Making Sense(s) of Virtual Reality Technology

July 9, 2015 John Montesi

Making Sense(s) of Virtual Reality Technology

Remember when you were a kid and tore open the perfume samples in all of your mom’s magazines to rub fancy scents all over everything? Whether or not those old-school fragrance ads left lasting impressions on your consumer behavior, there’s no denying that they caught your attention because they offered a multisensory experience. As virtual reality technology improves, creating visually appealing content will be only a small part of a successful ad. More than ever, consumers want to feel and experience something when browsing multimedia content. Here’s a look at what’s possible as virtual reality technology prepares to go mainstream.

No Goggles Required

Many people think Oculus Rift is a goofy gimmick because of the clunky glasses required to view its virtual reality display. Facebook’s purchase of the brand was not an ill-advised attempt to shift from software to hardware, but just the opposite—the brand’s knowledge will facilitate Facebook’s foray into the “3-D Lite” advertising realm. As users continue to prefer mobile for social media, the case for convincing 3-D ads designed for small screens gets stronger. The tantalizing imitation of tactility has always made 3-D hard to look away from—now that we don’t need those red and blue plastic shades or expensive, high-tech goggles to fixate on eye-popping ads, odds are high they’ll keep jumping out of our screens.

Making senses of virtual realityNose Goes

In 1993 neurologist Dr. Alan Hirsch conducted a study in which he showed consumers identical Nike shoes in two rooms—one with a subtle floral fragrance, the other without. The participants stated a preference for the shoe in the scented room 84 percent of the time. That’s no fluke, it’s science. Today we understand that smell can be a powerful influencer in buying decisions.

In 2013 Scentee, a Japanese company, released an iPhone attachment that can transmit scents. Digital smell technology is still in its infant stages, but the reality is that scent is a powerful sense and has the potential to dramatically alter consumer behavior. It’s only a matter of time before virtual reality incorporates smell as one of the senses it augments. Abercrombie & Fitch has a well-developed strategy for scents and sounds that helps drive consumer behavior and factors into its larger brand image. Of course, with all of the new learning and possibilities related to sensory stimulation, brand “image” isn’t quite the right term anymore.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Chipotle is perhaps the most famous of the hundreds of restaurants and retailers that carefully curate its playlists and acoustics. Chris Golub, founder of hospitality DJ service Studio Orca, became famous on the Internet for being the guy who curates Chipotle’s music. The second most recognized fact at the beloved fast-casual burrito joint (the first being that guacamole is extra and we’re very okay with it) is that the music is always on point. There is an entire industry dedicated to researching and providing the right soundtrack for businesses’ objectives. Whether it’s driving consumer behavior or creating an atmosphere that generates repeat business, sound is an integral part of the sensory experience. I’ve written about the power of audio content and the psychological role sound plays in our lives, but it’s worth reiterating its relevance in the new, multisensory marketing landscape.

Are You Experienced?

Virtual reality technology is still new and unproven, which means there are many opportunities for innovation and creativity. As technology provides marketers and retailers with the ability to dazzle all of consumers’ senses, the shortened attention spans of the twenty-first century will no longer be concerning. Instead of seeking creative ways to tell written stories or ways to push the envelope of traditional 2-D image-based ads, marketers can now think outside the box (and the page and the screen). From scented television ads to irresistible virtual reality tours and shopping experiences, the potential for innovative storytelling and strengthened emotional brand connections is virtually limitless. The tools are being built, are you ready to use them?

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