NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07: Guest experinced Ketel One virtual reality during the celebration of their new campaign 'You Don't Understand, It Has to be Perfect' at NeueHouse Madison Square in New York City on Wednesday, December 7 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Ketel One)
I love virtual reality. I love a good cocktail. So when esteemed vodka brand Ketel One decided to package a VR viewer with it’s 1.75 liter bottles of vodka in the U.S., it was like the company was calling my name. But I would soon find out that some things around emerging technology can simply become more challenging than one might think.
It all started out innocently enough. I was going to learn more about the creators of Ketel One Vodka, the esteemed Nolet family, and their obsessive attention to detail and innovation through a VR experience enabled by the cardboard headset attached to the bottle. The unassembledcardboard headset attached to the bottle. Now, I have to admit, I cringe whenever I see illustrated, step-by-step instructions on assembly of anything. Ikea furniture instruction nearly make me faint because the illustrated instruction guides don’t even include words so that they can be used globally. At least th Ketel One box included numbers and the roman alphabet, so how hard could it be?
But by the time I unfolded, and read and re-read and re-read again the instructions, and flipped (as instructed) the viewer inside out, tried to put things in tabs, and constantly compared my headset to the illustration; I was still at a loss. Honestly, I felt like beloved Peanuts character Snoopy when hewrestles with a lawn chairthat magically comes to life and fights back in the television classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. This darn headset was taking a life of own!
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The final instructions directed me to put my iPhone inside, and seal the adhesive tabs? Seal?! What if I get the call from that client, love interest, restaurant discount SMS text the moment I place it in this half-put together thing and can't get to it in time? I had to draw the line somewhere. It was time for an alternative approach.
So I decided to stop working on that cardboard viewer and use a good old standard VR headset and ended up watching the Ketel One VR experience which one could tell was lovingly and painstakingly produced. There is a beautiful tour of the family distillery. One can walk through the streets of Holland (the family’s native country). There is even an immersive cocktail demonstration.
But I wonder how many people will never get to see it out of the 80,000 limited edition viewers the company shipped due to this particular assembly experience? I have to admit that even after my encounter, I could have used a Ketel One drink. Would others feel the same?
So I decided to consult a VR cardboard headset guru to see if the issue was me or something larger at play here. Through a particular VR cognoscenti, I find Gregg Katano, Chief Strategist atUnofficial Cardboard, a VR cardboard headset expert and the first Google partner in this arena.
I relay my entire experience via phone, he listens patiently; and then he laughs deeply and fully like Mickey Rooney as the voice (32:30) of Kris Kringle in the stop motion Rankin Bass classic Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
But he’s not laughing at me. He’s laughing with me. It seems I have stumbled upon the dirty little secret in VR. These headsets can be hell to put together. “No one is talking about this,” exclaims Katano, “and it’s such an issue.” He continues, “I remember when I first saw anything in VR. I thought, ‘this is truly magical.’ But I knew there would be a lot of the same problems that we all encountered around 3D glasses back in the day, too.” Turns out that Katano is a putting-things-on-your-eyeballs tech jedi since the VR precursor, 3D, and grappled with many of the same issues. “It makes sense that a lot of us who were in 3D are now in VR. It’s just a natural progression. It’s also why VR has taken off as fast as it has - because a lot of the earlier work was done with 3D. There were so many barriers to entry that had to be solved for,” Katano explains. “The price of 3D glasses, the construction of the glasses themselves, the cleaning issues around them for the next showing at the movie theater - what a nightmare!”
What this work taught Katano and his colleagues is that in order to capture the “magic” on the end user side, the viewing device must be easy and scalable – which is not an easy feat. In fact, the first versions Unofficial Cardboard came up with had a quite a number of assembly steps. “We knew if we had to do several demonstrations for an executive, which we did, that it would never work because he’d be thinking that if there is this much to it, it will never work for consumers.”
So they went back to the drawing board and developed the 2.0 which came, basically, pre-built. And it is a thing of beauty. But what is a company wanted to ship the headset?
This question would be answered for Unofficial Cardboard by working with the designers of famed music festival Coachella to co-create a viewer that could be shipped flat with the ticket to the Festival to all ticket buyers. “The box was kinda big, but it worked,” says Katano. “So that experience encouraged us to create even something better the next time around for clients who might request the same thing.” The company’s current iteration is called the Elite which is very intuitive, ships flat, but basically pops up and can be assembled in 3 easy moves. The viewers were even most recently used at a Golden State Warriors game. The company will also supply all the viewers for Vimeo's new 360 degree/VR capabilities that will be debuted during the SXSW conference this week.
The Elite VR Headset
“Any cardboard viewers have just got to be put into action in a quick and easy manner because we have to keep in mind that we are not only talking about applications for mere entertainment but for those which can be used in the medical field and more,” says Katano.
So what are the factors that can happen to throw a monkey into the wrench of the VR cardboard headset experience, especially for the busy Millennial who is on the go? “So many companies just don’t know what to look for and what questions to ask since the technology is new,” says Katano. “Some of these viewers are shipped from overseas and simply not good quality. I’ve literally seen the corrugate fall apart on some of them in mid-usage.” Katano also warns about considerations around the quality of the lens as well. “Cheaper per unit might not always be the better choice,” he continues, “because once consumer’s experience is anything less than enjoyable, it is very hard to overturn such sentiment.”
In short, businesses and brands looking to capitalize on the marketing trend opportunities around VR should definitely do their homework thoroughly and bring on consultants and target end-users (like me!) to test out and ensure a smooth process. Indeed, Katano uses his 80 year-old mom. “If my mom can easily use one of these viewers and enjoy the VR experience, which she can, then everyone has done their job,” he says. “And that’s exactly how it should be.” Amen to that.
My ebook "America's Most Wanted: The Millennial - how to quad decode and trend forecast" can be found here.