As virtual reality is featured at more industry events, more brands - such as Mountain Dew, with its virtual reality snowboarding experience - are working it into their marketing strategies.
Professional athletes are snowboarding at the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships in Vail, Colorado, this week. With Mountain Dew's new virtual reality experience, consumers have the chance to ride as well.
Putting on a headset transports users to the snowy backcountry mountains of Utah, where they can snowboard with professional snowboarders and Olympians. Mountain Dew launched Dew VR Snow with digital agency Firstborn, using the latest virtual reality hardware from Oculus. Not yet available to the public, the headset is equipped with personal tracking sensors that allow for a 360-degree experience with the turn of a head. There's also a time warp feature, with which users can press a button to jump backward.
Mountain Dew had a similar virtual reality experience with skateboarding at last year's Dew Tour in Brooklyn, New York. The brand has a particularly loyal following in the action sports community and Christine Ngo, digital brand manager for Mountain Dew, says these experiences take engagement to the next level.
"Fan engagement is important, but with virtual reality, we're taking things one step further through fan immersion," Ngo says. "There is no technology more immersive than virtual reality to bring fans closer to things they love, such as snowboarding and skateboarding, in such an exclusive way."
Virtual reality was a hot topic at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, and will be one at the upcoming South by Southwest festival, as well. Other brands experimenting with virtual reality include hiking boot company Merrell, tourism agencies such as the U.K.'s Thomas Cook and Destination British Columbia, and fashion brands like Elle magazine and Topshop.
Leigh Christie, lead innovation engineer at Isobar, is a proponent of virtual reality, though he notes that it's important to be careful with it.
"On the one hand, I'm really excited about virtual reality because it's technologically amazing, but on the other hand, it's almost a bit dangerous because if it becomes indistinguishable from reality it could one day replace the human experience," he says, comparing its potential to giving users a similar rush heroin users feel. "It's going to get so good so soon that it's definitely something we're going to have to think more about."
As Facebook makes Oculus Rift more sophisticated, and Google and Microsoft work on their own hardware, Christie expects virtual reality to proliferate the market in the next few years. And as that happens, he expects it to become a commonplace tactic for brands.
"If there's an output that consumers consume, marketers will use it to send out a message. It's inevitable," he says.
Dew VR Snow will be available for demo in Vail through tomorrow. Consumers can also download the experience from Samsung's Milk app, which combines the Galaxy Note 4 smartphone with Oculus technology.