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Is virtual reality advertising about to take off?

July 13, 2017 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

With all the moves by brands and publishers to use virtual reality for immersive storytelling, it was only a matter of time before true VR advertising would follow. But this being a relatively new form of advertising means that the rules and standards haven’t been written yet.

While recent VR launches by Google, Adobe, and Nokia show the potential of ads in VR, the momentum has yet to start catching on for audiences. And with current audience limitations — and what’s viable given industry trajectories — it seems that VR advertising remains a niche reality for now, despite exciting new experiments.

Pioneering Ventures into VR Advertising
Google is experimenting with VR advertising.

As part of its Area 120 internal incubator, Google recently announced its foray into VR advertising: Advr, an ad prototype that’s essentially a cube of content. Viewers are able to see an ad by clicking on the cube or staring at it long enough to generate a video ad pop-up. It’s an almost telekinetic use of your eyes to open a jack-in-the-box of advertising. The viewer can then either watch the ad or close the player.

In a blog post announcing the prototype, which is currently in testing with VR game developers, Google stated that VR ad formats — and its work within this space — ought to follow a few key principles:

  • easy for developers to implement
  • native to VR
  • flexible enough to customize
  • useful and non-intrusive for users

Adobe also has a VR advertising venture that creates a “theater-style experience” for 2-D videos, rather than 3-D or 360 degree video. Think of it as a video clip pausing for an advertisement to take over a whole theater before slowly fading out and the clip starting again.

It’s a bit more intrusive than Google’s effort, but Adobe says it could get this kind of advertising solution out to publishers in the next six to 12 months, and could eventually offer the same attributes of video advertising, including consumer targeting and detailed analytics. Adobe also says it wants to prioritize mobile VR as opposed to higher-end headsets, to make use of what’s more affordable to audiences.

Nokia’s OZO camera

Not to be outdone by competitors, Nokia is boasting a VR advertising experience as well. Technically a 360-degree video , the ad allows people to people virtually walk around a house to see how the its new line of digital health products by are used. It’s also a not-so-subtle way for Nokia to advertise its VR-creating hardware, the OZO camera.

Destination Advertising

While the potential for VR ads to boost retail and e-commerce (as Nokia is doing) is certainly on point, travel is another promising area. Cathay Pacific has partnered with the VR and 360-degree advertising firm OmniVirt to deliver such an ad experience. Marriott Hotels has also used 360-degree video to transport people to exotic destinations.

While these brands are trying to be forward-thinking and innovative in the advertising space, they’re also able to tap into the emotional longing for anyone considering a vacation. It’s no wonder that a recent study by Vibrant Media on VR and AR advertising shows consumers are interested in experiencing travel destinations before buying their tickets.

Niche Footholds = Niche Outcomes

Still, the same study by Vibrant Media lays out the harsh truth to new pioneers in VR advertising: There are tough hurdles to building audiences. The study found that consumers don’t want to have to worry about additional software and hardware. They also worry about getting charged for overages with cellular data.

Given that VR headsets have yet to expand beyond gaming and entertainment, it’s tough to imagine VR advertising expanding beyond these same kinds of consumers in the short term. Data from Forrester Research indicates that 46% of online adults in the U.S. in 2016 didn’t see themselves using VR and 42% of online adults hadn’t even heard of VR headsets. Mass consumer adoption of VR technologies is at least five years away, according to the research.

Meanwhile, a January 2017 report by Yes Lifecycle Marketing found that few advertisers are currently delving into VR or have plans for it. More than half of marketers surveyed said VR or AR advertising didn’t apply to their organizations, and only 8% of them were currently using VR advertising (7% AR advertising). The current marketers in this space are definitely on the cutting edge.

It’s important for publishers and advertisers to experiment with virtual reality and immersive storytelling, because they can truly be awe-inspiring experiences. But so far, the moves into VR advertising are baby steps and the standards and best practices are still a work in progress. While there is a load of potential, we have a long way to go for it to be a reality for the public at large.


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