R U 4 Real? The VR Conversation: How VR is Changing Marketing

TDT 1 | Virtual Reality
TDT 1 | Virtual Reality

Reality has become somewhat distorted in this day and age. We now have virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. All of these things are among the different labels we have come to interact with our environment and even that longing to escape real life by way of technology. This has undoubtedly affected how we do business advertising and marketing. The marketing matrix gets more complicated with new technology. Here we talk about what each of the terms means and how VR can pump up your conversation rate.

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R U 4 Real? The VR Conversation: How VR is Changing Marketing

This is the show about crossroads where traditional PR know-how meets digital marketing expertise with me, Stefanie LaHart from BoomTown Marketing and Sharon Noot, my very best friend, from Noot Inc. We help small businesses navigate the quickly changing world of business marketing. It’s all about virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, all the realities coming together.

What about real reality?

We’re going to have to talk about that too. How does real reality fit into all this crazy stuff? This whole augmented reality thing has blown up. Let’s go over quickly what each of them are so everybody’s on the same playing field when we’re talking about it. A lot of people still use the term virtual reality in the same plane as augmented reality and it’s different. The difference is that virtual reality is totally virtual. There is the movie Ready Player One, which was amazing. Virtual reality is immersing people completely into the virtual environment, whereas AR is creating an overlay of the virtual content. The difference is you don’t interact with that environment. You can see it, it’s on top of what you’re shooting, but you don’t get to move it around.

Like the dog filter in Snapchat.

Like the Pokémon game from before. Mixed reality is a mix of the virtual and the augmented and it creates virtual objects that can then interact with the actual environment. Those are the three terms that we’re all throwing around these days. For the most part, when people say virtual reality, what they mean these days, it’s mixed reality.

All these things are in five years, ten years, fifteen years, it’s going to be completely part of daily life.

Do you want to give me the future view? What is it going to look like in ten years?

Have you been on VRChat?


I know an executive that is over there. Back in the video game world when I was a little PR person still in college and they were all playing their video games like Earthworm Jim and the early BBS, these people have gone on to be executives. I know an executive now of VRChat. I went on there and I had major flashbacks. You don’t play games, so you don’t know what it was like.

Sharon is a hardcore gamer.

I’m what they would call a BAD. When MMOs first came out for the very first time, using your keyboard and walking around in a virtual world with your little avatar talking to other people, it was clunky and very weird. When I’m seeing people now in VRChat trying to interact with objects and communicate with each other, it seems very much like that. What happened was with MMOs, it moved very quickly. It got sophisticated very quickly. I feel like VRChat and other VR programs are going to evolve very quickly.

We’re not going to be like Ready Player One, but in the next few years, as the money keeps going into industry, people will be surprised at how sophisticated it is. If you remember Second Life, which wasn’t true VR, it was very successful. The Sims and all these things where people can become somebody else are popular. Money’s going to go there, and the technology will be finessed. The next thing you know, there are going to be virtual worlds and people are going to be out there to run ragged.

Since we’ve both seen Ready Player One and you said that you don’t see it going that way necessarily, but wouldn’t that be the natural progression of it? Here’s the funny thing about virtual worlds. People like to escape their own lives. I would see more than anything that the Ready Player One model would probably come way quick. If you could escape your own day-to-day without taking drugs or drinking, I know many people.

TDT 1 | Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality: The funny thing about virtual worlds is that people like to escape their own lives.

There’s a cost barrier because it’s one thing to have a headset and a couple of handsets and you’re good to go. When you have a whole-body suit and you’re using a treadmill rather than the WASD keys and you’re using your keyboard, that’s a whole level of sophistication. Unless you have other people that are with you, there’s not going to be much in that world. That’s going to move a little bit slowly, but you can still use the tools that are available now to have an interesting experience, but it’s very clunky. It’s hard to maneuver and it’s hard to use tools. It’s hard to figure out how you’re going to speak to another person. There’s a ton of bad crap anywhere in a digital world. There are trolls and it’s not policed. It’s not going to be very organized or productive at this point, but we’ll get there.

Since you’ve been over in VRChat and you’ve seen what’s going on over there, has advertising and marketing already infiltrated it?

I have not seen it yet, but I’ve seen Rick and Morty avatars. Are those Rick and Morty avatars or are they the producers of that program putting those characters in there as a reminder?

That would be a great audience for them over there. What I’ve seen with the augmented reality that Snapchat has done and games like Sonic Hedgehog and Pokémon, there are many ways for marketers to take advantage of that. Take for example, with Snapchat because of the Lenses. Snapchat is where you can take a picture or a video. Lenses essentially, in the beginning, was a frame that would go around your image. Snapchat started selling that real estate off quickly where anyone could do their own frame that’s all called Lenses. It allows you to have a custom-like lens, a.k.a. frame for a certain local area.

