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Virtual reality and its marketing potential to feed consumer desire

Virtual reality

Virtual reality has marketing potential to materialise consumers’ desires but also has a dark side, according to an academic study.

Virtual reality and its potential and negative potential was analysed over a two year period by Dr. Chloe Preece, associate professor of marketing at ESCP Business School and the Royal Holloway and King’s College London, in a study of how VR is portrayed in the media.

Their findings were drawn from analysis of 146 texts collected over a two-year period, including news articles, white papers, fiction stories, and more. The researchers discovered in 85 per cent of cases VR is portrayed in positive terms by the media.

Such views emphasise VR’s potential for improving the economy and its unique ability to place people in others’ shoes, which could contribute to tackling societal issues.

Negative views of virtual reality portrayed it as an addictive and isolating technology, cutting people off in imaginary worlds. These portrayals also suggested VR could contribute to the exploitation of people’s personal data.

In a marketing context, successful practices convince potential customers that they will have a better future if they invest in a product or service. VR is a tool uniquely suited to this because of its ability to artificially create consumers’ idealised visions of the future.

But the researchers warn that people must be aware of how their hopes, desires, and visions of the future can be manipulated by commercial markets in this way.

To convey the potential positive and negative consequences of virtual reality’s expanding role in the UK and other national economies, the researchers created an interactive online game to accompany their research paper.

“Creating an interactive narrative helps us emphasise how VR, as an immersive technology, can give consumers a perceived feeling of agency,” said Dr. Preece. “The illusion of choice we offer players serves to communicate that beneath the surface their decisions are limited by powerful historical, political and social forces.”

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