According to October 2015 data from Greenlight VR and Touchstone Research, 79% of Gen Z US internet users—defined as those ages 10 to 18—said they are interested in virtual reality. But other generations were also drawn to the technology. Almost 73% of Millannials said they are interested in virtual reality and 70% of Gen Xers said they were as well. Virtual reality even appeals to baby boomers; 64% of them said they were interested in it.
Let us now look at three arguments why VR is a perfect medium for Generation Z?
1. Gen Z is the first true “digital-native” generation.
It is worth noticing that Generation Z has never knew a world without smartphones. According to DeYoung, “They grew up in a more connected, more technologically sophisticated era than any generation to come before. This has critical implications for marketing tactics focused on reaching Gen Z’ers. VR technologies like Google Cardboard, the Oculus Rift and Samsung gear have found their way in the lives of Gen Z, with 41% having tried VR, and 12% who make use of it on a daily basis (Q4 2016 study of 300 Gen Z’ers by Sabre Labs: “Emerging Tech in Travel 2017″).”
As an up and coming technology, it might be enough to pique the interest of Gen Z consumers – but to really maintain their attention and establish a meaningful connection, the application of VR must be done right. “This means storyboard, design, production and other elements must be high-quality and reflective of the brand,” DeYoung says.
2. Gen Z chooses experiences over material goods.
“Millennials are members of the first generation more interested in experiences than acquiring more “stuff”. Gen Z’ers are even more interested in experiences beyond the brand or the product,” observes DeYoung. “Virtual reality is becoming a unique experience. In its best iteration, it gives consumers access to a world where they would not likely go otherwise. It connects and inspires them to immerse themselves in new creative universe. While Gen Z may cherish vintage boots, or a bomber jacket from the Vietnam War passed down by their grandfather, they also cherish memorable and exotic experiences. The more memorable the experience, the more likely Gen Z’ers are to share it with their social spheres.”
In March of this year, Walmart made major investments in its newly created innovation hub, dubbed “Store No. 8”, where it will explore applications of augmented and virtual reality, machine learning and artificial intelligence. “For Gen Z, the in-store experience is still integral to their relationship with brand, but retailers must figure out how to blend digital and virtual experiences with the physical world if they wish to capture Gen Z’ers attention and create connection to their brand,” DeYoung concludes.
Since VR creates a fully immersive three-dimensional experience that allows individuals to experience the impossible, young users may travel through the Ebola virus or studying paleontology in the Jurassic period.
Half of their brain is dedicated to visual processing, so intense visual stimulation like VR aids with information processing. With just a VR headset, educators can supplement student education by providing hands-on learning opportunities. While most VR equipment doesn’t come cheap as it is yet to be democratized (much like the journey of organic foods), there are a few affordable options already in the market: Google Cardboard and I Am Cardboard’s VR Cardboard Kit V2.0 are both under $25.
3. Gen Z craves to connect with community, while being more culturally and socially aware.
Understanding the multi-cultural and communal perspectives of Gen Z is essential for marketers, and in turn, affects the tactics used to engage them. “Because they don’t like to be boxed into specific categories or stereotypes, any experience that creates a demographic silo will not work with Gen Z. Luckily, marketers can leverage this insight to build the right content experiences for these consumers, which, leaves a lot of room for creative freedom and inspiration in the emerging VR world,” says DeYoung.
“Gen Z wants to feel a strong connection with society, and more importantly, to feel that they are making an impact for good. For a nonprofit organization, or a company that leads through corporate philanthropy, virtual reality can put Gen Z’ers directly inside the environments they are most passionate about, from a remote village in a Third World country to a bee farm in Vermont. When Gen Z can’t be physically inside the experience, they will crave a connection with the causes that matter to them. It’s exactly that connection that can be achieved through VR. For instance, take what Häagen-Dazs did with “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” or what Pencils of Promise accomplished through virtually transporting donors and other viewers to a classroom in Ghana,” notes DeYoung.
Due to this strong impact of VR among Gen Z, aerospace company Lockheed Martin created VR experience for kids. This Lockheed Martin Mars Experience Bus is an actual school bus with transparent screens instead of windows that allows riders to experience the streets of Washington D.C. one minute and the sights and sounds of Mars the next. Thanks to Oscar award-winning visual effects studio Framestore, the screens play video footage of Mars’s surface so that riders can view 200 square miles of the Red Planet firsthand. Students from Girls Inc. and 4H were brought in to participate and be inspired by the VR experience.
To conclude, Gen Z’ers are quite the content curators themselves, with limitless content experiences available to them. The quality of the VR experience must stand out against their expectations of technology-oriented brand experiences. With decreasing attention spans, and more technological distractions, focusing on the storytelling aspect is where marketers can win with VR and Gen Z.
Representatives of Gen Z are campaigners, curators and creators whose parents, educators and peers may encourage and support. Virtual Reality is a new medium, but it may encourage children to pursue STEM career paths, to design the world around them with more impact and compassion, and to interact with brands and their environment in the unprecedented way.
Image: GK and Partners