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The VR | PR Reality

This is a guest post from Leslie Campisi. She tells people what to say. She currently calls MSLGROUP home. More at @lesliecampisi.

Virtual Reality and Control: Who’s Ready to Give it Up?

VR is the topic of conversation among all communications professionals I know. From Adam Hirsch’s remarks on our innovation panel at Communications Week, to dinner with my friend Bekah on the West Coast who’s in-house at IAC, to the woman I met at a recent PR Week event who works for the United Nations Foundation…an entire nation of information workers is abuzz.

The tipping point on VR becoming truly “R” to PR pros was the New York Times’ early November rollout of Google Cardboard in the Sunday print edition. (How’s that for the power of old media to set trends?)

 Whether or not you’re an annoying critical theory major who’s interested in the implications of VR on non-linear storytelling*, I expect the technology is on your radar for 2016. And we all seem to be asking the same questions: who can help me figure out how to do it? What’s the vendor landscape look like? Is it crazy expensive? What’s the best use case? 

It’s the last question that intrigues me the most. When we shifted from a Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 digital communications landscape in the early 00’s— from “publish” to “engage” — brands had to give up a lot of power to participate. Today, though, the same brands have found a way to “be social” and yet still manage to tell their corporate narrative their way. Companies have clawed back corporate storytelling power by getting smart about how to use these no-longer-new media platforms to lean back into the old brand-controlled messaging paradigm.  

The cool thing about VR is that it will once again force brands to give up control in the way people experience their content. Sure, you can create the environment, but you can’t dictate exactly how someone will engage with it. When VR users are parachuted into the middle of a story and given the opportunity to explore it from many vantage points – in whatever sequence they prefer – what will that mean for corporate storytelling? I think we're going to live in a quasi-utopian period for awhile where branded VR will be interesting in the same way that nascent brand social/digital was interesting. 

That said, I’m sure comms people and experience developers will ultimately find a way to sprinkle MSG on the entire thing so we crave it**, but I doubt brands will get that smart about VR in 2016. Instead, there will be a rush to deploy for the cool factor, chatter about price point and logistics, and, hopefully, a lot of weird and glorious experimentation.

*Guilty. You’re talking to someone who got into tech because of George Landow’s work on hypertextuality. Grammatron, anyone? 

**If you’re interested in the intersection of technology and addiction, this Wired piece about game designer Ian Bogost and Cow Clicker is a great place to start.