AR vs. VR: What’s the Difference? Marketers Put Augmented and Virtual Reality to Work

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: What’s the Difference? Marketers Put Augmented and Virtual Reality to Work

Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: What's the Difference? Marketers Put Augmented and Virtual Reality to Work

What’s the difference between VR and AR? Both technologies are garnering intense interest in their possibilities for marketing, gaming, brand development, and entertainment. According to recent research by Deloitte, almost 90 percent of companies with annual revenues between $100 million and $1 billion are now leveraging augmented reality or virtual reality technology. Let’s look at the differences between these two technologies and some current examples of how they are being used to improve marketing, customer experience, and brand building.

Virtual reality (VR) immerses people in experiences, often with a lot of expensive technology such as headsets. Augmented reality, on the other hand, usually starts with a real-life view of something (such as the camera of a mobile phone), and projects or inserts images onto the screen or viewer.

The appeal is obvious. Both offer an innovative way to immerse customers in an even more engaging, interactive and personal experience. And if you’re in marketing, the ability to show people what using a product is like is huge. But it’s easy to get confused by the terminology. What exactly is the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality? We’ll break it down for you and share a few examples of each.

What is VR?

Most people’s idea of virtual reality (VR) is heavily colored by The Matrix, a tremendously popular 1999 movie about a deceptively realistic, virtual-reality future that was so indistinguishable from everyday life that the main characters originally believe that the simulation they’re in is real.

Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of an alternate world or reality, and is primarily used in 3D movies and in video games. Virtual reality creates simulations—meant to shut out the real world and envelope or “immerse” the viewer—using computers and sensory equipment such as headsets and gloves. Apart from games and entertainment, virtual reality has also long been used in training, education, and science.

Today’s VR can make people feel they’re walking through a forest or performing an industrial procedure, but it almost always requires special equipment such as bulky headsets to have the experience, usually in games or avant-garde, movie-like “experiences.” And if you’ve ever attended a VR film festival, you know that it often takes a lot of time, effort, and help from the presenters before you can see such an immersive experience, and it can sometimes be hard to forget you’ve got a humongous headset over your face. For this reason, virtual reality is only just starting to be used for such things as Walmart employee training, high-end brand experiences, as well as in gaming and high-concept art realms.

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What Is AR? Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality’s Most Popular Venues

Augmented reality (AR) is VR’s cousin and makes no pretense of creating a virtual world. Unlike VR, AR is accessed using much more common equipment such as mobile phones, and it superimposes images such characters on top of video or a camera viewer, which most consumers already have, making it much more usable for retail, games, and movies.

AR combines the physical world with computer-generated virtual elements. These elements are then projected over physical surfaces in reality within people’s field of vision, with the intent of combining the two to enhance one another. Augmented reality inserts—or lays over—content into the real world using a device such as a smartphone screen or a headset. Whereas virtual reality replaces what people see and experience, augmented reality actually adds to it. Using devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Google Cardboard, VR covers and replaces users’ field of vision entirely, while AR projects images in front of them in a fixed area.

Let’s look at some recent examples of interesting customer experiences through VR and AR.

Using VR in Marketing Campaigns: How to Use Virtual Reality for Better Customer Experience

Toms, a shoe company known for its social mission and philanthropy, created the One for One® program, donating a pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair of shoes purchased (at 60 million and counting). But conveying to consumers the true impact of their purchases was always a challenge. Toms used VR to create an immersive experience for shoppers in stores that shared the real meaning of its social mission. They used virtual reality to create a film called, “A Walk In Their Shoes,” chronicling the journey of a skateboarder who goes to Colombia to meet the child who receives the free pair of Toms shoes instigated by his purchase.

It’s a moving story, filmed in the streets and alleys of a small town in Colombia, showing how the donated shoes help protect children’s feet from broken glass and garbage. The 360-degree video allowed viewers on computers and phones to move the image in all directions to get a deeper feel for the journey. It’s powerful and emotional—a marketer’s dream—and a highly effective use of the technology.

