Can marketing break through the virtual wall? Can the already-questionable reality of a marketing message have meaning in a world where alternate realities are more powerful than actual ones?
It’s evident that many people would prefer to live in a virtual reality than an actual one. To look at the world through a screen in which little characters pop up, to toy with the artificial rather than the engage with the living.
More and more, as virtual reality invades our consciousness – or as we let ourselves be maneuvered into letting it reside within our awareness – it’s harder to hold our attention. How can what’s really happening (or what a marketer would like to happen) compete with the chance to flick away a Pokémon that’s flitted into your view of the street before you?
Newspapers such as the New York Times are experimenting with virtual-reality apps, to give readers a chance to explore the world of selected articles using simulated 3-D. And the music industry has begun to do the same, with a few artists such as Coldplay or Paul McCartney delivering virtual-reality concerts.
It’s becoming big business. According to Marketing Week, virtual reality is probably going to grow to a $1 billion industry this year, and marketers are switching to the technology as the next big content medium.
How to use virtual reality and get a message across that’s more than a passing fancy is the challenge. The move to smartphones from clumsy headsets and goggles has moved virtual reality into a more pliable plane. And virtual reality has the potential to be more engaging than those annoying perfume strips in magazines that everyone rips out and tosses away. But how does virtual reality help a marketer to make a buyer out of a virtual-reality player? And what about authors? This is a field where we work – as book marketing consultants. How can an author profit from another sort of reality, when reading itself is already immersive in its way?
How are marketers to use virtual reality? Are Pokémon players likely to respond to marketing messages that interfere with the already-interfering Pokémon characters popping up on their smartphones?
It’s hard to know, exactly. We still believe that building a relationship with a reader or customer is more than flashing an image on a screen. It’s engaging in dialogue. But virtual reality isn’t there yet. And for marketing to succeed in this evolving world, it will need to learn how to harness virtual reality to create conversations rather than simulated interactions.[rps]