology that is available, i.e., virtual reality, to provide a unique experience to our customers and engage with them effectively. Customers can take a virtual test drive on the product site and download the virtual drive app to experience it on their phones.”


But did the campaign serve the purpose? The brand says it did. According to the spokesperson, “We have received good response from consumers. The virtual app is freely downloadable on Android Play Store and iOS App Store and across these platforms, we got over 52,000 new users who have virtually experienced the car. Our YouTube channel has garnered over 2,00,000 views till date.”

VR is already popular for categories like real estate, tourism and hospitality, and other segments like automobiles and liquor brands too are gravitating towards it. While brands like Budweiser and Heineken have rolled out VR campaigns in the US and UK respectively, in India, Kingfisher has been experimenting with VR since 2014. Recently, it came out with a VR campaign, ‘KF 360 cities’, which aims to showcase Kingfisher as integral to having fun in different cities. The videos walk users through popular parts of the country, showing them the best way to unwind in those cities with Kingfisher.

Commenting on the campaign and how VR played an important role in it, 

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, Senior Vice President, Marketing, United Breweries Limited, says, “VR opens up new territory for brands as it puts the viewer at the centre of an experience. It’s a revolutionary game-changer in content marketing. For early adopters like Kingfisher, it’s an opportunity to create amazing experiences for users that are personal, up-close and immersive.”


Some brands that haven’t yet jumped on to the VR bandwagon are actively exploring its possibilities. Says 

 

Gunjan Soni, Chief Marketing Officer, Myntra, “We keep tracking new innovations and ideas for improving our customer experience and I can tell you that VR is something that we are actively evaluating. While nothing is final yet, we are looking at several avenues for creating virtual shopping experiences for consumers.”

 

 scalability A CHALLENGE FOR THE INDIAN MARKETER

While the Tiago campaign might have worked for Tata Motors, VR as a technology is still considered to be in the embryonic stage in India. So, is the Indian market actually opening up to a concept like VR and adopting it for advertising? Says Ashish Limaye, CEO of HappyFinish, the creative studio that worked on the Tata Tiago campaign, “I think the Indian market is opening up to innovations like this.” Naming a few brands like Lodha Group, Land Rover, Mercedes and Hindustan Unilever that have expressed interest in the technology, Limaye says that the firm gets numerous enquiries from various brands interested in exploring VR. “For a market like India that currently holds the No. 2 position in smartphones after China, VR has the potential to boom in the future. Despite VR being at a nascent stage in the country, we are getting a lot of enquiries from brands that are showing interest in the concept. The challenge, however, is that a lot of brands are thinking of adding VR to their marketing strategy simply for the sake of innovation.”

SapientNitro’s interactive lab in New Delhi, the Kepler Lab, recently executed a VR experience titled ‘The Swing’ for SapientNitro’s own hiring campaign, Troublemakers. In it, the movement of a real swing comes together with a VR headset to let one experience (in Kepler Lab terms) a “leap to greatness”. When a person sits on the swing, in the virtual world she finds herself in an office cubicle. The ‘Voice of the Universe’ asks her to break out of the box she finds herself in and swing to greatness. As the person begins to swing, the cubicle explodes and she finds herself propelled into the universe, swinging past the boundaries that confine her. While travelling through the universe, the voice encourages her to unleash the ‘Troublemaker’ in her and join Sapient.


Kepler Lab experiments with ideas emerging out of daily conversations, and develops them through story-telling and prototyping. Talking about the lab, KV Sridhar, CCO of SapientNitro India, says, “At Kepler, the technologists work with interactivity where they actually train the computer to understand a person. The computer will know that you have come into the lab, and depending on your moves, it will change the music and the colours. At times, the entire room can be changed according to what one wants.”

On whether the Indian market is ready for VR, Vitek Goyal, founder of Pixeltek Gaming Solutions, says, “Having visited VR expos all over the world, I can proudly say that India is one of the most forward-thinking countries when it comes to VR. We have already executed projects for several of India's leading companies, such as Hero Group, among many others. It is extremely exciting for a technology buff such as myself to be greeted with equal enthusiasm from members of these companies, who are not only forward-thinking, but willing to put in money and invest in a technology that is still at a very early stage.”

Among creative agencies in India, SapientNitro is one that has been working extensively on VR-related projects for some time now. The agency has an innovation lab, the Kepler Lab, at its New Delhi office that works on creating experiences that appeal to human senses. A chat with KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer of SapientNitro, gives one the idea that agencies are optimistic about VR being the next big thing in the industry.

For Sridhar, VR is different from most other forms of communication, and much more effective, because of its truly immersive nature. Sharing an anecdote, he says, “When we did the first bungee jumping ad for Thums Up way back in 1995, I wanted to experience it. However, my heart condition did not allow me to. With technology like VR, today you can experience something without actually being there or risking anything. That’s the beauty of VR. It can make you experience amazing things that otherwise would be difficult to experience.”

Arnav Ghosh, CEO of Blippar India, a visual discovery app, says that the scalability of VR in the future could be a deciding factor for its adoption by brands. “The scalability of VR and opportunity of using it as a marketing tool is limited not because of what it can do but because of channels to deliver VR content. Categories like real estate are using VR for walkthroughs and creating VR experiences, but the VR content’s ability to port itself to a scalable device is still a challenge. Consumers will have to walk somewhere or put on a headset and experience the content in a very controlled environment. In that context, AR is much more potent and scalable as its carrier of content is on the mobile, which every consumer has today.”


Ghosh also feels that the availability of good content for VR could pose a problem. “Currently, a lot of platforms or tech players are investing in VR hardware, but it’s still at a very nascent stage. Oculus has just been launched. We are envisaging a world where in the next five years, VR could be the game-changer. But it is still dependent on adoption. Barrier to adoption could be the form factor of the hardware or the amount of content you create for VR. Content is not easily available,” he adds.


Echoing Ghosh’s view, Priyanka Shroff, Chief Operating Officer of Digital Republik, India, a digital marketing agency, says, “What we are seeing in VR is similar to what we saw when smartphones were entering the market. Breakthrough usage will only happen when practical applications are built using the technology. So experiential or immersive technology like what we saw in the movie 'Minority Report' is not too far away. The only challenges I see are innovation and customer adoption backed by a sound financial model.”

 

CONTENT CREATORS UPBEAT, SAY VR’s TIME will COME

Studios working on creating content are upbeat about what the future holds in store, though not without a few worries. For Abhishek Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Grey Kernel, a VR and advance visualization tech start-up, the problem lies in the fact that a lot of people still believe that VR is something done by ‘geeks’. “We have been working on building communities and initiating workshops to tell the interested people that VR is not just geeky stuff. A normal photographer or a videographer can also embark on this amazing journey. This is one way of ensuring that better content gets created to attract more marketers towards the possibilities of the platform,” explains Gupta.   

He adds that since many mainstream brands are coming up with campaigns involving VR, the inquisitiveness is steadily increasing. However, according to him, people still need to understand the way the platform works, given its newness.

Parth Choksi, co-founder of Meraki that worked on a VR teaser for the recently-released Bollywood movie Phobia, says the uptake of the technology among marketers in India is increasing steadily. The firm has already worked on creating VR content for companies like Firstpost, Eros Now and Percept Pictures and is seeing a steady stream of interest from corporate houses in using VR for various initiatives. “The grammar of VR film-making is completely different from a 2D film. However, today more and more people are coming forward and experimenting with the platform, especially because the reception of VR has been great. While VR might not become the most used platform in the next six months or so in India, we will definitely reach there,” Choksi states.

@ FEEDBACK

samarpita.banerjee@exchange4media.com



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