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DigiCom is dead, long live VirtuCom!

It appears as though Virtual Reality is taking over the world. At increasing rates, I see releases of online games which are playable with VR-goggles. Even the 360-degree-videos aren’t a rare sight anymore, they fill up most of my Facebook-timeline these days. This got me thinking. Will VR ever be more than just a high-tech plaything? Can we, communicators, ever use it in what we do? How far would this go?

Anthony Stabourlos - Martin Talks - Herve Van de Weyer

My list of questions seems endless and yet ever-growing. I decided to bombard a few top-professionals with them, both local and international:

  • Anthony Stabourlos, CMO at Cashfree and co-founder of Snappgear
  • Martin Talks, founder of Digital Detoxing and author of ‘A to Z of Digital Detoxing: A practical family guide’
  • Herve Van de Weyer, headmaster of Communications Management at PXL University College

Welcome to the future?

Doc Brown
Doc Brown

Thanks to their help and my own experience with VR from a gaming perspective, I developed several useful insights into the possible future of this technology within our field of work.

VR does not have any possibilities in the world of communications. That is to say, not YET. The goggles are too bulky, the technology is still too new, the experience too scarce. Only a handful of companies are specialised in it, and almost always it is restricted to events or promotional booths. Only when a large part of the population owns a pair of VR-goggles, can we use it for communications.

The question remains: will we ever? VR-goggles will always be bulky, after all: they have to create a new environment in real-time. Anthony Stabourlos prefers to put his faith into Augmented Reality: “The use of VR leans a lot more to gaming and static images. It provides you with a pre-built environment in which you have to adapt. AR provides the possibility to remain within your own environment.” He believes that the future of it all will be in some form of AR contact lens which provides the wearer with extra information on top of what he or she would normally see. The wearer could, for example, get directions in his view leading to a nearby promotion he might be interested in. Drivers who’ve been on the road for quite a while could get a message from a nearby petrol station, offering them a coffee and a break.
The possibilities are as limitless as the imagination of the creators.

After interviewing Anthony, I too am leaning more towards an AR-loving future, rather than one revolving around VR. Though the real future might have more to do with a mixture between the two. Something the experts call ‘Mixed Reality’.Whatever way we look at it, whichever of the two technologies we choose, the content we create MUST be of the highest quality, captivating, relevant and perfectly integrated. Both Martin Talks as Anthony Stabourlos emphasised this beyond all else.

VR Experience

I myself couldn’t agree more, as the technology drags you into a vastly expanded perception of reality. If this all ends up the same way as the Internet in the Pre-AdBlocker era, with pop-ups and overlays one after another, I’m afraid people will get spontaneous strokes and haemorrhages from the clutter and advertising noise alone.

In short: Yes (tomorrow) please!

I strongly believe VR/AR has a defining role to play within the world of communications. Just not today. Society has far too little experience with the technologies and the hardware is still far too bulky to generate any real impact.
VR-goggles are too cumbersome and AR is only really usable with mobile devices. On top of that, it’s really only the hardcore fans who have the necessary equipment to see the content we’d create for it.
Herve believes that, as soon as society has generally accepted the technologies, the effect on the top-of-mind-awareness will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The messages, products and brands will linger far longer and far stronger. This is unsurprising, as we’re providing the recipient with a story of unseen reality.
Another big plus is that we can measure the results of the campaign with incredible accuracy, as we’re simply posting it online with just a few clicks.
I’m left with one question here: will this effect remain once VirtuCom becomes the new standard? I guess that’s a bridge to cross once we get there.

Is all this to say that we should wait until we can finally get to it? Absolutely not! We, communicators, have to start working with whatever newborn versions of this technology already exist. After all, if no one works with them, how can they grow to be accepted by society?

Both now and later, content will have to be focussed on added value, as in the example of the driver needing a break. A petrol station’s core business is selling petrol. But by sympathising with his customers, it creates an emotional connection with them. And is that not all it’s about these days?

So, what do we do now?

Denkende aap

Me, I hate doing nothing but tread water, waiting for the next development from some or other big company. No! I want action! Not tomorrow, not today, I want it yesterday! In this light, I asked my shortlist of experts some do’s and don’ts for (aspiring) communicators regarding these technologies and their possibilities. It would be egotistical of me not to share these with you, so here we go:

  • Avoid aggressive product placement, the real results lie in added value.
  • Offer relevant and location-based content.
  • Make sure your content is as captivating as the technologies.
  • Think beyond just the commercial applications. Even job interviews could benefit from this by offering the interested parties an inside-view of the job they’re applying for. This will attract the right people, effectively doing a pre-selection before the interview itself.
  • Start NOW, keep working with it and evolve alongside it. The market won’t wait for you
  • Don’t just use VR/AR for the sake of using it. It is subject to the same natural law as any other medium: if it doesn’t provide an advantage or added value, don’t use it.

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