Ridley Software Logo

Marketing VR in the year 2016 - Beyond Imagination


Let's travel to the future friends, take my hand and let's go visit the year:

<<< 2016 >>>

The sights and sounds in this time may be loud and confusing to you, do try to stay calm and not give yourself away as a visitor from such a deprived and backwards time as 2015.


I've been thinking about VR's commercial launch. Not cardboard. Not a developer kit, no. I mean the honest to God, real deal, commercial release.

A real box sitting on a shelf at a real store that you can exchange money for and they let you take home. The kind of release that might involve line ups at midnight around the block, five minute rambles on the local news and hopeful, happy children eyeing large packages under the tree on Christmas day. *

The Gear VR should not be used by children under the age of 13. Adults should monitor children (age 13 and older) who are using or have used the Gear VR for any of the symptoms described below, and should limit the time children spend using the Gear VR and ensure they take breaks during use. Prolonged use should be avoided, as this could negatively impact hand-eye coordination, balance, and multi-tasking ability. Adults should monitor children closely during and after use of the Gear VR for any decrease in these abilities. We think its actually probably fine and there's research that points to this being safe but God, what if we were to actually maim someone young? Young people live for a long time, so if you need to compensate them for lost potential salary over a lifetime, geez, that's bloody expensive. If the product just kill people outright, like say, a bicycle, we probably would not need to include this message on everything we touch.

To glimpse what that this strange, alien world might look like, we might start by taking a look at the closest thing we have to retail VR today, Samsung / Oculus's Gear VR.

There it is, sitting at Best Buy right now. You can go buy it. Now. You can buy VR right now!

Right from the start I want to give Samsung and Oculus a giant amount of credit for getting this far. They've not only succeeded in making this happen, but they've been handed the enormously delicate task of selling retail VR to the general public, something that's never really been tackled so far at this level. Ever.

I want to talk about just that, that alien, new task of pitching VR to consumers. In 2016, when someone climbs into their car to go "buy VR" what do we want them to be thinking?

Let's start by taking a close look at the message that Samsung's / Oculus has out there today.

If you sit down and type in "Gear VR" into Google, the first or second link will take you to a Gear VR page hosted by Samsung. Excellent SEO, great positioning!

And then...


I.... I have so many questions.

First off, let me be clear that I suspect that a lot of what is written here is by a non-native English speaker. If you have command of a second or third language, I commend you and applaud you and I don't want to poke at work done under this context. These bits of text would have been challenge to nail properly in using a first language, I would hate to attempt it in a second or third.

So if pokes at being made, they are being made at Samsung and its vast array of resources failing to properly be brought to bear on these thirty six words that greet each visitor.

Here's a line by line break down, because - hey why not?

"Beyond Imagination" - this is the title, written in large font, so it must be pretty important. As a consumer, this is a bit of a throw away line and I roughly interpret it to mean that "You there, should be excited about this thing and this thing is even better than you expect it will be because you can't even begin to imagine how great it really is."

It gets applied to a great deal of products out there quite liberally:

After a number of years of being targeted as a consumer from every conceivable angle, I think most of us swim along through text and such hyperbole like this just flows past us without even really registering.

Or maybe it's great marketing. I don't know. Kind of feels like an apple picked off the ground. (shrug)

"Simpler way to enjoy immersive experience" - Many questions about this line. What are the other immersive experiences and how is this simpler? Why is it simpler?

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that traditional movies and games are the "less simple" immersive experiences that are being compared here. Maybe? Or maybe, I could get on a plane and travel to Africa and immerse myself in a lion safari, deal with bot flies, and THAT would be less simple than using Gear VR. This line leaves a whole lot of guess work up to the consumer.

I've given it some thought and the most favorable interpretation that I can think of might be to say: "Hey folks, wearing this thing is like being in a movie theater, but instead of driving to the movie theater, sitting down with strangers and waiting for the movie to start, you just put it on and press a button. Much Simpler".

I've heard the phrase "A movie theater in your pocket." tossed around and I think it's great. Everyone gets it immediately.

"Find your look with the shiver colored frames" - Oh the third line. Boy. Are we only on the third line? It's a doozy.

By the third line, we are making a direct appeal to fashion, which would be way, way, way, way, way, way, way down on my list of key points when trying to market the current crop of HMDs.

I don't know what a "shiver colored" anything actually is, which I suspect might be failing on my part, as fashion has never been my forte. This might well be a valiant attempt at the word "silver" by some Korean writer or (based on some laborious and painstaking research I just did), might be referring to a glossy look that's common in the world of women's nail polish. Or maybe shampoo, or maybe anything from L'Oreal.

I... I'm trying to play along here as best I can.


