OPINION — Miller: Virtual reality companies need to boost marketing efforts

It is no question that virtual reality technology is ready for consumer use, but if investors and innovators truly want the public to accept the new devices, they need a severe marketing boost.

Don’t get me wrong, it is hard not to be excited for virtual reality — each reporter or writer who tries it describes it as revolutionary. And while this has been used before in marketing gimmicks, such as for 3D televisions, Google Glass and other countless failed technologies, virtual reality technology actually sounds like it can be revolutionary. From the article “Virtual Reality is Journalism’s Next Frontier” from the Columbia Journalism Review to the CNN’s article, “How Virtual Reality Could Change Moviegoing,” it appears VR technology could revolutionize several parts of the news, education and entertainment industry.

However, I am limited to reading reports and articles to figure out how awesome the emerging virtual reality technology is, as no one I know has experienced the hardware itself, and judging by the technology’s enormous price tag, not many of us will be able to experience it soon.

The Oculus Rift, which is probably the most popular emerging piece of virtual reality, is selling at $599 on the Oculus website. The HTC Vive, another rising virtual reality technology, was announced to cost $799, according to a Sunday Fortune article. According to the CNET article, “Reality check: Your computer is most likely too weak to run VR headsets,” most consumer computers will have to spend a few hundred more dollars just to get a computer that can run the technology. This virtual reality technology may be revolutionary, but for now it is not cheap.

If Oculus and HTC want to show consumers their virtual reality technology is worth purchasing, they must show the technology is more than just entertainment. The implications of virtual reality are huge — by combining motion-sensing technology and virtual reality headgear, it can act as an incredibly useful tool for education. According to the Jan. 23 Tech Crunch article, “When Virtual Reality Meets Education,” a surge of companies are working to provide educational software for astronomy, anatomy, geology and astronomy.

The article shows that the technology has immense potential, such as classes being able to participate in virtual field trips in foreign countries (think “The Magic School Bus” in the virtual space) or immersive, educational simulators for countless professions.

Unfortunately, these fantastic possibilities are being overshadowed by other virtual reality sectors, such as video game and adult entertainment industries, which may turn shoppers off.

As shown in the Tuesday article, “Virtual Reality Pornography is the latest adult entertainment innovation as this behind-the-scenes footage shows,” the adult entertainment industry is making great strides in producing virtual reality films. The Jan. 5 Fortune article, “Virtual Reality Video Game Industry to Generate $5.1 Billion in 2016,” also shows the virtual reality video game industry to be booming.

With the large amount of erotic and video game virtual reality content being produced as well as the large price tag, this technology will likely first be restricted to the technology  enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Oculus, HTC and other virtual reality technology producers need to market heavily on the fact that the technology can be for everyone and is worth the heavy price.

Lastly, while this virtual reality technology is certainly revolutionary, it needs quite a bit more marketing until people find it attractive. This week, virtual reality enthusiast Eva Hoerth posted a video called “This is the future,” to YouTube, featuring a man using a virtual reality headset, flailing his arms around while a girl stares him down with disdain. The video quickly circulated around the web, appearing on various articles such as Mashable’s “How virtual reality looks to people standing around you.” As cool as virtual reality may seem to the user, it has a certain ability to make the user look extremely ridiculous.

Because of how users may look while using it, it is up to marketers to make the product looks appealing.  There currently exists a large gap between luxury commercials, which feature beautiful people driving expensive cars and generally being sexy, and virtual reality technology videos, which usually show a bunch of guys sitting in a basement, waving their arms around wildly.

I truly hope that virtual reality technology becomes more mainstream, as it has the ability to innovate the ways we consume information and entertainment. However, now that the virtual reality technology is here, technology firms need to spend some much-needed time on marketing.

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