Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) can be used to create artificial worlds and extend real worlds. Whether the user wants to take a trip into the dinosaur age or walk through their new kitchen before purchasing it, VR and AR make it possible. Does this sound like a tempting idea especially for marketing? It certainly does. It could be an excellent idea as long as companies know and respect the technology’s challenges and limitations.

Clearly, visual marketing is currently very popular. The success of videos and photos on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest or even Facebook and news websites speaks for itself. Those who have something to say in today’s world show it instead of just writing about it. After all, moving images are much more emotionally charged than pure text. They are also easy to enjoy. Marketers are also adapting to these changed usage habits and testing new visual presentation forms. AR and VR are at the forefront of this development, as they can be used not only to show users a “spiced up” version of reality, but also sweep them away into strange, often fantastic worlds. An old advertising dream is coming true! Well, not quite. But almost as long as marketers understand and use the technology properly.

Does the new idea really require AR or VR?

Telling a marketing story in AR or VR places entirely new demands on companies, as it requires different storytelling, different development steps and different production methods. All of these aspects necessitate an unfamiliar new approach than that taken for a TV spot or a digital campaign, for example. This starts with the selection of the right agency. Therefore, marketers should consider whether an AR or VR campaign is actually right for them. They should ask themselves: What visual attractions does the story hold? For example, does it offer beauty, terror or suspense? Can it even serve the different storylines that have to be told here? On which channels should it be told? How tech-savvy is the target group? Are the costs incurred in line with the objective of the campaign? What is the goal of the campaign anyway? All these considerations are important to ensure that, on the one hand, no bad stories are told and, on the other hand, good stories don’t miss their target group. These shouldn’t be frustrating, but provide motivation for well thought-out AR/VR planning.

AR as a sales tool

Brands can especially use AR to show their products in their natural environment—usually on a smartphone display—instead of simply on a white desktop background. Successful examples show how this works and, above all, that it works. The US version of Amazon’s iPhone app is already running with AR technology, which enables a 360-degree view of a product via the live camera. The customer can take a virtual look at a new shelf in their own bedroom. This is a great feature, especially from a sales point of view. For some products, this feature can already be found in local apps in other countries as well. But AR, which probably only reached the mass market with the mobile game Pokémon GO, still plays an important role in entertainment applications as well. This doesn’t rule out its use for marketing. On the contrary. For example, Lufthansa took its passengers on an AR world tour with an AR campaign “SayYesToTheWorld” in a large shopping centre near Frankfurt.

VR at trade fairs

Compared to VR, AR can score with the fact that applications are already possible with modern smartphones or tablets. By the way, this can eliminate one of the problems with virtual reality applications: the low prevalence of goggles, which is certainly not least due to the high prices. At the moment these are still in the three-digit range for devices like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Samsung VR Gear. They also provide brilliant experiences. However, they are currently an investment for technology freaks or gamers, not for the average digital shopper. For this reason, VR applications are currently best suited for showrooms or trade fairs where brands can present special cases or products. The fact that customers can test and use the very latest technology is the cherry on top.

And what does the future hold?

Smartphone manufacturers, whose devices are the gateways to immersion in AR worlds, are now also providing the right starting points for developers and launching the right devices on the market. With its “AR-Core”, Google is offering an AR development platform and Apple has its “AR-Kit”. Unfortunately, many AR applications still seem somewhat bumpy. With its “Asus ZenFone AR”, the Taiwanese provider Asus has already launched a smartphone on the market that uses three cameras to record spatiality, motion and distance and thus allows for smoother display of AR content. One thing’s for sure. AR and VR applications are becoming more and more professional and will certainly continue to shape marketing in the future.