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Opinion and Insight
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Virtual Reality - Is It Just a Fad?

Happy Finish, 6 months ago

Simon Gosling, Creative Evangelist at Happy Finish, on VR and the ability to remember

Virtual Reality - Is It Just a Fad?

In a recent industry event keynote I posed the question: "VR - Is it just a fad?"  Well, at Cannes last year VR headsets could be seen everywhere. You couldn't walk onto a beach or into a bar without seeing someone rotate their head like an owl, staring into a headset and uttering the words, "Wow! This is so cool!".

VR isn't new. In the early '90s, I remember going to The Trocadero in London and experiencing Virtuality’s VR Racing Game; sitting in a plastic racing car, sporting a VR headset the size of a trash can, and driving around a racetrack in a polygonal, CGI racing car, which looked like it had been plucked from Dire Straits', 'Money For Nothing' music video. Whilst I've never forgotten that first taste of VR, I was disappointed that the image didn't keep up with my head movement and the quality was so basic. However, I do recall enjoying the experience and thinking that one day this would to be the way we will be entertained. I wondered if that day would be in my lifetime. In my opinion, that time is now.

This year has brought the long-awaited arrival of a consumer-facing virtual reality industry much closer to reality. According to Goldman Sachs, VR will be bigger than TV in 10 years time.  Samsung is giving away Gear VR headsets with pre-orders of its Galaxy S7Oculus will release the eagerly anticipated Rift and there should also be some big debuts from HTC Vive, Sony VR and Microsoft Hololens. 2016 is the year that this mainstream potential could be realized. Or not.

Just last month, thanks to the BBC and a Google Cardboard headset, I listened to David Attenborough tell me about the Titanosaur. As a CGI recreation walked by, Attenborough listed several facts about the Dinosaur, including telling me that, "If I was on an ordinary TV programme I’d say it was 40 metres long, which is as long as 3 double decker buses in line, but we can see for ourselves”. Indeed, I had to turn my head almost a full 180 degrees to see this giant. I was walking with dinosaurs!  Even though I saw it a month ago, I can remember almost everything. Ask me, how many litres of blood could circulate with every beat of its heart? 90! How much did it weigh? 70 tonnes, as much as 15 African Bull elephants! My recall is far higher than it would have been had I just watched it on standard TV.

Why is this? I think it has something to do with presence. In fact, Stanford University conducted a study called, 'Presence and Memory: Immersive Virtual Reality Effects on Cued Recall'. It’s findings suggest that media technology that induces presence can influence an individual’s ability to remember information in the physical world.

No wonder brands are using it to engage with their consumers in ways not possible only a couple of years ago. Steven Taylor, CMO of Shangri La Hotels and Resorts, recently told an audience how Shangri-La is the first hotel group to incorporate virtual reality experiences into worldwide hotels sales efforts with the rollout of Samsung Gear VR headsets across all Global Sales Offices and the production of immersive 360-degree videos for its hotels. In his presentation he pronounced that the days of push advertising are dead, explaining that his hotels received 193,000 reviews last year and that now is the time to ‘listen and connect’ to them. He spoke not of storytelling, but ‘story sharing’ to create effective marketing and feels that 360 VR experiences are a key tool in that approach.

2500 years ago Confucius said, tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I'll understand. That's exactly what VR does. It involves you in an experience like no other medium. So… Is VR just a fad? With all this activity I don't think so. Only time will tell.