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The Grammys Ignored VR, But a New Ad Shows Why That Was a Mistake

Despite dipping a toe in the VR waters last year, the Grammys all but ignored immersive technology this time around. While VR activations at the Super Bowl might have fallen short of the mark, they do get credit for trying — as opposed to the Grammys, which just turned away altogether. There were plenty of moments that would have been served by VR — who wouldn’t want to be part of that amazing Beyonce performance, or get a personal backstage tour with Adele — but the music business decided to simply ignore technology.

Of course, they do so at their own peril. The last time the music business ignored a groundbreaking technology, it almost collapsed, and while VR is no Napster, it’s something the industry needs to start figuring out and implementing. While there have been a handful of great use cases, they tend to be one-offs and in some cases, have very limited distribution. Music would be the perfect vehicle to bring VR to the masses, but for some reason the industry can’t quite figure it out. Cost is surely part of the issue, but there are plenty of ways to monetize VR — creating freemium content, for instance, or in-experience commerce, or working with emerging VR ad networks.

Two ads that aired during the ceremony demonstrates perfectly why they need to start working on this. Chick-Fil-A launched what might be one of the best examples of a brand embracing VR with a sense of humor, and this might be one of the moments we look back on as a tipping point for VR going mainstream. An earlier teaser ad showed cows in VR headsets, and the first ad featured cows distributing the headsets to consumers. The second ad showed those consumers enjoying the experiences they can be part of in headset, with cows soaring in hot-air balloons and diving below the sea.

For acolytes of Chris Milk who see VR as an art form and empathy machine, the overly jokey nature of these ads could have been hard to swallow. The second ad does show people flailing in the headsets, walking into walls and burning toast, and that could perhaps serve as a turnoff for potential users. Still, by combining the lighthearted ads with a plan to distribute branded headsets, Chick-Fil-A and its agency, McCann, are definitely on to something.

Some of the biggest problems VR has had to deal with are the cost of the viewing devices and the intimidation factor. Even the low cost headsets aren’t readily intuitive, and many people still feel self-conscious wearing them. By allowing users to experiment with VR for free, and give them permission to be silly, the campaign is breaking down barriers and bringing the technology to a mass audience, one that might not have been served by earlier New York Times campaigns, for example.
It would be very easy for the music business to steal this idea — after all, one act, Run the Jewels, already has. But theirs was a one-time experience, and this is an idea that all artists need to start embracing. The music business likes to think it is ahead of the curve, but when it is being lapped by a midwestern fast food chain, it’s time to rethink that position and start catching up.

On Friday, we provided a detailed recap of the week’s VR/AR business stories which we produce with our partner Vertebrae, the VR/AR monetization platform and ad network. Here’s an analysis of the top stories in VR/AR from this week.

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