The New Social Engine: How Brands can Engage the Interactive Logic of Mixed Reality

VR and AR are not just additional media channels — they are the connective tissue of the mobile social web.

The rise of virtual and augmented reality was initially linked to the creation of a new immersive media channel. VR and AR were seen as next-gen distribution platforms for established digital media assets, from games to films, television shows, and online video. Following the continuity of the traditional media industry, new technology was pitched as yet another form of amplification, to drive viewership to existing IP. Over the past few years, however, the converging media and technology industry has seen a suite of groundbreaking developments that have significantly shifted the value of VR and AR. Rather than simply sustaining the supply chain of the digital direct-to-consumer economy, these initiatives have focused on the nature of mixed reality as an interactive platform to shape online consumer interaction.

The next stage of VR and AR emphasize interactive design and ongoing consumer engagement.

From HMDs to Interaction Design: The original VR headset emerged as an extension of traditional distribution pipelines, from gaming consoles to set-top boxes and smartphones. Virtual Reality became a nifty overlay to consume content through a new lens, a new yet ultimately isolating experience. The later evolution of the headset, by contrast, emphasized the headset as a gateway to a community experience. The Oculus Rift represents the engine of Facebook’s digital ecosystem in its shift from text and photo to video; Microsoft’s HoloLens, built on AR technology, acts as the lynchpin of the company’s consumer and business enterprise software, from Skype to Office and Minecraft; Magic Leap, an integration of VR and AR, empowers consumers to play and engage with virtual objects in the real world. Overall, the headset has shifted from a reception device to a focus on interaction design.

VR and AR are world-building tools designed to create interactive and immersive environments.

From Content Creation to World-Building: Initially, VR and AR was used as a way to recycle and re-release old content through a new distribution channel. Film studios and television networks also created new content extensions based on existing IP, while gaming highlight short experimental experiences. This approach is thriving as new production capabilities come into existence. At the same time, VR and AR has become a playground for aesthetic experimentation. Creators are moving beyond narrative principles to explore the viability of world-building as an audience experience. The rise of mixed reality gives the audience more agency to participate, interact, and play. As a result, the content experience design has increased the focus on interactive elements.

In VR and AR, consumers shift from viewing to consistently engaging with videos.

From Video Viewing to Engagement: The continual growth of online video has seen the growing focus on views as capital. Accordingly, the click-to-view model has become a dominant approach in audiovisual storytelling. With the expanding scope of VR and AR in the digital environment, 360-degree video has become a priority for creators and advertisers. Immersive video goes beyond the 1-click model to generate views and instead emphasizes the metric of engagement. Rather than clicking to view or share, this approach places value in the time spent within the video. The way consumers interact with the video — searching and moving through the world it presents — is the new capital in this context. With 360, the video frame is expansive and truly constitutes a window into another world.

VR and AR promote more than content consumption — they are part of users’ everyday life.

From Consumption to Activity: VR and AR headsets are not the new screen. They are not a substitute for the big theatre screen, the television screen, or the mobile screen. The technology industry has increasingly emphasized the role of VR and AR as the next computational platform. While the market is currently focused on consumers consuming content, the long-term strategy focuses on consumers creating content — and code. VR and AR are next-gen generative platforms.

Putting on a headset is no longer an isolated activity — it connects users.

From Single to Social Experience: Much of the iconography of VR and AR has focused on isolated individuals immersed in artificially engineered worlds. This imagery has led to the belief that mixed reality is largely a singular experience which is a general misconception. The future of VR and AR is social. Facebook is leading the wave of innovation in this context, having recently introduced the idea of social apps on the Oculus Rift and the Facebook network. The HoloLens is a community device that facilitates conversations and collaboration. Playstation VR is the next step in the era of social gaming, bringing together millions of gamers. NextVR is bringing the collective sports experience to live VR and Altspace VR embodies the social nature of mixed reality by turning the utopia of Second Life into a real-life experimental venture.

The VR and AR landscape has shifted. This evolution is particularly valuable to the long-term media planning strategy of brands. Brands have an opportunity to act as service providers, experience sponsors, and interactivity ambassadors in the growing environment of mixed reality. As the VR and AR audience grows in scale, brands can follow the following key guidelines to build a strong presence.

VR and AR give access to worlds that are not just there to be seen — they are fully interactive spaces.

Interactive Environments: Branded entertainment in VR and AR is neither diversion nor spectacle — it’s a new place for consumers to spend time in a productive way. By building interactive environments, brands can redefine the concept of product placement, moving from static integration to an interactive engagement. Consumers have an opportunity to use and experience brand products in uniquely designed creative environments which provides added value for both parties.

The key for engaging VR and AR experiences is the focus on immersive UX Design.

Immersive UX: As VR and AR create more and more interactive environments, it is crucial to produce distinct and engagement user interfaces. The growing availability and functionality of controllers will empower users to feel a presence in mixed reality. Brands can distinguish their product and messaging by carefully crafting innovative portals for consumers to interact with new content.

VR and AR enable consumers to interact with each other, with products, and with meaningful experiences.

Social as a Service: The main value of VR and AR for brands lies in the opportunity to deliver services to consumers in an interactive environment. Brands can give consumers direct access to valuable products and experiences. Essentially, brands can serve as service providers by enabling consumers to not just see but experience their product in a specific environment. By focusing on VR and AR as a social experience, brands can move beyond traditional advertising practices to establish meaningful connections with consumers.

The future of VR and AR operates on an interactive logic. Brands can maximize the impact of their content by focusing on next-gen design practices that highlight the value of community and interaction among consumers. It is crucial to treat VR and AR as an extension of social media, not just another static channel in the overall media mix.

18Hubs is the innovation research facility of Havas Media, headquartered in Paris, with offices in Los Angeles, Seoul, and Tel Aviv. Together, we are building a satellite network of innovation hubs to be 18 months ahead of new developments in the converging industries of media, culture, technology, and data science. In each office, we connect with established market leaders, first-rate universities, and startups.