VR advertising

In 2016, a Simpsons episode titled ‘Friends and Family’ aired where everyone’s favourite Springfield residents were going about their everyday lives wearing virtual reality headsets—one that bears a striking resemblance to the Apple Vision Pro.

VR headsets featured on a 2016 episode of ‘The Simpsons’ | Reddit u/adityapixel

If you’re a Simpsons fan, then we’re going to go out on a limb and say that this satirical take on futuristic technology didn’t seem like a reality that would manifest itself just 8 years after the episode aired—even if the show is known for predicting things (remember the Trump escalator scene, anyone?). But that’s exactly what happened when Apple announced the Vision Pro at the 2023 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC23) on the 5th of June 2023. On 2nd February 2024, the highly anticipated headset finally launched in the United States at a whopping $3,499.

Since their release, these VR headsets have become an instant sensation with every single unit selling out during its pre-order stage, even though it comes with a price tag that’ll make your jaw drop.

This early success made waves around the world—including at Apple. But the success only fuelled the belief that it would be a technology that’s viable in the long term as Apple’s investments in the field of VR are already raking in the cash—not to mention the influence it’s having in the world of marketing which we’ll explore later—but first…

What was life like before Vision Pro?

The Vision Pro is great, and the hype around it is something that will be studied for years to come, but Apple didn’t start the party when it comes to VR. The first commercial VR headset was released in 1994 and it was called the Forte VFX1.

Forte VFX1 released in 1994

Even though it was ahead of its time, the Forte VFX1, along with others that came after it, were all commercial failures. It didn’t become an actual thing until Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook bought the company for $2 billion and rebranded it as Oculus in 2014. Other companies took notice and the market started to boom with the launch of heavy hitters like Sony’s PlayStation VR and HTC’s VIVE.

Even with the market growth, VR was always seen as something that would be a great high-end toy to play around with and nothing more. It was for VR enthusiasts and not the average Joe until a new player emerged.

Apple moves in for the virtual kill

Even though they were late by about a decade, Apple is notorious for bringing in new approaches to technology that have been around for a while—and taking over the world of VR was no exception. With VR headsets being all the rage, they gave heavy emphasis to creating fully immersive digital experiences where you’re instantly taken into a different world once the headsets are on.

Apple Vision Pro was released on 2nd February, 2024

Rather than using the technology for what it was already being used for by other competitors, Apple wanted to put more effort into real-world applications. This approach is what will ultimately make this a mass-market product, including VR advertising.

Do we need to adopt VR marketing now?

Yes. This is a growing market that is expected to grow by almost $150 billion over the next 5 years—and that figure was released before the Vision Pro made it to the market! While the foundations for VR are strong, Apple’s vision could prove to be the ‘Aha!’ moment that we’ve been waiting for.

By bridging the gap between the digital and real world, the Vision Pro could be well on its way to having real-world uses and silencing critics who claim that the headset is nothing but a gimmick. So, let’s dig a bit deeper.

One of the biggest opportunities that VR presents is the ability to create immersive brand experiences where consumers get to explore products and services as they’ve never been able to before—something that traditional marketing cannot. These immersive experiences have zero problems standing out from the crowd and creating a strong impression on their customers.

Another opportunity VR presents for businesses is product demonstrations. If you’ve got an expensive product or something that’s difficult to demonstrate in person, then VR could be your knight in shining armour.

If you’ve got a product but it’s not available for sale, then use VR to allow customers to experience it before it’s released so that you’ve got more data to work with and correct any features that customers aren’t happy with. By allowing customers to virtually test products, businesses will have more confidence in the products they’re buying, leading to, that’s right, you guessed it, more sales!

It’s not just about who’s got the better product or better demonstrations, emotional experiences are also important. Customers want something memorable and the best way to do that is by invoking emotions to create better, long-term relationships.

With all these applications, it’s no wonder that much like the iPhone, the VR headset is believed to be Apple’s second gold mine and change the way content is created and consumed. With that said, brands are going to have to start thinking about how VR advertising can propel the use of Vision Pro.

How is VR used in real-life marketing?

If you take a look around, there are already brands that are using this technology for marketing. A couple of months ago, you may not have thought this was remotely possible, and that 2D product experiences were as good as it was going to get. But think about giving your consumers a fully immersive experience where they can demo your products from their living rooms instead of visiting a showroom. That would be a step in the right direction, wouldn’t it?

Let’s take Volvo for example. They let their users test drive their cars with the help of VR. And let’s not forget how Adidas used VR to promote their outdoor gear by giving customers the ability to climb a mountain in virtual reality.

It doesn’t stop there, Formula 1 is also using Vision Pro to take their fan experience up a notch. They created a top-down virtual version of a race track and made it react with a live broadcast. This gives you a dynamic view of the race track that a normal TV just cannot.

Vision Pro has serious potential when it comes to sports like Formula 1

Looking into the clothing world, full-body experiences could be used to give customers a virtual try-on experience that can show just how the product will fit and look on them. In fact, experiments using VR in try-on situations have shown that product return rates decreased by about 64%!

Another case study comes from IKEA where they created a VR experience that gave customers the ability to explore and customise a virtual kitchen. The experience gave consumers an immersive way to dive into IKEA’s products. The results? Increased engagement and sales.

Ever wondered what it would be like to go rock climbing in Yosemite National Park? Well, that’s exactly what North Face did when they created a VR experience that gave customers a unique experience while also increasing brand awareness and customer engagement.

So what do these brands have in common, besides a thirst for adopting VR? They all focus on experiences and not just creating a generic advertisement that talks about the features of the product. They wanted to show customers what they could experience. How their products can make an impact.

The experiences don’t stop with these brands either. From Mercedes-Benz to Red Bull and McDonald’s, multi-billion dollar companies are embracing the future of VR as the applications in different industries are practically endless. The brands we’ve talked about so far are the ones that are seemingly paving the way for the rest of the world to catch up.

The future of VR advertising is here

Today, marketers don’t need to meet in stuffy boardrooms and sit around the table to discuss marketing initiatives or campaigns. They’ve been given an empty canvas that they can use to experiment with their initiatives which wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.

As VR experiences become more accessible and affordable, businesses can expect to see improved awareness and adoption through properly crafted VR marketing campaigns. With customers becoming more familiar with VR, businesses need to capitalise on this and leverage it to create unique experiences that can resonate with customers.

Imagine having the ability to create an experience for your customers without having to attract them to your place of business. No hassle, no jumping in the car and driving through traffic. Just a VR headset and that’s it. Whether or not Apple’s Vision Pro will completely change the way we market to consumers will remain to be seen. But what is certain is that VR advertising is here and will play a huge role in how we move forward in what is expected to be a truly remarkable time in the world of digital marketing strategy and advertising.