Marketers toying with the prospect of engaging customers through virtual or augmented reality may struggle to justify the investment, but ignore its possibilities entirely and risk getting left behind. As the technology improves in price, usability and accessibility, it will only become more feasible for many brands looking to take their creativity and innovation to the next level. And as Gen Z, the first true digital-native generation, matures, not forgetting adoption by tertiary markets, we’ll see increasing demand for more immersive experiences.

A lesson in altered realities

With virtual reality (VR), you can swim with sharks while augmented reality (AR) means that you can watch a shark pop out of your business card.

VR implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world. Using VR devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, users can be transported into real-world and imagined environments such as the middle of a squawking penguin colony or even the back of a dragon.

AR on the other hand adds digital elements to a live view often by using the camera on a smartphone. Examples include Snapchat lenses and Pokemon Go.

Use in marketing

In the world of marketing, this means that VR experiences can be much more immersive for your customers. They can also reduce the space you need to showcase products making them perfect for smaller shops or pop-ups. The opportunity for kinaesthetic learning drastically improves recall, so VR is particularly helpful to train and educate customers or staff on how to do something. Customers can also experience a product in a virtual environment to try different colour or style combinations.

AR on the other hand can be less intimidating and provides more freedom for the user, and more possibilities for marketers, because it does not need a head-mounted display. It’s also less expensive and requires no training and minimal set up.

In AR, Blippar is making in-store promotions more interactive. AR is also being used to bring traditional print materials to life and to enable customers to gain a better idea of how a product may look in a particular setting.

Best in class

Ikea’s Place app is a great example of a huge international brand embracing AR to expand influence and engagement beyond physical outlets. Away from the constraints of a busy warehouse and more interactive than any website, users can peruse and ‘sample’ a large variety products in the comfort and peace of their own home. From a purely practical standpoint, tools like this can reduce any concerns about space or style helping to avoid choice rejection. The best thing is many people have this technology readily available in their pockets in the form of a smartphone.

Custom shelf brand, Tylko takes this a step further with an AR-powered interactive design app. Users have total control of the design process leading to a bespoke solution that they can view in real time. The level of control really helps engender a sense of commitment as the shelves designed are constructed and delivered exactly as desired.

Merrell and Framestore’s Trailscape is a prime example of how VR can dramatically enhance product engagement and recall with an immersive, memorable experience. Users are transported into a jaw-dropping landscape (with a dynamic set and haptic feedback) – only actually being on a mountain range for real would eclipse the experience. In a retail space this can create some hot state decision making (emotion fuelled) and priming.


For retailers with limited space, VR can house entire worlds in a headset. From stores to cities, the potential is limitless as users can browse custom-built shops displaying an infinite amount of products or test drive proxies of real-world products – all built to scale. Amazon’s pop-up exhibition is a ‘Prime’ example of how you can make the most out of a tiny space.

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By Stu Keates

Senior Creative Artworker