Augmented reality and virtual reality are the source of growing buzz.

For brands interested in exploring them, which is the more worthy technology?

What are they?

First things first. What are augmented reality and virtual reality, and how do they differ from each other?

Augmented reality refers to technologies that augment views of the real world with computer-generated information.

An example of an AR device is Google Glass, smartglasses that combined a touchpad, camera and LED display. Thanks to the display, users of Google Glass can access the internet and services such as mapping and email within their field of view.

Next-generation AR devices like the recently-unveiled Microsoft HoloLens promise AR experiences that some have called magical.

Because AR can be based on digital views of the real world, more ubiquitous devices, such as smartphones and tablets, can also be used to create AR experiences.

As the name suggests, virtual reality refers to technologies that allow users to interact with virtual experiences. Unlike AR, there's no view, direct or indirect, of the real world; everything the user sees, hears and feels is computer-generated.

Facebook's Oculus Rift is an example of a VR device.

How they're being used by brands today

Because smartphones and tablet devices can be used to develop AR experiences, examples of brands using augmented reality in the wild are plentiful. 

In 2013, Asda turned to augmented reality to implement a Horrible Halloween Hunt in which kids using the Asda app could be guided by Sir Spook on an in-store adventure.

Also in 2013, IKEA launched an AR app for iOS and Android that enabled shoppers to simulate how IKEA furniture would look in their homes.

Because brands have been using AR for years, tips and best practices have emerged, making it easier for brands to design and implement compelling AR experiences.

VR, on the other hand, is a more nascent technology, so there are fewer real-world applications, but the numbers are growing. Tommy Hilfiger and Thomas Cook are among the brands that have experimented with VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear RV.

Boursin combined VR, bespoke CGI animation and live product sampling to create an experiential roadshow.

 

The potential

Thanks to increasingly capable and affordable smartphone and tablet devices, as well as mature platforms like iOS and Android, there is ample opportunity for brands of all shapes and sizes in a wide range of industries to develop refined and sophisticated AR experiences today.

VR is less accessible and probably will be for the foreseeable future, but there are numerous ways virtual reality can be applied and for brands in some industries, some of the applications could be game changers.

For example, brands in travel and hospitality, including hotel giant Marriott, travel agency Thomas Cook and airline Qantas Airways, have started experimenting with initiatives around next-gen VR headsets and in some cases, VR has the potential to revolutionise the way they sell their services.

Which technology wins? The verdict

So should brands focus on AR or VR? Not surprisingly, that depends.

Right now, AR is certainly more accessible. Opportunities to create AR experiences are abundant, and those experiences can be created for widely-available smartphone and tablet devices and easily distributed through popular app stores.

VR is generating lots of buzz, but brands will have a harder time employing it today. While devices like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR are now available to consumers, they're far from mainstream.

That likely won't change until prices for VR headsets drop and larger numbers of consumers are convinced to buy for non-gaming applications. Additionally, given the cost of creating VR experiences – professional-grade VR cameras alone can cost tens of thousands of dollars – brands without game-changing VR opportunities will probably want to wait until VR is more accessible.

If you want to learn more about VR for marketing, check out Econsultancy’s Marketer’s Guide to Virtual Reality

Patricio Robles

Published 14 April, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Joss Davidge

Joss Davidge, Director of the Unexpected at BEcause Experiential Marketing

Great article, Patricio - many thanks for including the Boursin Sensorium within this round-up. We’re only just beginning to see what the technology is truly capable of and with a plethora of new platforms and hardware coming to the market, there’s never been a better time for brands to experiment with live creative tech. The use of VR and AR technology can provide tremendous business value from both an internal and external perspective and it’s exciting to see brands from new industries embracing the technology in creative ways.

over 1 year ago

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Joel Latto, Digital Editor at Frosmo

Good article, thanks Patricio!

I also wrote about VR in eCommrce just two weeks ago. It was surprisingly hard to find good business cases (most companies seems to lean towards AR), but I managed to find few: http://frosmo.com/en/blog/how-virtual-reality-is-disrupting-ecommerce-videos

over 1 year ago

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Zsofia Kerekes, Marketing Manager at Catchoom

Thanks for the article, Patricio, I love the examples. Agree on Augmented Reality being more accessible today, and the opportunity to let users interact with their real world (versus 'escaping it' via VR) makes it more versatile (can be applied to very different locations and scenarios), in my humble opinion. We've seen great AR & Image Recognition stories lately.

over 1 year ago

Farooq Bhatti

Farooq Bhatti, Street View Trusted & Local Search Business Development at Caliber Interactive Ltd

I am not sure about "brands without game-changing VR opportunities will probably want to wait until VR is more accessible."

Can you risk waiting around to give your competitor a head-start in VR marketing?

over 1 year ago

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Joel Latto, Digital Editor at Frosmo

If Google Cardboard, costing ~$15 to the end user, doesn't mean VR is accessible, then I don't know what does.

over 1 year ago

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Dara Lin, Lead Generation Specialist at Callbox Australia

Great article Patricio. VR(virtual Reality) and AR(Augmented Reality) are both great technologies which can be use by brands to advertise but in terms of accessibility and efficiency, Augmented reality is on the top of the list. Virtual reality is commmonly used in gaming nowadays which leaves the augmented reality to nothing. I think it is time for augmented reality to prove itself by entering the world of business.

over 1 year ago

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Matt Bea, Intern at Bullseye Strat

This is a great article. I tend to lean away from AR just because the only real success story has come from Pokemon GO. That being said, you are right that there are some industries that would have way more benefit with AR than VR. But an industry like real estate is an example of VR working way more in their favor than AR: https://www.hmsnational.com/real-estate-professional/blog/real-estate-virtual-reality

6 months ago

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