Venturing Into Alternate Realities

By Jay Saenz / Apr 27, 2016

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This blog is the first in a series, our goal is to give current and potential clients a look into some of the interesting things we are learning, developing, and just plain playing around with here at Oliver Russell. This month we are talking about virtual and augmented reality and how these new technologies might be used to help engage your customers. 

Let’s start at the very beginning, with a few definitions.

Virtual reality – an artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer that is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it.

Augmented reality – an enhanced version of reality created by superimposing computer-generated images on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

You may be wondering how we got involved with virtual reality in the first place. As the Digital Marketing Manager for Oliver Russell it’s my job to try, and use a wide-variety of new technologies. I began to experiment with the Oculus Rift when it first launched and quickly realized what a great tool it was for engaging young people in STEM education. I immediately started an educational outreach program focused on helping students of all ages develop virtual reality experiences. Since its launch in August 2015, I’ve given several classes to hundreds of students on programming, filming, and developing virtual reality experiences—and all of this learning, of course, comes home to Oliver Russell.

Virtual Reality in Advertising

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  • The Oculus Rift Kickstarter and subsequent purchase by Facebook really helped the virtual reality (VR)movement gain momentum. But for me, everything changed for VR with the announcement of Google Cardboard back in June of 2014. Suddenly for five to ten dollars consumers could turn their smartphones into entry-level VR experiences (instead of the $600-800 price tag of the Oculus or HTC Vive). This also meant that advertisers could source inexpensive branded Google Cardboard headsets and get them into the hands of curious consumers.

    One of the first VR advertisements I saw came from Volvo. The company released a VR experience advertising its new Volvo XC90 called Volvo Reality for the android app store soon after the announcement of Google Cardboard.  

    The advertisement was simple and presented the viewer with a unique experience while educating them about the features of the XC90, giving potential buyers the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat months before the car hit show room floors.

    Diving into our own experimentation with VR has been a fun experience. Using Unreal Engine 4 and Unity we have created some interesting virtual environments. Take a look at the image below to see one example. This scene was created using Unreal Engine 4:

    Scene

    Commercial Engines like Unreal and Unity allow for rapid development of complex models, landscapes, and animation—lowering the barriers to entry (i.e. budgets) for clients considering using these technologies. These can then be combined with live action film or client assets to create a truly unique advertising experience. Heck, we can even 3D scan objects and people from the real world and place them into a VR environment – more on this in one of our upcoming blogs.

    We’ve also experimented with 360 films, which aren’t quite VR but is often lumped into the same category. Not to tease too many of our upcoming blogs, but one of our next ones will dive into 360 films and why it’s something your company may want to use in your next advertisement

    Augmented Reality and Your Brand

    What do you think of when I say augmented reality (AR)? If you’re like me, you think of neat (but niche) applications and advertisements released in the early days of the smartphone. Applications like Layers or Word Lens that brought information from the internet into the real world allowing users to access useful information in real time and when it mattered. 

    Early AR applications usually came in the form of a print ad that had 3D graphics overlaid when viewed with a dedicated app on your smart phone. These ads, while interesting, never really seemed to catch the public’s interest. If I had to guess, the lack of public engagement with AR applications had to do with the fact that there wasn’t a universal application that could see and load them all. Had such an app been built into the iOS or Android we might all be more inclined to experience AR on a daily basis.

    This isn’t to say AR didn’t help fuel major advertising campaigns, far from it. AR really shines in installation based advertisements such as BBC’s Frozen Planet exhibition in 2012 or Clear Channel’s Dunk Tank interactive AR installation in Time Square. 

    These types of experiences create great audience engagement and show off a brand’s willingness to experiment with the latest in digital technologies. 

    AR will be receiving a much needed boost with the release of Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Daqri helmet, two AR headsets aimed at helping businesses, engineers, educators, and scientist interact with useful information in an AR space. The technology that makes these headsets tick will eventually make their way into our pockets and our eyewear, making AR much more accessible to all.

    The Reality of Virtual Reality Advertisements

    Looking ahead both virtual reality and augmented reality will be gaining traction from 2016 on. The Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive headset have begun to ship to early-adopters. And, while I’m not one for predictions, I will take a shot in the dark and say that by 2018 most of us will have some form of virtual reality / augmented reality headset in our homes or places of business. For most, this will mean headsets that use cellphones as their primary source for computation and display. Headsets like IonVR, Samsung Gear VR and variations based on the open source Google Cardboard platform – Mattel even has a View-Master red and orange headset. Those experiences will become more advanced as consumer demand for VR increases, requiring cellphone manufactures to add more GPU horsepower to their phones. For advertisers this means that consumers will soon have access to everything they need to experience your products in an entirely new way. Which begs the question, have you thought about how these experiences could help sell your products?

    You can download the Volvo Reality VR experience from the app store here

    *as defined by Merriam-Webster

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    Jay Saenz

    Jay believes it's all about creating mutually beneficial relationships. With more than five years' experience in nonprofit development/underwriting and 13 years in direct sales, Jay specializes in finding the right match between an organization's purpose, audience and prospective partners. You won't mind taking his calls because his sales process is noticeably absent of slime—it's built on strategic collaboration, communication and teamwork.

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