One of the things that I early on did with some of my fitness clients was that we would create these custom frames that would go into effect within a five-mile radius around their location. When they had a special event going on or a special promotion, if you were on Snapchat, you were served this as an option to put this on your image. It was a great way to brand your business. It’s something that in the beginning they were offering to people for free. As a person, you could announce your birthday and stuff because that was so accepted and seamless, I can see things like that taking off in VR. What do you think?

In VR, the sky is the limit. If you could create it digitally, then it can be done. Click To Tweet

In VR, the sky’s the limit. If you could create it digitally, then it can be done, you could have a Burger King that you can go to. It’s all going to be a matter of who’s willing to put the money into width and everything is so measurable. They’ll be able to tell right away if it’s returning their investment. Companies are scrambling because of ad blocking. They’ve realized they can no longer rely on banner ads and other things on websites. Everyone’s got an ad blocker, no one’s going to watch their ads. All of their advertisement has to be integrated into the content.

I would be surprised if any advertising digitally even exists in a few years, it’s going to be completely integrated. For our end consumers, how sad is it going to be that no one’s going to know what’s an ad and what’s an influence promoted by a company? It started in the UK, now it’s here formally, where influencers have to make a note when they are being paid to sponsor a product. Who follows it? Nobody.

I would start cracking down on Instagram. You said something about it being sad that you wouldn’t know an advertisement. I still come from the space that advertising is beneficial in general. I want things served to me that are going to be relevant to my life.

Don’t you want to know if it’s paid for or not?

No, not necessarily. It doesn’t always matter.

What if it’s a manipulation?

Everything is manipulation. Click To Tweet

Everything is manipulation. When you’re in a magazine and you get to the section where it says, “This is an advertisement,” even though you know that’s an advertisement, it still has as much equal sway over you because you’re seeing it and you’re reading it. It’s already been proven, Sharon, by seeing it in a forum. It’s the same thing, it doesn’t matter if I know it’s an ad or not.

Are you trying to tell me that PR, which is earned editorial, is less influential than a paid advertising?

I didn’t say it was less influential. I said it has a certain amount of influence because of the way it’s presented.

It’s only a fraction. If a friend of yours tells you, “I love this product, you have to try it,” is that more influential than you see an ad on tv?

It is, but that’s only one portion of the whole decision-making process of, “Am I going to go out and get this to you?” There are still so many other influences that come into play. You never sit there, no one does, and by one person’s recommendation, pick up a product, and say, “That’s it. That’s exactly what I want to have.” There are other things that have come into existence.

You were telling that sometimes you see something online and you wish there was a link because you would buy it.

You’re discounting all of the other information that has already come through my vortex, but then when I got to that decision-making process that I was like, “I want that now.” It’s never the first exposure to anything, but it is that repeated exposure that’s going to last.

That’s part of the marketing mix. You need to have a promotion, positioning, advertising and PR. I don’t know what it was you saw that you wanted to see a link to, but I guarantee you there was not an ad somewhere, you saw it. How many times have you watched an influencer talk about a makeup product?

That’s the one instance. I’ve already had exposure before I even got to that point that when I was receptive to what they were saying. I didn’t look at one ad and say, “I’m going to get that. I have no idea what it is or why I would use it.” All these different influences that come through you on a daily basis over your lifetime, that’s where the decision-making process comes in.

I will back paddle a little because you’re right. What I will do is I will Google something, and then I’ll look up other things about it. I’ll try to discern what is real because there’s so much crap on the internet. I wish they’d teach in school how you can tell what is fake online versus real. You take all that in. I don’t know if you see any promotion of a product or service before the first time you’re touched by it via an influencer or some other way to promote it.

The ad doesn’t come first. The impulse comes first at some point in your day. Let’s use an example of my wonderful, refillable, hot, cold water bottle that I use every day. My need for a water bottle came before I started being aware of water bottles in general.

But that’s a need.

That’s how you react to any advertisement.

A lot of effective advertising makes you think you need something when you don’t. Click To Tweet

A lot of effective advertising makes you think you need something when you don’t need it.

