Augmented World Expo was last week, and spending a few days wandering the halls of the convention center, you could easily come away with the notion that immersive media is the biggest thing since sliced bread. Talk after talk and panel after panel featured people rhapsodizing about the future of AR and VR, and on one hand, it certainly was exciting. It’s fun to hang out with folks just as passionate as you are about the next wave of storytelling and communication — but on the other hand, it can present attendees with a bit of a false positive. Because as much as many of us hate to admit it, AR and VR haven’t gone mainstream quite yet — and unless they start to move in that direction, we might be in deep trouble.
A few years ago I wrote a piece called the Music Startup Meltdown, where I posited the notion that music startup founders couldn’t grasp the idea that not everyone was as passionate about music as they were, because people tend of self-select social groups that reinforce their biases. And I feel like the AR/VR world is starting to go this way as well — there are so many events and conferences and meetups that it gets very easy to just hang with likeminded people and think everyone is as excited about the latest updates to ARCore as you are. But unless we start talking to the wider world, and getting them to buy in (and pay up), we’re going to get stuck.
At AWE, I was all set to give a talk about immersive storytelling, and at the last minute I threw my notes away and gave a talk about the two things we need to overcome to help AR and VR grow. The first is that we need to create a sense of urgency for brands around adoption of immersive tech — right now it is a “nice to have,” but not something that everyone needs for every campaign. This is a long process, although luckily there is a growing body of research that backs up the effectiveness of AR for advertising (VR for ads is going to be a much longer term play). We need to start defining real ROI and showing exactly how AR can pay off from a financial point of view. If we just stick to the art and magic side of things, I feel we won’t get very far.
The second thing that holds us back is bad content and people who don’t know what they’re doing. I gave an example of a project that cost a million dollars, took two years, and resulted in a few articles and some free downloads, but nothing of real value for the brand. Those of us who are experts in the space need to be much more vocal about what makes content good and get brands to listen — very few brands and agencies have any in-house talent at this point, and they need to start hiring now. If we create a bad impression and brands don’t see returns, they won’t want to continue creating in the space, and we’re all pretty screwed.
The bottom line is this: spending time with likeminded technologists and creatives is great and fun, but unless we start broadening the conversation, events like AWE will move from filling convention centers to the backrooms of coffeeshops. If we can’t convince brands and agencies to start investing, we’ll run out gas before we even hit the road.