Virtual Reality – The Next Marketing & Advertising Tool for Automotive?

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One of the most interesting things about working in automotive advertising and marketing, is working within an industry that is always open to the cutting edge. Of course we’ve all learned that we are a very ADD industry as well. If it doesn’t prove itself to be financially feasible – a good ROI AND ROE – in about 15 minutes, then we’ve moved on to the next big thing. So what is that next big thing right now? Could it be Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality? (VR and AR in the world of acronyms that we love so much). Some sources feel that it could be a game changer in 2016 – especially believable if you have visited any auto shows or engineering facilities in 2015. If this is the next best thing, we need to dig in, and see how it can be an effective tool. And, the big question is, will be only be a marketing tool or how can we create an advertising strategy as well.

Leading the pack with automotive VR is Ford Motor Company – who has already been experimenting with virtual reality for a few years. They have been using the Oculus Rift headset as part of the engineering and manufacturing process. Audi rolled out what executives are calling “the most flexible sales format ever invented in the car industry” in January of this year. Wearable technology allows you to enter a virtual showroom and build your perfect vehicle. Auto City London, the first fully digital Audi showroom – a concept that opened in 2012 to show how car dealerships could function when landlocked in major metropolitan areas, where a lot was not a possibility, is using the new technology. Once the customer builds their vehicle, they can review it, inside and out, to make sure it is the vehicle that will meet their needs. Volvo has also jumped into the game, with a virtual test drive of the XC90, even before it hit the dealership. Ferrari has been using Augmented Reality (AR) on a tablet, to select a model and then browse through optional vehicle features.

Currently it seems that much of the technology is limited to the manufacturing process, or the pricier of vehicle brands, and has not made it to the showrooms of the majority of dealers. Although it is forecast to populate the dealers with VR technology in the latter half of 2016.

As outside advertisers and marketers, how are we going to be able to pull in this technology to help our dealer partners better advertiser their products? Perhaps through our existing products or in completely new spaces. The exciting part of new technology is that there really are no rules, and the only boundaries are the ones that we create. So what can we create?

UpShift Digital feels that the first extension of this project will likely happen on the local level, with media companies and perhaps local auto dealer associations, spicing up the offerings of the local new car show. Think of the experiential ways that a potential customer to fall in love with that new vehicle without ever having to step foot in the showroom. This project would work great at selling auto shows, although those are few and far between. As you may have heard, Gannett or the USA Today newspapers as they are now being called, have already launched the Virtual Reality newsroom. The first person gamification processes show us that the audience for the VR tools is already there – this is not like launching a brand new technology and having to wait for the audience to catch up.

It does not seem like the price point will make this far too difficult for the typical consumer to have access to the gear. According to the Best Buy website Samsung Gear VR, which is powered by Oculus, sells for $99 and works with your Samsung Galaxy smartphone. Oculus Ready PCs are selling for just under $1000, with the purchase of Oculus Rift, which is $599. It is able to be pre-ordered for July arrival. (Ok, that’s still a little pricey, but we all know how that pre-order thing works, and what happens to prices soon after). But it does show is that consumers will have affordable access to the necessary technology to interact with our Virtual advertising, once we’ve put it out there.

Since the technology will be readily available for home use, starting in July (and the Samsung Galaxy technology already is) how do we take the VR experience to the customer’s living room? Are Cars.com, AutoTrader and Cox Automotive thinking of ways to incorporate the technology into their sites and tools? Now not only will you have image 360 views and pan/scan videos, but the Virtual Test drive too? What about the newer online auto shopping concepts that are coming out and empower the entire shopping and financing process to happen outside of the dealership. Is this the next step on the dealers’ websites, past differential video – now we can have differential dealership virtual reality? Is this actually a way to keep the brick and mortar dealerships in the buying process, but yet the consumer doesn’t have to leave their home. This is the day and age of Amazon Prime and Amazon Now; we are getting used to shopping, buying and receiving merchandise within hours, and never even having to put on pants.

Virtual Reality is an exciting, accessible technology, which may very likely change the automotive shopping process, as we know it. Being able to experience the vehicle and experience the dealership, without ever leaving your home, may take some of the bigger pain points out of the vehicle shopping process. Auto advertisers and dealerships that embrace this technology first, and figure out ways to differentiate their selling experiences, will reap fast rewards. Let’s talk about this – whether you are a media company, an agency, a dealership or a technology company, we can work together to create the all-new VR shopping experience.

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