Should companies use virtual reality to cut costs or boost sales?

Building transient worlds

A striking Pebble Studios project is a VR tour of the Bowmore whisky distillery. Aware that drinkers who find a whisky they like tend to stay loyal to the brand, Bowmore wanted to help them identify with the unique factors that contributed to its product's distinctive taste, including the location, water source and even weather. Quantifying the return on its investment would be difficult, but VR was considered appropriate because it lent itself well to playing out at whisky conferences and in airport duty free lounges, where shoppers could be transported to the distillery's base on the Hebrides .

On a smaller scale, VR is making strides in real estate. Like Ikea's virtual rooms, VR house viewings give the user an idea of what it would be like to live in an environment, by giving them the opportunity to see it from the inside. Rightmove's early ventures are available on its YouTube channel, as are those of Nottingham agency Walton & Allen. Do these videos tell a story? Not in the traditional sense, but they do have a narrative that this is what your life could be like if you moved here.

Reality vs unreality

Real estate and furnishings are logical uses for VR. The same could be said for media, cars and holidays, but the case is less clear-cut for products that don't envelop the user in the real world.

And that's the key. Successful VR recreates reality on a virtual plane, allowing the audience to experience something that would otherwise be out of their reach at least without them making a not-inconsiderable journey.

"When you put on [a headset], you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment," wrote Zuckerberg when he announced Facebook's interest in Oculus VR. "The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you're actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it's different from anything they've experienced in their lives."

On a raw, technological level, he's right, but from what we've seen so far it seems that, when it comes to VR promotion at least, making the results as familiar as possible, rather than different, may be the key to success.

Main image credit: Shutterstock

Nik Rawlinson is a journalist with over 20 years of experience writing for and editing some of the UK’s biggest technology magazines. He spent seven years as editor of MacUser magazine and has written for titles as diverse as Good Housekeeping, Men's Fitness, and PC Pro.

Over the years Nik has written numerous reviews and guides for ITPro, particularly on Linux distros, Windows, and other operating systems. His expertise also includes best practices for cloud apps, communications systems, and migrating between software and services.