The Marketing Department has taken over Virtual Reality

Marketing departments are rolling out augmented and virtual reality as a natural extension to their apps. Augmented and virtual reality are past the point of talking about being a possibility for advertisers. They are in use today.

However, at what cost does using these immersive services come? Are we augmenting our lives for the better or are we succumbing to the self-limitations that marketing technology provides for us?

The time is now for marketing to be in immersive technology

Cathy Hackl (prominent XR person and co-author of Marketing New Realities), Tweeted that YouTube now has AR ads to try on makeup from ads on makeup tutorials. My first reaction was, this is cool! But then I started to think what Google would do with access to my camera and capturing the contours of my face.

Are they also capturing what’s in the background? Are they taking note of other products in my environment? Not to mention what they’ll do with the makeup I’d eventually pick and why I tried on some but not others. It’s Surveillance Capitalism at its finest.

Instagram has a similiar feature where you can try on make up or Ray Ban sunglasses. Once you find the product you like, you can purchase it directly from Instagram.

This is a great example of an augmented reality integration. It shows how easy it can be to use AR today. I touched on this in my post Marketing Ethics in VR: Can Marketers set Moral Guidelines.

“Companies have to integrate VR and AR “into a larger cross-platform campaign to be effective” (Hackl, Wolfe 18). The technology is there, the financial support is there, the hardware is there. It’s now a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together to take advantage of the huge revenue potential for VR/AR advertising.”

Marketing Ethics in VR

Here, YouTube and Instagram (owned by Google and Facebook respectively) have put the puzzle together. The larger cross-platform is the social media with millions of users and the advertising model already in place. Adding an extra few clicks makes the experience personal and interactive for the customer plus ads a new revenue source.

From a technical and marketing standpoint this is very cool. Like Amazon’s ‘View in Your Room’ and Google Map’s Live View, these companies are rolling out augmented reality as a natural extension of their current features.

What brands need to know about social VR

Navah Berg, is another prominent figure in social virtual reality. She recently published an article about what brands need to know about social VR and the future of Facebook Groups (Horizon).

Berg is excited to “discover how [emerging technology] will tie together to connect people, business, communities, and ultimately change the way we communicate in Virtual Reality.” The primary takeaway Berg has from social media and VR conferences is that their goal is, “connecting with others and creating more meaningful relationships.”

But has social media ever been the best medium to create more meaningful relationships? In 1985 Larry Brilliant, Kevin Kelly, and Stewart Brand came together to create The Well which stood for “Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link” (Fisher 143).

The Well was arguably the first social media network. It was a text-based bulletin board (BBS) with a “salon-like environment where people who could write were writing…” (Fisher 144). The Well was an attempt to “infuse [the San Francisco bohemian] culture into an online system” (Fisher 145).

Quickly, the creators saw a need for moderators. Even back in the the late 1980’s, the creators of the Well and other BBS’s knew that “these systems are natural amplifiers, and negative things are somehow easier to amplify or become much louder than positive things…” (Fisher 145).

Trolls, heated battles, and paranoid discussions became part of life on The Well.

“…people who were normally very civil would get sucked up into battles. And they would have what we call flame wars.”

Valley of Genius page 146

What I thought was interesting, was that The Well, “had a policy that people should be who they are… That was a good design decision” (Fisher 146). Just like Facebook, the creators of The Well knew online anonymity led to bad behavior. That, “even famous intellectuals would behave badly to each other if they were able to post anonymously” (Fisher 146).

Fabrice Florin said that co-founder of The Well, Stewart gave the technology a set of values and ethics that all developers could share but then, “it became big business, and it was hard for intellectuals to be the primary driving force anymore.”

Florin goes on to say, “it became the business people who started driving it… It just became to large for intellectuals to hold” (Fisher 149). That is what I’m afraid has happened to virtual reality.

“The next phase of community in social media is presence”

In Berg’s article about what brands need to know about social VR, she says, “the next phase of community in social media is presence.”

Virtual reality as a medium for online connection is not a new concept. In the late 1980’s Michael Naimark and Brenda Sterling were, “putting together some grand plan for virtual reality – [they] were striving to make virtual reality experiences that felt just like being there…” (Fisher 144).

Facebook Horizon aims to be the special place to go. It used to be the arcade, a playground, or the YMCA. Now it’s Facebook. Berg quotes an interesting stat from AARP, that distance is the biggest barrier for grandparents who want to see their grandkids.