Elvive Nourish & Shimmer (Hey, Vive!)

Shimmer is a big thing apparently

It actually does kind of shimmer so.. maybe...

"Find your look" makes me think that I can customize the experience in some way, it is something I'd expect to find attached to branding surrounding Apple's current watch campaign and the different watch straps, faces etc. As far as I know, when you are wearing Gear VR, there really is only two looks you can possibly get.

If you are a model, with good lighting, you get this look:

Everyone else gets this look:

The "look" might not be the primary motivator to use in encouraging people to buy. Again though, I'm still learning about fashion though, so don't take my word for it.

"Experience the virtual reality with Gear VR's ergonomic design."

This product allows me to experience "the" virtual reality and it is ergonomic, OK, good! Fine! That's fine! Great!

Everyone likes ergonomic design, it's never, um, the most exciting bullet point on a list..... but it's always welcome and without it, I always assume that the product will be unergonomic which I certainly can't get behind.

Too bad there's nothing in that sentence that's terribly exciting... Oh WAIT, what's this virtual reality thing? Can you tell me more about that? I saw this great movie once about this blond guy who liked comic books and it had Pierce Brosnan... and oh... no? We are moving on? No time? Oh. OK, then.

"VR incorporates soft and flexible cushioning for the ultimate comfort design."

It is comfortable and soft. Can't go wrong with that! Very exciting!

Wait.... hold on...

VR is soft and flexible? I'm confused. VR stands for... um.... virtual reality, right? I just really want to know a bit more about this "virtual reality" that my son Billy was talking about the other day and .... oh.... moving on again? oh......


So. I'm nitpicking. I know, but I feel that all of this is actually terribly important to get right, especially when a company is taking a swing at a whole new market for the first time.

None of these lines educate me on what this product actually does. Or if you can't manage that, at least hint at how it might make me feel and don't tell me it's COMFORTABLE, I'm already comfortable, let's aim a little higher, shall we?

After reading it, as a consumer I might walk away, thinking this is:

"Something that I can't imagine, that is simpler than other immersive experiences that aren't mentioned. It is comfortable and ergonomic and, oh, it also let's me experience something called virtual reality..... whatever that is."

Let's break away for a moment and look at another retail product that is looking to cash in on the valuable real estate of your face.

If you like to ski and have $649.95 dollars, Oakley has a par of sky goggles for you. Here is how they present them:

Now, Oakley makes it's living on trying to project an image of "cool". Image is terribly important to this brand, they live and die by it, so I'm not sure if this is a fair fight BUT I think we can learn something from this example.

First off "AIRWAVE" is pretty cool. You've your air and you got your waves, both of which are.... pretty unassailable, elemental forces. This is up against Samsung's Gear line, which at best conjures a mechanical gear in my mind:

Everyone loves gears. (just watch your fingers... I mean arm... I mean... head... I mean God, just take a big step back man!!!)

Or at worst camping:

Yeay! Camping!

Neither camping or mechanical gears really spark my imagination when it comes to a device that is supposed to spark my imagination. Don't even get me started on "Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition, Powered by Oculus" or SGVRIEPBO.

"Technology that Delivers the Goods, Straight to Your Brain.". Jesus, that's pretty good. It's high tech, the word "Goods" nicely skips around the problem that we don't know quite exactly know what VR is going to be used for and "Straight to your Brain" well, that's... that's just like heroine! Everyone can appreciate that kind of intensity. Right?


And then the best part, the best part is the smaller, descriptive text that lays out the following proposition:

You are a person that does awesome and interesting things that you enjoy. Here is something that will make it even more awesome and enjoyable.

And you know what? That's pretty damn unassailable too.

What a great approach for a company that wants to introduce and sell a product to a market in a safe way. Here's what Samsung could have written:

"Hey you. We hear you like to play games, we hear you like to watch movies, we hear you like to carry a mobile phone. We hear you like to do ALL of these things and still be able to walk around town and be social. Welp, good news people. If you've got a phone*, legs and $200 dollars, we can make all of these experiences a thousand times better."

*Galaxy Note 4 required, we dearly hope this is what you have, otherwise, you've screwed all of this up for yourself. SCREWED it ALL up!

DONE. That's the message, that's something that everyone will get and understand. Here are the things you like and we can make them all better.

For the rest of it, I'd keep it concrete and again, simple:

You can excite the reader about what the product can do and you can start to educate them on what this whole virtual reality thing is about at the same time.

But then you say...."Wait! Hold on! Shut up! Stop focusing on this narrow example."

OK. Let's look at some videos.