It’s not a matter of making you think you need it when you don’t. What advertising does successfully is that it shows you the possibilities of this product in your life. Something you may not have considered before, it’s not a matter of you didn’t need it, but if you didn’t even know how to use something like I’m sitting here thinking, “I’ve never been on VRChat. I wouldn’t even know how to use that, so I don’t care about it.” If you sat there and said, “This is how you can use it. This is how it can make your day better or worse. This is what you can learn.” Then suddenly my brain says, “Okay.” I walk away from it and now my brain keeps thinking about that. The next time I’m exposed to something that’s like a VRChat, now I have some basis for making a comparison and I’m more receptive to the idea. I start figuring out how does this fit into my life. It’s not a matter of you’re selling me something I never needed or never wanted. What advertising does is it gives you possibilities. That’s the beauty of VR and AR. It gives you a window into a possibility of an existence or an experience that you would not have had before or would have even realized.

TDT 1 | Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality: The beauty of VR and AR is it gives you a window into a possibility of an existence of experience that you would not have had before.

It’s a lot more intimate.

Let’s play a game then. Let’s think about what would be a creative, useful and positive use of doing some advertising with VR and AR. VR is super exciting because it’s giving you the possibility to create worlds. For me, that’s something that’s always been attractive and why I became a web designer so many years ago. When I figured out I could create this actual virtual world that didn’t exist in a tangible form, I was hooked. That’s why VR is taking off in the way it is because it’s giving your brain or experience another way to live or experience or grow. I always take stuff from a point of, “Wouldn’t this be cool if we could do this because the possibilities are good?” I don’t see advertising ever inherently as bad. Although, you can use it for bad.

Don’t you see advertising as bad? I’m cautious. I’m a little bit nervous about the way things are going.

Things are going the way they exactly should. Are you in VRChat?

To be honest, all I’ve done is a little bit of spectating because I was very curious. If you had seen the clip of the poor guy having a seizure in VR, it went viral because it’s like, “What’s going on with this world?” I have not been in VRChat enough to have any intelligent opinions. I saw the way that’ll work.

When I went to my last Kings game, when we played against Arizona and we killed them, they had this thing in the lobby where you could be a VR goalie. It was so much fun. The part that made it even more fun was because I’m standing there playing this in the game. I’m playing the virtual reality part of it, but there’s a whole crowd around me that’s also interacting with me playing the game. In essence, I became part of their experience of the game because they’re watching me.

For advertising, I see this as a great way to enhance the experience of whatever the ad or the message is going to be. Influencers that have sway because people are able to relate to them, but remember they’ve related to them before they got to that product. There was a whole history and whole relationship before that too. I do see the ways in which virtual reality can enhance our way because sometimes our world is so limited that you don’t have an experience that could broaden in your whole world, whether it be travel or interacting with people across the world. When I see VR, AR, MR, whatever they want to call it, I see its ability to be like, “I could travel to far off lands, I could have different relationships, I can meet different people.” I see advertising playing into that in a good way.

What advertising does is it gives you possibilities. Click To Tweet

Do you watch Westworld?


For how many years away do you think we are from that?

To get a robot to move the way they move, we’re way many years.

Have you seen videos of current robots and how they move?

I have, but the human body is so amazing in the way that it’s so fluid when it moves. There’s still a lot of time to get over that portion. I know we can move them around. There’s still that thing about the spirit to that makes a person who they are. I don’t know how that’s ever going to be addressed.

It’s called AI and it’s coming.

I know people can’t tell when they’re talking to AI people online and all that, but there’s something different about having a real human interaction. I haven’t interacted with the latest robots coming off the line and everything, but I do know that there is something special about a person alive. I don’t know how that gets bridged in that AI experience.

Remember the scene in Westworld when Bernard was talking to Dolores. She’s very, very human but she repeats the same line a couple times that you realize that, “She’s still just a robot.”

When I heard that line, I didn’t take it as that he thought she was just a robot. I took it as though she is listening, learning and she was doing something very human where you repeat the same thing to build a bonding experience.

She’s programmed to say that line when she sees something that looks like that.

She was learning how to communicate as a human.

VR is super exciting because it’s giving you the possibility to create worlds. Click To Tweet

She’s repetitive. We’ve come a long way from AR.

If you had a PR client that came to you and said, “I want to enter the VR space,” what would you recommend they would start with? What would be a good starting point? You do handle a lot of business-to-business. Do you think that there’s any room or advantage to a business-to-business entry?

That’s a huge can of worms because I’m assuming that would be a venture capital-based start-up. I’ve worked with startups and I’ve worked with startups that are all in the same space. It’s difficult. PR is extremely important to them because they want visibility because they want investors and confidence in what they’re doing. Yet from a reporter standpoint, it’s like, “How are you different?” To be honest, I have a big hesitation when it comes to working with a startup. It goes back to the PTSD that I have from working in the Dotcom boom when PR firms were living large. We were rolling in it. I remember talking to my bosses, I was only a mid-level, senior AE at that point and I’m like, “I would rather continue working on my brick and mortar clients than move all of my time to all of these companies that have a concept. They have money and the money is from investors. Everyone had an idea.”

