winter / 2016

The magazine of branded content
Manifest’s Nicholas
Longano talks all
things Virtual Reality
Juliet Stott
Juliet Stott
Oct 20, 2016

As part of our Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality focus this month Content Magazine talked in-depth to one of our guest speakers from yesterday’s webinar, Nicholas Longano, from New York content agency Manifest, about the emergence of VR and why every brand needs to have a VR strategy in place.

Juliet Stott: VR is a fast-paced, emerging market. Why is it popular with content marketers, and why is it going to become an increasingly used tactic to reach audiences?
Nicholas Longano: In this day and age, where everyone has an omni-channel strategy, where they’re trying to reach their consumer and stand out from the fray — whether it’s on TV, the internet or on a mobile device, it’s difficult for brand marketers to break through. Even when they do, they’re challenged for attention. They have too many distractions — multitasking as they watch TV, ad blockers on the internet and much frustration with the state of mobile advertising that disrupts experiences and alienates consumers. But in contrast, VR is a haven. People who try it are really engaged. They can’t fast forward, they can’t look away, they can’t multitask; they are completely engaged. They are pretty much a captive audience. If you have a brand message and you use VR as a tool, you have an engaged and interested audience with a guaranteed impression. When was the last time anyone could say that?

JS: From a consumer’s perspective there seems to be more opportunity to engage with VR with the increasing availability of headsets coming on to the market.
NL: We haven’t seen the big push for headsets yet because there’s been no real compelling software or content for it. But once the game-makers get out there, it’s going to be a completely different story. Content is still king after all. I think headsets are going to be the hottest thing this Christmas, for sure. Also you won’t be able to escape the marketing. The demand will be driven by some of the biggest companies in the world, from Sony, Google, Samsung, HTC and Facebook (Oculus), all pushing the hardware and its respective content. When you have the biggest companies in the world all focused in this area, the question is not ‘’if” it will happen, but rather “when.” With the level of investment in this field, it’s bound to become a self-fulling prophecy.

JS: Is VR set to be the next craze?
NL: Absolutely, but not a short term craze like hoverboards. VR has staying power because it is so versatile in its application — well beyond entertainment. There’s so much software and content in development right now for these platforms. It’s inevitable. It’s no different from the launches of the Xbox or Playstation in the past. It is the content that drives the hardware sales, but that content needs to be really immersive. I don’t believe that people are going to spend $300–$500 on top line headsets to watch passive 360 videos; it requires immersive “lean-in” entertainment for the market to adopt. In fact, I believe that 360 video will transition to interactive 360 video, which is when things start to get really exciting. There’s no doubt that for brands and for anyone who’s in the entertainment realm, if they don’t have a VR strategy for 2017, they are well behind the curve and not thinking about all the utility that these platforms offer, let alone the engagement opportunities for their brands. Whether it’s for retail purposes, training, entertainment, activation, testing, education and so forth, VR’s many applications will make it commonplace in business and at home.

JS: But what consumer wants to watch a branded video, say a car manufacturer’s VR film?
NL: Whether you’re in the market for a car or not, it’s a really cool experience. It’s something that’s novel and allows audiences to experience what they may not be likely to experience in real life. Will you want to do it over and over again? Probably not. But like the days of surfing the internet, it was about discovery and escape. People love to do that. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, you can put on a VR headset and teleport yourself to browse and test drive the latest car. You may not be able to afford a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but you may want to know the rush of what it feels like to be in that cockpit traveling at 200mph. Most people don’t get to experience that, even if they own one of their own. VR is not just a novelty and “shiny new object.” It has much utility and beyond discovery and escape. People want to be informed, and there’s no better and emotive way to experience and discover information than when you put one of those headsets on. It’s powerfully emotive, and you will remember that experience. Your brain reacts very differently to something when it’s fully immersed to the point that your brain thinks you are actually there. It becomes a part of the memory set.

JS: VR has been described by the naysayers as the start of a dystopian future…
NL: I don’t think so. VR is just a different platform for entertainment or discovering, playing and experiencing content. Audiences will certainly use it for gaming purposes, because there is no better way to play a game than on these devices. In VR, it’s fantastical, for sure and perhaps surreal, but it also has tremendous utility.

JS: Will VR replace real life experiences?
NL: You can never replace a real life experience. It creates the desire to attend the real life experience, not replace it. Look at sports. Audiences don’t stop going to live events because they watch them on TV. Rather, TV broadens the exposure and awareness for it and creates the desire to attend at some other time. You can never replace a real life experience with these devices, but you can create something compelling that will make them want to go there and experience it for real. It is about convenience. Imagine for certain things such as home decorating that instead of sketching things out or trying to use your imagination, you can now, through your smartphone, change out all the cabinets and hardware and see how it would look in real time. That’s extraordinary and takes the guess work out of it.

JS: How big will VR be in the future?
NL: VR will be an important tool across many forms of content, entertainment, business and delivery of information, and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. I think it will replace the way people connect on social media today. Beyond words, pictures and videos, VR allows you to literally reach out and touch someone. The new social media will be you, sitting in a room with your family and friends, in real time, interacting and engaging like never before. We’ve got the technology to be able to do that now, so who will want to go back to the old traditional engagement?