Luxury Swiss watch brand Piaget’s first virtual reality experiment, which takes viewers to a simulated polo match, is a swing and a miss.
The VR experience is meant to promote Piaget’s newest watch, the Polo S (Piaget has been a sponsor of polo events for years). Done with production company Unit9, viewers can strap on Google Cardboard headsets to sit in on a polo match as a spectator or as a player. Online, the game can be experienced through a 360-degree video.
Sophie Dubois Maricot, Piaget’s digital project manager, said that the VR experience will also be available via headsets in Piaget boutiques to “entertain customers.”
“We wanted something disruptive, never seen before, and to test the VR technology,” she said. “VR is a new technology that creates entertainment and seems to have a very promising future.”
Piaget’s first try at VR demonstrates that the technology is still in a test-and-see phase, used more to generate buzz and show that a brand is investing in “new” experiences. Other luxury brands have incorporated virtual reality into their technology strategies in the past. Tommy Hilfiger used a Samsung Gear VR set-up at its Manhattan store last fall to display that season’s runway show. Last summer, Dior built its own virtual reality headset, called Dior Eyes, to take viewers behind the scenes at its past runway shows. Both experiments were, so far, one-offs.
While virtual reality has been touted as the next frontier for retail for years, luxury brands are still in the early testing phase of the technology, simply to be applauded for trying it.
“It’s interesting for luxury brands to be in the innovation space,” said Anrick Bregman, VR and interactive director at Unit9. “The goal is to elevate the brand perception and create an experience that stands out for customers or potential customers. If you’re creating something that provides an experience that’s memorable and engaging, that creates an attachment to a brand and the product.”
For a brand like Piaget, the desire is in changing perception, not directly pushing sales.
“They do get the benefit of the ‘wow, okay, Piaget,'” said Chris Paradysz, founder and CEO of PMX Agency. “That’s not an everyday brand name outside of the luxury market. Still, virtual reality doesn’t really have the ability to enable sales, but brands can be seen in a new light.”
Getting a customer to experience virtual reality is a challenge in itself: while in-store headsets put the technology in front of already engaged consumers (those shopping in the store), and also adds incentive to visit the store, they are, for now, difficult to scale. In-store VR installations can only be used by a handful of people at one time.
“When it’s only touching a small portion of customers throughout the day, it’s very hard to say if it’s influencing sales,” said Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content practice at Razorfish. “Retailers are willing to pilot VR for a featured display, so they’re not working on the big scale. A team often feels obligated to a senior executive wanting to try something new and cool, so it’s a checkbox item.”
Goldberg mentioned that there are “edge cases” for practical virtual reality experiences, like visualizing a renovation at Lowe’s. For the most part, though, virtual reality has failed to live up to expectations, allowing for brands, especially luxury brands, to still feel ahead of the curve with a relatively straightforward experience.
“I’m disappointed VR isn’t further along,” said PMX Agency’s Paradysz. “Brands are fighting the uphill battle on the technology front.”