You remember what happened when the Dotcom Industry blew up? Nobody paid their bills and PR agencies laid off hundreds of people. Fortunately, I had my brick and mortar clients because I stuck by those and I’m like, “I don’t want to work on promoting an idea.” It made me uncomfortable and that shook the economy. Silicon Valley is still trying out all kinds of new concepts, companies, and people who need investors. We both know people who have started companies that have done very well, but I worry about getting involved with startup companies. I dabbled in it a little bit and I even thought about, “Maybe I should ask for some points in the company.” I would rather stick with someone who’s got a proven thing and it’s safer. I’m not that much of a risk-taker.

Let’s put on our VR hats and let’s say that the companies have all worked towards maturity now. It’s not about the startup thing. Within the VR space, I see a lot of opportunities for brands and companies to be able to have a presence and utilize it in a way that they’re connecting with people, whether that’s through influencers or whatever. Here’s a great example, every girl for years, what do we want to do? We want to be able to simply upload our picture to something and have all of the makeup, hair and clothes in the world tried on our little avatar. That’s the way that we’ve moved now and the reality for this mixed reality thing. Take the startups conversation out in the mix. It’s things like that where I’m like, “That would be awesome. I don’t have to go to a mall. I get to try a variety of different stuff that I want. I could see it in the proper lighting with the proper bra.”

TDT 1 | Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality: Within the VR space, there are a lot of opportunities for brands and companies to be able to have a presence and utilize it in a way that they’re connecting with people.

It’s another knife to the heart of retail.

Not if they’re smart and they jump on it. They’re smart if they build out the platforms with them and they become part of it instead of trying to ignore it.

I shouldn’t say retail, I should say the actual shopping center. Shopping centers that want to survive now have to add lifestyle elements, whether it be a bowling alley, movie theater or restaurant destination. They have to be a destination, not just a mall in a dark enclosed place.

Think about it the example of clothes shopping could also still take place in a physical location because as a teenager, whether you’re a boy or girl whatever the interest is, you love being with your friends. Think about going into an entirely white space, like the concept of like an Apple store, it’s minimal and nothing. You walk in there and you’re all trying on this various stuff together, so it happens in person. It could happen at a mall in a store. I don’t think it’s necessarily the death of a mall. It’s the changing of how we do things.

I don’t even know where teenagers go anymore.

They go to the mall because it’s a social thing. It’s not even about what’s there, but the virtual element could save the malls because it would make it even more interesting. It now becomes an entertainment platform too, where you’re not going into a clothing store and guys would want to shop more. They’re like, “We’re going to go do it in like a VR situation.”

We’re not even talking about the tools of our trade anymore. We’re coming up with the big money maker.

This is the tool of our trade though. As a person who hates to try on clothes and hate shopping in general, I would be first on board for anything that would make that experience a lot easier, more fun, and a lot less of a hassle.

They have the early versions of that where you send them all of your measurements, styles and pictures of the clothes you like, and then they send you boxes of stuff. You take what you like, and you send back the rest.

That’s too much effort. I can’t be bothered to try stuff on and return it. You’ve already lost me if I have to do that. I want to stand in front of a screen and have clothes appear on me. It does exactly what I need to do and then I push a button and it’s delivered to my door. That’s what I want, I don’t want to try stuff on and return it. This was awesome, Sharon. We should do the show again and just keep talking about that because there’s going to be something else going on with VR, AR, and MR and we’re going to be like, “We didn’t see that coming.”

Here’s the homework thing, you need to go look at VRChat. I’ll send you as a streamer that you could observe them doing it. You need to watch the video of the VR person having a seizure, so you could see how surreal it is to have real people interacting with a human being in the situation like that. You send me whatever homework you want.

I will send you something else to look at that’s going to change your whole mind about everything we talked about and you’re going to be like, “I see it.”

Do you watch Rick and Morty?

I do not intentionally watch it. I have been exposed to it. I know what it is. I would not seek it out.

You watched Silicon Valley and I can’t believe you don’t like Rick and Morty.

Because I’ve lived in Silicon Valley. I was in that world for years with the startups and people living in a basement or sleeping on the floor. I’m looking at it and thinking, “I can’t believe that’s still going on.” I dated someone for many years that slept under his desk.

I have young family members now that are in that area and doing the exact thing. It’s surreal.

This is such a fun conversation and we are definitely going to have to revisit it. Next time, maybe we have to get a little more grounded and talk about real life events. Until next time, Sharon.

Talk to you soon.


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