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#SXSW: The next big shift for content from augmented, virtual or mixed reality

We’ve been exposed to augmented reality for a while now. HP’s Aurasma product can add augmented layers of information and entertainment to print ads, catalogue pages or product packaging to link traditional media with mobile interactivity. You unlock content via an app to see the augmented layer on your mobile device. Google Glasses is another great example of augmented reality technology, overlaying relevant information such as navigation, calendar and contact details to the everyday walk through life. At SXSW, we got a glimpse of where this technology is going, and plenty of ideas how brands can leverage it.

Microsoft grabbed plenty of attention with its HoloLens technology, which they describe as ‘mixed reality’ – sitting somewhere between augmented reality and virtual reality. The hype reel they’re running at the festival shows us a group of friends watching American football at home. With HoloLens headsets on, the game is recreated with holograms in 3D on a table in the room. You can still see your living room, as well as the 3D content. Players are rendered life size and literally walk into your living room to demonstrate key plays, up close and personal.

Virtual reality is immersive. Wearing a headset that blocks out the real world and with headphones, you step away from real life. I had a demonstration at the show courtesy of Austin-based company Reel FX, who have been developing Virtual Reality content for brands for many years. Wearing a HTC Vive virtual reality system with headset, earphones and two-hand controllers, I walked around in a 3D world – in this case an animated game, where I was in a robot repair workshop. I could move around, open drawers and doors. Robotic creatures walked towards me so I had to retreat out of their way; walls fell away to reveal I was standing on a high platform looking way down to the ground. The feeling was utterly real.

But virtual reality (VR) is not just for gaming. The New York Times has launched a VR app and plan to invest in virtual reality filmmaking and storytelling during 2016. 360-degree video is becoming more widespread, with YouTube launching a specific YouTube360 site last year. Buzzfeed also announced the launch of their 360-degree video ad product ‘Swarm’ at SXSW. Anyone with a low-cost cardboard headset or Samsung VR Gear can easily watch these videos on their mobile device to achieve a 3D experience. Reel FX filmed a live event in Austin, streaming 360-degree footage through a vrlive.tv app to enable those not physically in attendance at SXSW to have an immersive, near-real experience of the Austin presentation.

On a virtual reality panel discussion at SXSW led by a content creator, a tech fund investor and a VR production company founder the audience delivered an impassioned plea to make 2016 the year to pilot virtual reality project; to learn how it works and experiment with storytelling relevant to your brand or organisation. By 2017, adoption of headsets will mean that a more mainstream audience can be reached through such immersive content. The investment made in these augmented and virtual reality experiences, by Google, Facebook (Oculus) and Microsoft (Holo Lens) are significant. Samsung is giving away VR Gear with the purchase of new Galaxy phones – another indication that hardware/headsets will become commonplace.

It’s so easy to imagine the benefits for brands to bring consumers into the virtual world where they can see products better than ever, and stories can be told creatively and beautifully in a way that connects with an audience in an incredibly rich way. I look forward to seeing some great creative examples from brands using virtual reality techniques in 2016.

Josie Brown

Josie Brown is J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific’s Head of Digital. Josie has worked as a digital specialist in Europe and Asia for over 15 years. Her "client-side" experience at Lufthansa and later P&G focussed on maximising digital marketing to grow revenue and consumer engagement. Josie started working at JWT in 2011 and leads the digital function across the JWT APAC region to partner with clients on digital strategy and implementation.