The Finnish company is hoping the 360-degree virtual reality camera, which looks more than a little Star Wars-inspired (see pictured) and has eight synchronised cameras to capture fully stereoscopic 3D for playback on VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, can become a big hit with advertisers.
Lai told Marketing Week that Nokia is already trialling ad creation through the OZO via tests with “two high-profile brands” and that the device is aimed squarely at professional filmmakers rather than consumers.
A brand in transition
Since selling its consumer phone business to Microsoft back in 2014 for $7.2bn, Nokia has split into two primary divisions, with its days as a consumer brand officially over.
Nokia Technologies is focused on R&D and creating new hardware, such as the OZO, to license out to creatives, while the primary Nokia Corporation is focused on providing B2B solutions to the telecoms industry. For the latter, Nokia recently acquired Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6bn in an attempt to create a new global leader in the fast-evolving communications equipment sector.
“Nokia is going through a huge brand transition but if you look at our history we’ve always gone through a reinvention of sort,” explained Lai.
“We used to make paper then rubber boots and then mobile phones. We’re an entrepreneurial brand at heart and we now want to create the same warm sentiment among consumers by our work in the VR space.”
The VR brand opportunity for Nokia
With the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg calling VR “the next platform” and devices such as Oculus Rift and Playstation VR set to launch this year, 2016 is expected to be a defining year for virtual reality.
And Lai is confident it can take off among brands as well as consumers.
“This can become a huge tool for advertisers. You can be truly immersed from being taken to a refugee camp to showing off the history of a brand. The likes of McDonalds and American Airlines are putting energy into VR for a good reason – it can be huge for driving emotional connection.”
Lai has only been in the CMO role at Nokia Technologies for six months having joined from Philips, where he was VP for marketing at its US health division.
And he insists Nokia’s rich history in the mobile phone space isn’t a barrier to future growth.
“It is more of an opportunity than a challenge as we have this great heritage. I remember my old Nokia 8210 and being addicted to Snake, it was the main reason I wanted to join Nokia.”
He added: “Brand awareness is a real strength of ours. Our brand awareness figures are always 95% or above in the key markets. The opportunity now is how to pivot the brand in new places in addition to telecoms.
“We can be the thought leader in VR. But we’re not only focused on technology in this space but creating the next big software in the tourism, education and medical fields as well.”
He is keen to insist that launching a £43,000 professional VR camera, its first major product launch in over three years, isn’t a strategic risk for Nokia.
Lai concluded: “This will be the future channel. You see with Samsung sand Facebook at Mobile World Congress that all the mobile manufacturers are incorporating VR.
“Nokia can also be iconic for its work in the VR space. We want to drive behind the historic progressiveness of the brand. People associate with us warmly on phones but we want our work in VR to be seen in the same way. “