Toying with reality: What new VR and AR experiences means for the industry

"It's now time for the industry to ride the MR experiential wave."
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You only need to flick through the multitude of kids’ TV channels to see how much money the toy industry spends advertising its products.

Whether for the toys themselves or the stores that sell them, the captive and highly-targeted audience kids' TV provides is not in doubt. But the last ten years has also seen a seismic shift in the viewing habits of both children and their parents, away from ‘appointment TV’ and towards on-demand content, streamed TVs, tablets, phones and laptops. Enough has already been written about this trend, and it’s clear from the evidence in our daily lives that we live in a very fragmented media landscape in terms of consumption.

Marketing strategies have evolved to account for these changes, of course, such as the use of influencers to promote product. However, we are now seeing the mainstream emergence of two technologies that can be experienced on all these devices – Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. A single term that covers these both plus the tricky merged space of MR (mixed reality) is XR. We’re already seeing the emergence of this tech in toys – there’s a whole host of products that have XR at their core, or more commonly, as part of a companion experience through apps.

It stands to reason that the toy industry is looking at the marketing opportunities afforded by AR and VR too. Here at Kuju, we teamed up with long-time Nickelodeon partner Ralph Creative earlier this year with the aim of offering brands a one-stop-shop for creating XR experiences – across any platform.

There’s a huge opportunity for the toy industry to ride the experiential wave too, with the help of XR. And it seems that we’re not the only ones – the recent news that Toys R Us has rolled out its AI app across the US as part of a strategy to increase footfall is hugely exciting. And significant. Other retailers are already thinking in the same terms. It’s only a short leap from there to manufacturers offering AI-enhanced experiences of their products in-store, before the point of purchase.

This is because the tools for consuming AR and VR content are finding their way into the public’s hands at an ever-increasing rate – Apple is making a huge AR play with the support of their AR kit middleware and Google is pouring significant investment into its Android VR and AR offerings.

Experiential approaches to toy marketing and retail are not new, with real-world activations such as stores devoted to a product or brand allowing kids and parents to get ‘hands on.’ But layering AR and VR on to those experiences provides deeper immersion and interactivity, this is going to be a game-changer.

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