In a completely different vein, IKEA recently released an interactive VR experience called IKEA Place that allows customers to virtually remodel and redecorate their kitchens or living rooms with more than 2,000 furniture items. The company’s Leader of Digital Transformation, Michael Valdsgaard, explains, “You see the scene as if these objects were real and you can walk around them and interact with them, even leave the room and come back. It’s really magic to experience.” Users can interact with various configurations of furniture and other items as if they were actually standing in the rooms. They can edit or change the colors and styles to envision different variations, deciding precisely which looks they like before they buy.

Automotive companies are perking up their ears as well. Volvo built an entire VR app called Volvo Reality to offer car shoppers a fully immersive test drive experience using a smartphone and Google Cardboard headset. Eliminating the need for shoppers to physically walk into a dealership to experience the XC90 SUV, Volvo Reality puts shoppers in the driver’s seat and takes them on a ride through the country. Other car companies—such as Audi, with 1,000 VR showrooms—are following suit.

A recent virtual reality marketing campaign for Diesel might provide some startling clues about how to use VR for marketing. Created for L’Oréal’s Diesel brand and titled “The Edge,” it provided a VR experience for Diesel’s aptly named “Only the Brave [fragrance] for Men.”

The physical installation consists of a small specially-configured floor and two walls that provide haptic (touch) sensations to match the software-created 360-degree customer experience that viewers see in their VR headsets: They’re up on a narrow, unstable skyscraper ledge that is rapidly crumbling, and they must inch along the ledge to a window where they can grab the “Only the Brave” fragrance. Everywhere they look, they see other buildings, many below them. And software-controlled fans blow wind across the faces of the Brave, making the experience extra ledge-like.

Many of these experiences are not cheap to implement, and one person’s fun Saturday-at-the-mall-with-The-Edge is another’s never-in-a-million-years nightmare. These experiences need to be highly targeted at segments that will enjoy them, appreciate them, and come to identify with the stores and brands that supply them.

But personalization technology, which helps sort out customers’ behavioral patterns and preferences, can also play a big part in targeting the right prospects for expensive VR displays.

Customer Data Can Help Target Shoppers for VR/AR Marketing Promotions

One of the ways to match the customer to the right customer experience—efficiently and effectively—is to use technology such as customer data platforms to develop accurate, complete behavioral profiles. Some thrill-seeking customers will get the scary VR promo, while the more risk-averse might get an offer for an incentivized mobile app. But everyone gets the offers and experiences they’re most likely to enjoy.

Using AR for Marketing: How Augmented Reality Helps Marketers Improve Sales

Pokémon Go, which launched in 2016, was the first mainstream consumer splash for augmented reality. The wildly popular game—the purpose of which was to capture monsters—used location tracking and cameras in its users’ smartphones to encourage them to visit public landmarks in search of virtual loot and collectible characters. Proving to be immensely addictive—and a powerful force for marketing and add-on revenue from advertising—the real brilliance of the game may have been its ability to get users out the door and engaged in the physical world again.

More recently, Walmart and Lego have offered an app to let consumers view how various Lego toys will look and behave once assembled. So, for example, you can scan the barcode for an unassembled Lego Star Wars toy to watch it fight with other toys in the collection, and the whole battle looks like it’s going on right there on the floor of the kiosk.

Many other industries—aviation, automotive, healthcare, and travel, to name a few—are developing augmented reality solutions, often in training applications.

Companies are always looking for new and creative methods to reach consumers, and AR and VR—along with personalization technology such as CDPs—are proving themselves to be powerful tools for storytelling, product visualization, and consumer engagement. The use of these technologies for marketing is still in its infancy and, given their enormous potential, look for breakthrough developments in 2020 and beyond. These trends signal an exciting time for augmented reality and virtual reality, with the potential for AR and VR to become an exciting part of many customer journeys.

Lisa Stapleton
Lisa Stapleton
Lisa Stapleton is a former editorial director at IDG and former senior editor for InfoWorld and InformationWeek. She has written extensively about enterprise IT, business and environmental topics, and now serves as a senior marketing content manager for Treasure Data. She holds an MBA from Santa Clara, an Applied Math undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley, and an MA in journalism from Mizzou. She also enjoys being a Toastmaster.
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