I know I’m being nit picky, but I don’t think having the two most vulnerable demographics to online scams and predators is the best example of who should be using social VR. How many of us have a grandparent who’s Facebook profile was copied and used by a scammer?

Children are most affected by virtual reality. We don’t know if VR is safe for kids and their brain development. Children as young as 12 are the prime targets for online predators. Even though Facebook makes people use their real names, it doesn’t stop them from luring unsuspecting children.

So, who is social VR good for? The marketers! Brands and influencers took over Instagram. They have the lead on Social VR. They (Facebook) are the ones building it. Just as Hackl and Wolfe predicted, “VR will allow for a full picture of consumer behavior. And AR will show how consumers interact with and use products” (Hackle, Wolfe 24).

Social VR may be a place to connect with family and friends. It could provide virtual 3D building blocks and painting classes with the ghost of Bob Ross. But don’t be fooled. These experiences are designed to continue using you as human capital. They’re designed to harvest your behavioral data and sell it to the highest bidder.

Are ads the killer app for VR/AR?

One of the things I, and other VR enthusaists keep coming back to is what is the killer app for VR? Some guess entertainment, some social, others education. Now, I’m starting to believe it’s advertising. Follow the money, right?

The killer app for AR and VR is one that’s fun, easy to use, and provides value like Instagram and YouTube’s AR makeup feature. It provides a service to the user and makes money for the company.

We innocently used Google Search, Gmail, Facebook, and countless other apps that turned our actions into data used against us. We became the product. That continues with the advent of AR advertising and virtual reality built by a marketing company.

The question is, will we fall for it again?

Jaron Lanier, coiner of the phrase “virtual reality”, believes that, “the way we’ve designed the tools requires that people comply totally with an infinite number of arbitrary actions.”

He says, “I really think on just the most fundamental level we are approaching digital technology in the wrong way” (Valley of Genius photo section). I’m starting to agree.

Have you used Instagram or YouTube’s AR makeup ad feature? Do you think we’re designing digital technology in the wrong way? Let me know in the comments below!


Valley of Genius by Adam Fisher

Marketing New Realities by Cathy Hackl and Samantha Wolfe

What Brands Need to Know about Social VR and The Future of Facebook Groups by Navah Berg

Featured Photo by William Daigneault on Unsplash


6 responses to “The Marketing Department has taken over Virtual Reality”

  1. Have you read The Dark Net? I’m only like 50 pages in but it was talking about the beginnings of the internet and chat rooms and it’s so interesting that some things (like trolls) have been around forever.

    Sometimes I think we’re moving into VR and AR so quickly after the internet came around because like you said there’s enough danger for scammers to begin with but I don’t think slowing the growth and popularity down would help.

    I don’t know if we’re using all the new technology in the right way either but it certainly catches my eye when it is used.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’ll have to add The Dark Net to my reading list! It does sound interesting. AR and VR are certainly eye catching. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I don’t know either. I just wrote about this on my blog: the constant noise that comes in through new technologies. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve used a light phone II which has really basic tools.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great insight Lily. To elaborate, the AARP stat was to showcase how people move away from homes and consequently must build new communities, not to jump into social VR with their grandmas:)

    It is based on how we are moving away from our childhood homes and don’t have the comfort of childhood friends. As we know in this digital age, it’s less common to make new friends or even see a neighbor outside waving hello. What I feel social VR brings is the presence of people together. Jumping into VR creates a collective sense of involvement. It isn’t the same as a 2D social newsfeed.

    That’s the spark of social VR…being there when distance such as 2,500 miles doesn’t allow you to at that moment. As I’ve heard other say, and have experienced it first-hand, people are the killer app in VR. But for businesses, I agree it definitely will be Ads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Navah, thank you so much for your comment! It seriously means a lot. Thanks for clarifying the AARP stat too 🙂 Although, I would love to see my grandma’s reaction to VR. hehe

      I totally agree with you that VR vanishes distance in an instance. I am a believer that VR can transport you and make you feel like you’re in the same room with someone. I was an instant believer from the first time I tried VR in 2016..

      My concern is that Facebook and Google, don’t have our best interests at heart. They’re not communication companies. They’re marketing companies. Yet, they are the ones investing in VR and AR. And they’re going to do what they do best with it. Collect, analyze, and monetize our behavioral data. And with immersive tech, there’s so much more of it.

      In a post on Medium, Douglas Rushkoff wrote, “The technology companies leading the charge seem eager to leave that dangerous, creative potential of VR behind, making it less about what people might do with such powerful tools, and more about what they – and other corporate brands – can do to us or sell us…”


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