Will coronavirus push brands into a new virtual world?

With events cancelled in the wake of Covid-19, are we going to see the second coming of the digital world? Or is AR and VR just a temporary alternative to real life experiences?

Despite all of its potential, the virtual world has remained on the periphery for many brands. As platforms, AR and VR offer huge creative opportunities, but tend to get pushed to one side in favour of more traditional and familiar mediums. But the coronavirus outbreak has created a massive upheaval in the way brands connect with consumers. Events, outdoor advertising, in-store experiences and pop-ups have all become temporarily obsolete, forcing companies to rethink how they operate. “We’re doing a lot of work with clients about how to maintain their activity,” says Unit9 Business Director Garry Williams. “We’re looking at event-based and experiential work and how we can do that from a digital perspective. Is it turning it into an interactive website? Or an AR game? It’s about taking the overriding messaging and looking at it in a slightly different way.”

Unit9 creates work across several disciplines, including film, games, digital, experiential and VR and AR, which means the studio’s in a good position to see how brands are suddenly shifting their focus. This means potentially using animation, instead of live action, and understanding how to give people experiences when real-life interaction is off the cards. Undoubtedly lots of companies are wondering if VR can come to the rescue, but there’s a few things to consider. Brands should remember that virtual reality still offers a limited audience – thanks to the low adoption of headsets, which remain pricey – and also requires a significant investment in time and money. Virtual reality can offer an amazing experience, but rush things and it will lack the rich environments, narrative and characters it needs to be successful.