Is VR a Marketing Tech Cat-astrophe?

VR Cat-astrophe
VR Cat-astrophe

Every so often, even hard-nosed, metrics-focused, KPI-respecting marketers rush to embrace a sexy new idea that promises breakout results without providing a track record or testing to back up its claims. Why? Because it looks shiny, fresh…potentially world-beating!

Innovation doesn’t guarantee success, of course. Particularly if it dispenses with empathy for your target audience, analytics and iterative improvement, qualities at the heart of smart marketing.

One famously bizarre example was the CueCat, launched in 2000 after snatching up $185 million in funding from ordinarily sober-minded types like Young & Rubicam, Radio Shack, and Coca-Cola.

Clawing for an advantage

Source: YouTube

CueCat (invented by a J. Jovan Philyaw, who re-named himself J. Hutton Pulitzer, so no lack of self-confidence there!) was a feline-shaped barcode scanner meant to direct print readers to a specific URL.
Consumers got CueCats via bulk mail drops or at Radio Shack stores, and pubs including Forbes, WIRED, AdWeek, the Verizon Yellow Pages and newspapers enthusiastically embedded barcodes on their pages. The fact you had to be reading your weekly Parade while CueCat was jacked into a PC apparently didn’t strike anyone as a less-than-optimized user experience.
The results? Fiasco, disaster and #1 worst invention of the 2000s were among the kinder terms. The investors, who lost every penny, probably threw around cattier language, pardon the pun.

Ironically, CueCat actually had a sound idea behind it. If you’ve used a smartphone to scan a QR code, you’re treading in its pawprints. Yet since its developers didn’t apply usability methodologies – i.e., basic common sense – CueCat came out of the (litter) box totally oblivious to people’s actual needs and behaviors.

Why did savvy marketers get in line behind CueCat in the first place, though?

First, there was a little thing called the “ Boom” going on at the time, soon to be re-characterized as the “ Bubble” as a horde of ideas came and went, usually after devouring millions of bucks in investor cash. Here’s a rundown of some of the nastiest flops. While it was in full swing, though, the “Boom” was just one manifestation of a wave of enthusiasm for web-based technologies that was intoxicating.

For print publishers, hybridizing their offerings with technology seemed imperative, because the writing was on the wall: Digital media looked like it was about to become a kingslayer, toppling established formats like magazines and newspapers. That sense of impending doom was abroad in the land even before the arrival of smartphones and the app ecosystem in the late 2000s. So CueCat’s backers were at least making an effort, though nothing they did could stem the irreversible decline of newsprint.

The inevitability behind VR and AR

Analysts have looked at the numbers for VR device adoption over the past year or two and shaken their heads, preaching gloom and doom about how VR would fall far short of its market potential. They, though, were beating the drums the loudest for VR just a short while ago, and the fact the market hasn’t matured at the pace they foresaw doesn’t mean it’s not viable for marketers, what with a projected 171 million users in 2018.

It’s just that the high-end demands involved in participating in VR, requiring headsets and immersive content, may take a while to become more accessible to broad audiences. Price points need to drop, and some truly “killer app” products and channels need to show up big. And we should still question how wisely we deploy virtual reality in marketing, since it might have complications we can’t foresee.

But augmented reality, that’s a (virtual) horse of a different color. There are plenty of insightful opinions on how AR will very quickly enhance the engagement possible between advertiser and audience. Pokémon Go and Snapchat have shown us how fun, frictionless interactions can build enormous awareness and live interactions at serious scale.

For content marketers, it’s an extraordinary opportunity. For audiences, it’s a way to magically involve yourself with brands, events, experiences and causes.

Google Glass
Seriously, Sergey?

There’s a natural human impulse to want to immerse ourselves in different environments, whether it’s because we’re avoiding the one we’re in right now or in pursuit of some richer level of experience. Technologists and marketers will falter along the way (hello, Google Glass!) but they’ll jump the hurdles soon enough.

Soon, the de facto way to bring B2C and B2B products to market won’t be about simply creating a seamless sales funnel experience for your target audience. It’ll be about delivering a holistic, immersive brand experience where they can see, touch, and feel the impact you’ll have on their lives.

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