How Brands Like Merrell, Whirlpool and Others Are Embracing Virtual Reality

Although a “Star Trek”-like Holodeck where people freely interact with a virtual world does not yet exist, brands are already experimenting with the latest set of virtual reality technologies.

[Quick note on the difference between virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR): VR is like the Holodeck and usually achieved by wearing gear like the Oculus Rift. AR blends virtual reality and real life, allowing people to interact with virtual content in the real world and distinguish between the two.]

Outdoor-apparel brand Merrell recently used VR to re-engage with its core consumers — adventure lovers. At the Sundance Film Festival last month, Merrell used the Oculus Rift for its “TrailScape” experience. People could “walk” through a mountainous region, which featured physical elements like ropes, bridges, a rock wall and wind.

merrell

“I wanted to freshen the brand up and give it a loud voice, but I wanted to do it in a way that was appealing to a broader audience and that’s more youthful,” Wolverine Worldwide President Gene McCarthy, who manages Merrell’s brand, recently told AdAge.

Hotel giant Marriott is also looking for ways to appeal to its guests through VR. The Teleporter, which Marriott introduced late last year at eight of its properties, used the Oculus Rift and a rectangular structure equipped with the smells and sensations of certain locations, to create a “4D” experience.

At CES, Samsung announced a partnership with Red Bull Media and the NBA for its Milk VR service, which will deliver streaming and downloaded virtual reality video to owners of the Gear VR headset.

Home appliances brand Whirlpool also talked about its plans to use virtual reality for marketing purposes, like letting consumers see how certain products like washers and dryers would actually fit inside their homes.

microsoft hololens family room rgb

Meanwhile, Microsoft unveiled a 3D headset called the HoloLens just last month. Microsoft’s product, unlike the Oculus Rift, is meant for AR experiences.

“I’m convinced that personal computing is on the verge of a major change,” Business Insider Reporter Matt Rosoff said after a 40-minute in-person demo of the HoloLens. “In 10 years or so, people will be using head-mounted displays that project 3D images that you can interact with in actual space.

Microsoft’s HoloLens will be huge for brands, because of its potential to change the way they interact with consumers, Forrester Analyst James McQuivey recently said.

“Mixed reality will change the way that brands interact with consumers,” McQuivey wrote in a report. “The headsets will be expensive for the next several years, but we estimate that 3.6 million people will likely buy one by the end of 2016. Holographic mixed-reality computing will similarly affect the industries that were most susceptible to web-based and then mobile-based disruption. Smart CMOs in those industries will plan to address it by 2017, and the rest, no later than 2020.”

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