What Every Bar Owner Should Know About VR & AR

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The media is buzzing about VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), gushing about them on virtually every 2017 trend list (including this one). Investors and manufacturers are pouring millions of dollars into development. Spirits companies and some venues are confident that these technologies will be a new reality in traffic building, marketing, and entertainment. Hollywood has invested at least $43 million in it, and Sony has a VR czar at one of its movie studios. Silicon Valley is all over it, and Facebook acquired Oculus, the VR leader. Time Magazine even led with the headline, “Why Virtual Reality is About to Change the World.” But can it change your business?

Like the QR (code), will VR and AR just boom and then flatline? The answer is “maybe.” We’ll offer up our predictions and recommendations on how these cool new technologies can be turned into practical applications for your bar, club or spirits brand.

First, what are VR and AR, and what’s the difference?

Virtual reality requires wearing a headset or other device and immerses the user in a simulated environment or situation by stimulating vision and/or hearing.  Samsung sold close to 5 million Gear devices last year, and the size of the VR software market is expected to hit almost $25 billion by 2020, according to analysts.

Augmented reality involves enhancing experiences with computer-generated details and graphics. Pokémon Go is one of the most familiar applications of AR and has been around for a while. Yelp’s Monocle (which enables users to “zoom in” on details about restaurants and bars) is another relevant example. Here are a few more examples of current AR applications.

They are very different technologies, with totally different applications for your business. Although technology and marketing media tend to talk about them in the same breath, they serve very distinct purposes.

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A few spirits companies (Dos Equis, Jim Beam and Fire Eater) have used virtual reality devices to generate buzz for their brands. Guests put on headsets, sampled, and stepped into a virtual world where they could do things like take a “behind-the-scenes tour” of the manufacturing process.

Like any brand activation program, adding a novelty activity to your bar or club could add some buzz and generate local PR. Participants may post their pictures and tell their friends, and you may benefit from having something new and cool on your premises.

Although these brands reported significant engagement in the experience, the challenge with the technology as it currently exists is that it is limited to one viewer at a time. Most VR today is almost as if you were to go on an amusement park ride by yourself (while looking a tad geeky with a headset, alone, as a bar of people – or just your friends – watch you) and then have to wait until your friend goes on that ride (and hope he or she does) before you can discuss the thrill.

Enhancements are in the works that will result in multiple viewer experiences, so like ping pong, pool, dancing, watching sports, pinball or other bar/club entertainment, the activity will become an icebreaker and communal activity rather than solo fun. For bars seeking groups to turn out and have a unique, shared experience that involves gaming, VR might be the next big thing.

Virtually Live is a company that’s developing virtual reality applications for sporting events, turning them into interactive, crowd-based experiences, where viewers can truly feel as if they are in the game.

A few locations are betting that VR is here to stay. Vrei in Vienna is a recently opened virtual reality bar. The Alto Bar in Las Vegas boasts the Rift Lounge (as in Oculus Rift, a headset brand). The son of the Chuck E. Cheese founder is experimenting with VR fun zones. Because the technology is relatively new and still in its novelty phase, we have no way to tell whether these VR bars/venues will become a big win or simply a short-lived trend like mall video game arcades of the ‘80s.

For now, it’s mostly wait and see. But we believe the pace is quickening and virtual reality will come into its own for the industry when:

  • The VR experience dovetails to present and past bar turn-out habits, for better, more fun experiences. When Virtually Live or another company can deliver bar football crowds a shared “in game” VR experience, bars will score big! Most people will be hard-pressed to build or afford this at home (or get all their buddies over), so they will likely go to a bar that offers a cool, fun environment which makes football even better. (Is that really possible?)
  • The experiences being delivered are unique and engaging. Although spirits manufacturing is interesting, we’d rather walk the plank with a pirate, lie on the beach drinking a coconut-based cocktail, or dance with a lover while drinking cocktails in an exotic locale. Think VRtinis, shaken not stirred, in Monte Carlo, like James Bond!
  • The experiences involve other people and mind-bending, far-off adventures. Think about how arcade games and interactive activities not only served as a draw to bars, they kept people hanging out (and meeting, eating and drinking). Networked headsets for games can go well beyond today’s bar zone activities. One day bar patrons may be able to ski race down the Alps against each other or play foosball when they (and their friends) are “on the field” with them – as opposed to more sedate pool or darts.
  • The experiences involve more attractive headgear. Like cell phones, VR headsets are going through a “big and clunky” phase. Looking like a nerd at a bar, by yourself, is not cool (for now)! We expect the devices to get smaller, lighter, and more attractive over time. After all, who wants to get his or her hair messed up on a night out?
  • Creating experiences for marketing purposes becomes affordable and you can let prospects sample what a night would be like at your awesome dance club or hanging out in your cozy corner bar on a Saturday night.

Intrigued and want to track the future of VR? Here’s the industry publication, where you can read about how VR is being applied to gaming, entertainment, real estate, and more.

Our “warning label” for VR: Some people report getting motion sickness from VR experiences, which certainly doesn’t mix well with spirits consumption. If you are introducing a VR experience to your bar or club, be sure you caution queasy guests!

Augmented Reality

In 2016, Pokémon Go was all the rage. One restaurant claimed that its spend of $10 to place the imaginary creatures in its establishment led to a 75% boost in business. It certainly had its fifteen minutes of fame.

Now that people are no longer following that trend, how else can we apply augmented reality in our industry? Some spirits advertisers are creating special labels or codes in ads that, when scanned, take viewers to a unique offer or experience. One smartphone app called Letsee even takes beer drinkers to product reviews. (It’s been dubbed the Shazam of beer.)

Some larger restaurant chains have incorporated AR into the customer experience. They provide AR activities – in some cases proprietary to the brand – to entertain its customers.

However, the most relevant and potentially profitable use of AR for bars and restaurants are apps like Yelp’s Monocle and Time Out New York’s app. They both allow users to see what’s in their neighborhoods, and instantly read reviews and see deals. Smart marketers are already using location data to target customers where they are. AR simply adds a level of information and enticement to get them to walk into your bar or club.

In any event, you will want to engage those offering an AR experience rather than build your own, in most cases.

R You Ready?

Whether you believe the headset or the smartphone will be the gateway to a new reality in 2017, watching how VR and AR evolve in the future is certain to be multidimensional, colorful, and entertaining – and if you play it right and stay on top of these fast-moving technologies, very profitable.

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