Opinion

Novelties no longer: VR and wearable tech will enter the mainstream in 2017

tbwaIn this guest post, TBWA Hong Kong’s Jan Cho argues that wearable technology and virtual reality will lose their novelty status this year and start to solve genuine problems for brands

VR and wearable tech won’t have the same halo effect for brand communications this year.

In 2017, the key to designing brand communications with these technologies will be to break down the audience and platform behaviours of each and to use these technologies for a strong purpose for its intended audience.

Simply using the technologies for their novelty will no longer be novel as both VR and wearable tech starting to enter the mainstream.

Let’s look at wearable tech first.

We were recently the first agency to run a campaign using Snapchat Spectacles. After identifying the opportunity for American Eagle Outfitters, we were quickly able to use them to run a Christmas extension to the brand’s platform, #WeAllCan.

However, before we got to that point, we determined the fit between Snapchat and American Eagle Outfitters, as both share the same young, trend-aware audience. This is a crucial starting point because at its core, the technology is meaningless unless it’s in sync with the behaviour of the audience.

There’s also a lesson here for Google Glass and why it failed.

From this perspective, Snapchat Spectacles are far superior because they were built with a real and existing audience insight, behaviour and platform from the outset. For young people there is a clear utility. They were made for them to create for a platform they are already part of.

In other words, Google Glass didn’t just fail because of bad marketing. Despite all its features and capabilities, Google Glass failed because it didn’t have a role to play and as such, it had no real application.

As wearable tech becomes mainstream, brands will have to look at this point very closely for themselves. It will no longer be about jumping onto wearable tech because of its novelty.

Instead brands will need to consider how the wearable tech is used in daily life and find opportunities for their brand to be part of a user behaviour involving that particular wearable technology.

Likewise, VR is no longer ‘emerging’, and will be mainstream very soon. For brands. the biggest implication is the breadth of the content that VR creates and how it can be applied.

The other implication is that it changes the paradigm of how visual content is documented. In 2017, brands will experiment with this in more sophisticated ways.

With film content, it didn’t matter if it was in a 16:9 or 1:1 format, everything had a ‘frame’ that defines the perspective of the auteur. Audiences didn’t have a choice in what they saw and how they saw it. In film, the creator crafts every shot with a purpose and a point of view, which is the beauty of film and why it will remain.

VR, however, is a different language altogether. It’s about first-hand experience. If you think back to an old, classic game like a treasure hunt, you’d be given a piece of paper with clues on it and then set off to find treasures. In the digital age, this could be enhanced with a web experience and integrated with maps. Now with your smartphone you can do all that plus drop rich content in.

Now imagine applying VR to the same old treasure hunt mechanic. Suddenly you’re not limited by geography. You could catch Pokemon in Siberia if you really wanted to. In 2016, we experimented with this for Standard Chartered’s annual Arts in the Park event in Hong Kong, where we created a VR experience for kids that reimagined children’s pop-up picture books.

Virtual teleportation, changing your identity, and time travel to a certain degree, are all things that VR are capable of achieving and are absolutely made for.

If brands can find a genuine role to play with any of these three things, then they’re in because they could be used to solve a problem for users. Live broadcast VR coming to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will open up further opportunities for this.

It will be less about using VR for VR’s sake.

For example, browsing through a virtual shop while you’re already at the shop is something brands did in 2016 because virtual reality was still a novelty.

In 2017, I think you will see more brands using it to solve a genuine problem for users and to capitalise on those opportunities.

It will move beyond VR advertising to immersive brand experiences, which has been talked about. It will be put into further practice in 2017.

Jan Cho is general manager and head of digital, TBWA Hong Kong.

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