Virtual reality and augmented reality: digitalization making inroads into the beverage industry

Woman wears VR-glasses
©Pexels, User: bruce mars

The rapid development of technological achievements has brought such new technologies as virtual and augmented reality out of the experimental stage. The instant messaging service Snapchat, for instance, now offers large-scale augmented reality (AR) applications for amusement parks. Following Disney and Universal Studios, Six Flags has now become the latest operator to join the AR trend. The leisure industry is, of course, predestined to use these technologies. One only has to recall the hype, however short-lived, surrounding the Pokémon GO game. In addition to its prevalent use in the gaming and entertainment sectors to date, virtual reality (VR) is garnering increased attention in other segments as well. At a minimum, VR’s success demonstrates that many people find virtual realities exciting. This is something the beverage industry needs to take advantage of, too.

The moving image has a long history in marketing. TV ads were followed by social media videos, and now virtual reality is knocking on the door. Entertainment is in strong demand, especially among younger target groups. VR and AR are likely to constitute the next major step into the future for this segment. VR-based ad campaigns are viewed as promising because they allow users to completely immerse themselves into a virtual world, especially when they also wear headsets. This allows users to focus on the content without any distractions. No other technology offers this degree of attention, and the interactive possibilities intensify the effect. At the same time, far more emotion can be generated than with standard applications. These technologies’ mere status as something new and innovative is enough to attract strong interest.

Virtual and augmented reality expand opportunities for marketing

Creating a virtual-reality application involves digitally recreating reality or building new reality worlds. Special VR headsets are used to view and move around in the virtual worlds. Users are essentially separated from the outer world, with a virtual world taking the place of the real one. VR devices and content still represent a niche market — not least because of the costs involved. In the meantime, however, more cost-efficient versions are available, such as Google Cardboards. These simple solutions are in no way a substitute for expensive, high-end glasses, but they do present a serious alternative for the mass market. That’s likely to increase VR’s popularity in the future. The market research institute Superdata estimates there will be some 220 million VR users by the year 2020.

Augmented reality refers to a real-world environment that has been augmented, or supplemented, with virtual elements. Its use has already been successfully explored in several industries: At Ikea, for instance, customers can use an app to place products from the furniture maker’s catalog into their own home. McDonald’s introduced Happy Meal packaging that customers could refashion into VR glasses in just a few steps to then experience the VR game “Slope Stars.” It can be assumed that AR and VR will take on an increasingly significant role in the digital future. The technology has not yet been put to such active use in the beverage industry. And yet, virtual reality’s further technological development can mean growing potential for marketing.

Pioneering achievements in the beverage industry

A few companies have already made significant strides in this area: Beverage producer Adelholzener collaborated with music service Shazam on an augmented-reality project to kick off its Active O2 campaign, “Go Play Outside.” Customers scanned codes printed on the bottles to open Shazam’s link to a virtual ski slope. They were then directed to the Adelholzener campaign page, where the company offered a drawing for prizes. Glassmaker Rastal is also jumping on the AR bandwagon with its cooperation with private brewery Gaffel. An AR code was affixed to 1,000 glasses. Using an app to scan the code, customers could then open a scene from a Cologne pub and open-air festival. Gaffel also produced a tutorial to reach as many users as possible. Not only did the campaign score with a great many clicks, it also won the renowned 2018 Promotional Gift Award. Skillful storytelling enhances outcomes among consumers: Coca-Cola took consumers on an entertaining sleigh ride through the eyes of Santa Claus. On the occasion of the FIFA World Cup, the beverage company delighted passers-by in Zürich by letting them play against Swiss national team players on a large AR soccer field.

Potential in market research and in B2B

VR applications are also finding their way into market research. VR’s biggest advantage is allowing objects to be pictured without their having to be physically present. The beverage industry is interested in finding out, for instance, about purchasing behavior at the point-of-sale. To that end, the effect of a wide range of packaging, labels and bottle types can be tested on individuals by virtually simulating a shelf with products. VR technologies also hold significant potential for the B2B segment. Potential customers can thoroughly inspect complex machines and production equipment without leaving their desks. But one point is certain: All of this involves a great deal of preliminary work. Companies that want to exploit these technologies must present all their information and products in digital form to depict them in a VR scenario.

Virtual reality in industrial production processes

The possibilities of virtual reality for the beverage industry definitely do not stop at marketing. The trend toward process automation on the way to realizing Industry 4.0 opens up a wide range of possible applications in production and warehousing. With equipment and processes growing more complex, the use of VR technologies can actively support their development. Concepts can be depicted as digital models in VR right from the planning stage, allowing them to be accessed and tested. Entire future production facilities can be effectively planned with virtual inspections to eliminate any errors in advance.

VR technology holds great promise. It represents an exciting new channel in the marketing mix. The costly and time-consuming production of virtual worlds is certainly one reason that VR hasn’t yet made its major breakthrough. Companies face the challenge of effectively and skillfully utilizing this new communication channel. Primarily major brands have been the ones to succeed in putting this trend into practice. By the next drinktec, we’ll have seen much more progress in this area. The trade fairs organizer Messe München GmbH is already undertaking first steps in this field and has recently started offering AR and VR services to their exhibitors.

Andra Gerhards

Andra Gerhards is a freelance journalist and copywriter. She focuses on topics such as marketing for town councils and local companies, (sustainable) consumption and retail.