Virtual reality becoming vital ground in marketing services

Amongst the big six marketing services groups, WPP has set itself apart over recent months with two high-profile investments in virtual reality ('VR') capabilities. First, in November 2016, the marketing services behemoth invested with IMAX, a cinema technology provider, in a $50m virtual reality content fund, and in February followed by acquiring an interest in SubVRsive, a specialist VR content producer.

Underlying this spate of activity is growing evidence of accelerating adoption of VR. Total user numbers across all VR platforms are estimated to have topped 40 million by the end of 2016. Although a large number of these users will have enjoyed quite basic experiences through platforms such as Google Cardboard, some like Sony's PlayStation VR offer impressive fidelity. Having sold almost a million units in the four months to February, the PlayStation looks set to bring high-fidelity VR to tens of millions of homes in the coming years.

As adoption of this entirely new medium for shifts into gear it is clear that some in the marketing services industry, in particular Martin Sorrell, see that the impact of VR on B2C and B2B marketing could be big. The limitations of 2D media for marketing high involvement goods and services - from cars to houses and holidays - have been such an inherent part of marketing strategies since the birth of the industry that one would be foolish to attempt to quantify the scale of opportunity.

If one believes that at some point in the next few years it will become clear that we are at inflexion point in VR adoption, then it follows that the capabilities to create, distribute, and evaluate commercially effective VR experiences for marketing are likely to become scarce and highly valuable strategic assets in the medium term. As the evidence of tangible results from VR marketing strategies grows, I would expect to see others following WPP's lead to secure this strategically vital ground.

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