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BW Businessworld

Social VR: The Next Gamechanger?

With VR becoming mainstream, it may be time for marketers to leverage Spaces and social VR as a platform to connect with consumers

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


Until recently, Virtual Reality (VR) was a thing of  sci-fi movies. The launch of VR headsets in the last few years, however, changed everything. At Facebook’s F8 conference in April , the company launched its VR social media platform, Facebook Spaces, giving opportunities beyond gaming and entertainment for this technology.

The launch of Facebook Spaces in April showed that Mark Zuckerberg is betting on virtual reality (VR) as one of the important future technology trends to lookout for. The Facebook CEO has repeatedly talked about VR being the next step in connecting with the world, since the $2-billion Oculus acquisition by Facebook in 2014. “There’s always a richer, more immersive medium to experience the world, and after video, the next logical step is fully immersive virtual reality,” he had said back in 2015 at the Oculus Connect event.

Gear Up, Marketers
With the rise of VR devices, apps and content since 2016, there is a VR ecosystem that is looking to shape up. A report from IHS Markit from October 2016 showed that VR headsets sales are expected to grow to $7.9 billion, while spends on VR entertainment by users would be at $3.3 billion by 2020.  

Some advertisers and ad technology players do think it’s time to start planning for VR to see how it can help connect with the consumers. Roger Graham, senior director, Growth & Marketing, APAC, Hootsuite says, “The next trend in social will very likely involve an innovative implementation of augmented and virtual reality, and that will eventually present new ways to engage with customers. This also has the potential to completely shift advertising and you will see budgets moving from digital (Internet) into the VR space as more and more people get onto VR channels.”

Josie Brown, Director of Digital, APAC, J. Walter Thompson, concurs. “Marketers should absolutely be testing experiences in VR now in two key areas: first, building immersive VR experiences for brands, putting consumers in a space or story that delivers memorable moments worth talking about and sharing; secondly, providing interactive services through augmented reality content,” he says.

However, Tom Robinson, head of Content Strategy & Distribution, MediaCom Beyond Advertising, feels VR still has a long way to go to prove its viability. “It is just a tactic, and as with all tactics shouldn’t be discounted or considered before due diligence is done on understanding its application to a brand’s marketing strategy. VR has enormous potential to entertain, inform and inspire but is yet to achieve this at scale and marketers should be wary of investing,” he states.

Making Immersive Experiences

Interest in VR is definitely increasing. GlobalWebIndex data from 2016 shows that four out of 10 in the 16-34 age group are interested in VR. The youngest consumers are the most excited, while men lead over women by 12 points.

As with any new technology, VR will allow innovative ways for brands to reach out to consumers. Penny Chow, head of Society Hong Kong, explains, “Brand experience, conversations with consumers and even Social CRM can definitely be executed in innovative, creative and interactive ways. At the moment, we focus on creating targeted, relevant and useful social content delivered at the right moment to enhance consumer experience. In future, this experience will become more multi-dimensional. As many of the virtual environments in Facebook Spaces are generated from 360º photos and videos, pulled from a user’s Facebook Photos, it’s a great incentive for brands to start investing in 360º content now, and getting it in the hands of their customers.”

Brown feels that VR’s immersive aspect might change consumer behaviour and attitude. “Branded experiences so far have tended to be quite utilitarian: immersive presence has delivered virtual test drives; virtual tours of hotels, wineries or holiday destinations; interactive content includes data overlays such as previous sale prices of houses for sale. When The Red Cross launched VR content to transport viewers into warzones and crisis areas, this was the first example I saw that demonstrated the power of virtual presence to show people an experience they would never get themselves. It was compelling content to change attitudes and behaviour and better relate to others,” she says.

A report from SuperData found that though the global VR market has had a rocky start in 2016, by 2020 it will be worth 20 times its size in 2016 at $37.7 billion. Greenlight Insights’ 2017 report also predicts VR revenue to reach $7.2 billion by end of this year. So if we go by what Zuckerberg says, “VR is going to be the most social platform. The best is still to come.”