A virtual reality experience demonstrated by Toyota at TechCrunch disrupt serves as a demonstration of the value major brands are beginning to place on VR.
Walking through the comfortably cramped crowds of this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference something begins to become apparent to the savvy VR/AR enthusiast: we’re growing up.
Now that the virtual reality headsets that people used to line up for hours to try for just a few minutes are commercially available, the unique delight of seeing them in the wild has diminished greatly. The excitement level for what was so recently the new “it” technology is beginning to wane and the focus is shifting instead to companies that solve problems and offer monetization options to spur VR development forward.
This was an inevitable occurrence, of course, eventually every industry needs to trade its underground “cool” for a suit and tie and start delivering on its man promises with dollars and cents, but it still tugs at the heart strings to see the scene going corporate.
One exhibitor at TCD however, was bucking this unnerving trend by focusing on flash, function and, most of all, fun for the VR demonstrations at its booth.
That exhibitor was Toyota and its aggressive leveraging of VR to sell its new product shows how major brands are grabbing onto this new medium with both hands, and keeping the scene interesting in the process.
Toyota was at TC Disrupt to display and discuss the newest addition to its Prius line of energy efficient automobiles: The Prius Prime. Rather than hiring models to stand by the vehicle as it rotates on a plinth, however, Toyota instead doubled down on virtual reality experiences to entice convention goers toward its newest creation.
The Toyota VR blitz was split into three phases. First those in line were given a Samsung Gear VR and invited to view a trailer of what they would shortly be experiencing. Then, they were moved into an HTC Vive to play around in a Tilt Brush clone constructed specifically for this event by the LA-based advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi. The final phase was the crown jewel of the event: an immersive 4D experience — complete with Vive, haptic seat, steering wheel, and spatial audio — known as The Impossible Quest.
This final exhibition placed you in the role of a getaway driver for an enigmatic drifter carrying a briefcase. He enters your car (a Prius Prime obviously) and tells you to step on it. You then spend the next five minutes careening past opposing vehicles and dodging in and out of traffic before finally arriving at your destination and revealing that the treasure in the briefcase was the 3D creation you built earlier in your progression through the booth.
The entire thing was clearly marketing, but it was the best kind of marketing because it was focused on keeping you entertained rather than simply hawking a product. VR can bring potential customers nose to nose with a certain item while also being genuinely fun for them as well. This is an incredibly powerful marketing tool and top brands like Toyota are starting to sit up and pay attention.
I never expected a company like Toyota to make a room full of scrappy startups seem dull but that’s exactly what happened on this first day of Disrupt.