Samsung did a bang up job a few years back with their video campaign aimed at switching entrenched Apple users over to Galaxy phones. It went over so well that they must have some pretty top minds working in their video marketing wing and they undoubtedly do. Let's take a look.

They say that video is one of the most effective marketing tools currently available and Samsung has two videos that focus on Gear VR that I know of. If I've missed one, please lemme know.

Video One: Gear VR -- First Look

"The world of virtual reality is finally here. The Samsung Gear VR Innovator edition. Powered by Oculus and the Galaxy Note 4."

I'm pretty happy with a lot of what is said in this video. They talk about games and movies being experienced in new ways. That's great.

The video is intended to demonstrate what using the Gear VR is like. They've gone to a lot of trouble to drop the user and host into a room where the background neatly fades out and is replaced by what the user is seeing in VR through the Gear. It is slick and well produced and I watched it and then rewatched it, and watched it again and again and again because troubled by something and too dumb to pick up on it right away.

It's completely backwards.

The backdrop is supposed to show us what the user is seeing, but...

The user is facing away from what they are supposed to be seeing. Yes, this is done so that we can see their reactions but, no, it sets up a horrible disconnect between their body and their vision and our response to looking at both.

The image, kinda, sorta, moves as they do...kinda approximately, but in the movements are reflected in the wrong axis. (user looks left, image moves right). Turn him around and this would look AOKish.

Sometimes the background image does NOT move at all with the user, which is a real shame since that seems to be rather central to the presentation. I mean... isn't that why you brought us to this fancy room in the first place? This man sees another world through this device, come see what he sees, this is the whole point, right? Right?

Wow...... this is neato... wait, what's going on?

Remember, the whole idea here is to demonstrate that this puts you in the middle of the action and that everywhere you look you vision is filled with a different reality. Really important to follow through with this central point consistently.

I can HEAR people having fun....

At worst, it looks like our poor central guy is confused, sad and missing the show completely...

Video Two: Gear VR Demonstration

I feel like Samsung brought out the big guns for this video. It's a prime time quality spot filled with fun people in fun settings but it's also REAL people and that's what consumers want to see these days.

I have to say then, that I was more than a little surprised when the the title shot of the video opens on this:

Our spokesman has the Gear VR against his face and has not bothered with the straps, in fact they are sorta crammed against his face as well. For an advert for a head MOUNTED display, I find this a curious choice. He isn't alone either as the same thing happens again a little later on in the video.

Maybe this isn't a big deal. Maybe this is how "the kids are wearin it" these days. I dunno. I'm not sure if it exactly screams " ergonomic comfort" to me, which is apparently one of their important bullet points they want to impress upon you. When you take away the straps too, you start to get into real shaky ground as to what this product is all about.. we start to get dangerously close to.... this is a VERY expensive and unwieldy case territory.

Somebody at least took the time to make the VR view look better in these shots, which is nice, can you feel the difference?

Virtual Reality:

Lonely, blind, sadness:

The rest of the video is great, it has the upbeat tune in the background, everyone is happy and amazed, the host has a great smile. Everyone is very self assured and well adjusted. What's not to like?

My only other gripe would be this shot [below]. The lady ends up wanting to talk to the host and takes off the headset to make eye contact. Horrors.

Two problems.

Problem one: Gear VR needs to be portrayed as GREAT in social situations. There is no need to take off the Gear VR to talk to someone*, keep it on your head and enjoy yourself. Look at this man below and the eight girls that are sitting with him. Having a great time here, no need for eye contact with these ladies.

* except for thousands of years of social conditioning

Problem two: I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever show someone taking off the headset, it's like showing someone get OUT of the car in a car commercial. You go IN, you NEVER ever get out.

The only exception to this rule would be this guy who simply could not be more satisfied with everything he just experienced. If there's a "satiated" look for VR, this would be it:

I wonder how many takes it took to get this shot?

I'll leave you with this. It's the most compelling video that I've come across that makes me want to run out and buy a Gear VR. It's shot with a handy cam, does not talk about Quad HD Super AMOLED, does not show any of the features or screens. It just sits back and shows you real reactions to amazing technology. In the age of Youtube and reality TV this is there nerve that you need to strike, the product is amazing, let it do its work on the people and don't get in the way of it. If there's anything that IS really needed, it is in educating the consumer what all of this is about and how it can improve their lives, the rest will sell itself.

(While you watch this video, as a class exercise, recall the original Gear First Look video and compare your gut response.)

Yeah, this one.

Note: If it turns out that Samsung actually funded this video, I'd be the first to give them a standing ovation on clever and effective marketing.

Give me a shout at @ID_R_McGregor on twitter, or send me an email at id.r.mcgregor@gmail.com.

- by Robert McGregor, April 2015