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Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality

In the last few years, marketers have looked to produce more content with the aim of better engaging with their audiences. However, an increase in content hasn’t produced an equal measure of consumer engagement. TrackMaven reported last year that content output per brand had risen by 35%, yet content engagement decreased by 17%. For this reason, marketers are seeking different platforms to speak to their consumers and produce content that offers something new to their consumer bases, and two of these platforms are augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

We’ve previously looked at VR and how it is used by businesses, and AR works in a similar way by overlaying graphics onto a real-world image – albeit without the need for a headset. Looking to the future, AR and VR markets are predicted to be worth over £500 million and £300 million respectively by 2018. In the last 12 months alone investments in AR and VR startups have reached over £1.5 billion. Despite the multiple similarities, there are a number of key differences which will affect the way they can be used. Companies such as the BBC and Samsung have already begun rolling out programmes to harness the benefits of both AR and VR, which suggests there may not be an all-out AR vs VR war ahead.

Augmented Reality

The main advantage that Augmented Reality has over Virtual Reality is that it shows real products and serves to enhance this experience rather than replace it entirely. This can allow users to look through a number of different products which are mapped onto a real-world image, as used by cosmetics chain Sephora in its Milan store earlier this year to allow customers to “try on” different makeup products. Ray Ban has also marketed a similar feature whereby customers can check out how they might look in different styles of sunglasses. AR can also overlay onto an image of a user’s surroundings – as Pokemon Go has done with spectacular success. Preceding this, Ikea produced an app which allows customers to place an item of furniture in their own homes to give them a better idea of how it might actually look.

For this reason AR has unlimited potential in terms of what it could offer consumers, which could extend to offering customers the option to compare similar items of clothing or providing nutritional information on products in a supermarket. Pokemon Go has also shown that due to the popularity of the medium there are opportunities for in-game advertising. McDonald’s is said to have struck a deal with Niantic to turn its restaurants into points of interest within the game.

In the wake of Pokemon Go, gamification has emerged as a possibility for brands looking to exploit this medium, although it is worth considering that this would most likely come at vast expense. Furthermore, to imply that its wild popularity is solely based on the platform is to completely ignore the nostalgic value of its content. Some critics have also been quick to point out that it remains to be seen if Pokemon Go is merely the latest fad, and for this reason marketers should practice caution if they are looking to hop on the coattails of its success. What has worked well so far for companies looking to utilise Augmented Reality has been giving consumers the opportunity to personalise the products they are viewing and tailor the information to meet their needs rather than create an unnecessary app based on piggybacking and self-promotion.

Virtual Reality

In a recent survey, 71% of consumers considered any brand who sponsored a Virtual Reality platform to be “forward-thinking and modern”. This could persuade brands who are looking to engage with a younger demographic to venture into this field, especially as the total number of users is forecast to hit 150 million worldwide by 2018. Last year Marriott Hotels started its VR Postcard program, which allows users to experience its destinations on a multisensory platform. Marriott has since reported that over half of the users from the New York branch said that they would like to see the program at other branches. Audi has also experimented with a Virtual Reality app which lets users test drive and customise its vehicles, and Sky has recently announced the launch of a VR app this summer after its investment in Jaunt VR last September.

Companies looking to use VR in future marketing strategies need to be aware of its expense, as a high-end Virtual Reality headset costs at least £450, but it can already be seen that it offers a comprehensively immersive experience that AR only hints at. This could be beneficial for companies who have difficulty in getting consumers to understand their product pre-purchase as well as those looking to enhance their customer’s’ purchase journey. The cost may mean a more practical way for companies to offer the service would be at their place of business rather than expecting users to engage from elsewhere. This may limit its use on a larger scale, although projections claim that use of VR headsets could rise by as much as 400% over the next two years.


In a market where consumers are consistently seeking answers as quickly as possible, AR and VR could offer a means to experience and test products on a more personable level. Both technologies are already driving rapid hardware development which suggests that AR and VR are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

As for the differences between the two, AR is more generally suited to Google’s Micro Moments strategy as it allows an immediate solution to a query on a particular product. The only issue here would be whether companies decide to utilise AR in an app or online. A sea of different AR apps may not appeal to consumers looking for the fastest possible solution. The solution may lie in optimising AR on company websites or in creating an amalgamated AR app that can perform multiple functions.

VR is best used when offering consumers an all-encompassing experience with the opportunity to test scenarios rather than individual products. Any marketers looking to use VR as part of future campaigns will also need to be aware of the inherent costs. What is clear in the battle of augmented reality vs virtual reality is that marketers need to be clear on what they are trying to achieve before leaping into either of these realities.

Which platform do you prefer and how could it help your industry? Share your opinions in the comment box below or via social media, and make sure to subscribe to the blog.

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