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Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality: An Experiential Marketing Point of View

augmented reality vs virtual reality

There is tons of buzz about both augmented and virtual reality and I have clients always asking for information on both. Both have their individual merits and I think any discussion of this topic should start with first defining what each one is in layman’s terms. (As much as we all love to fancy ourselves early adopters I will be the first to admit I am not a true tech maven)

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality essentially places the user in a completely different world. Typically the user would put on a VR helmet or pair of goggles and then the program runs, transporting them to a completely different time and place. They are able to participate in this world, make choices, appear to move objects and do feats that previously were only possible in our imaginations. A common example of this is Oculus Rift. It is very hard for the user to determine what is real and what is virtual in this completely immersive world.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is where reality and virtual reality come together. Typically using a visual input from a camera or sensors, it allows the user to manipulate objects on a screen or viewing device. The images seen blend with the real world yet in AR the user can still distinguish between the real and the virtual world. A great example of this is Google Glass. For example, a Google Glass user can still eat his or her dinner while scanning the recent weather report.

Which one works better for experiential marketing events?

The biggest downside of VR is that only one person can experience it at a time. Yes you can mirror what they are doing on a big screen or create a multiplayer situation but the users are still limited. In addition the experience for the viewers, not in a helmet and just watching on a mirrored screen, is certainly not as immersive and disappointedly 2D. VR is unquestionably cool and consumers are definitely dying to try it. But it simply does not appear cost effective for a brand who wants to have a big impact event and get the greatest ROI. Two things are essential to any great experiential event; word of mouth and audience participation.

In contrast augmented reality allows for a more immersive experience for everybody involved. A single user can manipulate a billboard (no helmet or goggles necessary) by moving their arms and the audience will easily see the user taking delight in their actions as well as the effect they created. A great example of this is the Inside Rolls Royce experiential exhibit at the Saatchi gallery:

augmented reality

There are a wide array of ways that augmented reality can be applied in experiential event marketing from augmented reality dressing rooms, game pieces to street interactions.

For example in the BBC Frozen Planet Event, people walking around a mall witnessed the fun:

discovery channel augmented reality

Or check out Pepsi’s “Unbelievable” Bus shelter in London:

augmented reality bus

Or imagine getting an entire train station involved as they did with this Cadbury’s Free The Joy Game:

augmented reality train station

I definitely am excited about both technologies but in terms of experiential marketing it appears that right now augmented reality is a technology that allows a brand to reach the widest audience and have the highest impact in consumer experiential events.

Phil Provost is an experiential & event marketing expert, Integrated marketing consultant & President, PSP Media, Inc. You can connect with him at

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Phillip Provost is a senior media executive who has worked in experiential event marketing for years. Phil is currently President of PSP Media Inc.

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