VR: A New Spin on 'Truth in Advertising'

One of the many questions asked about virtual reality (VR) is if it will it be then next big ad medium.

Indeed, within the exploding VR topic a major headline is its broad applicability. It's all about gaming and entertainment now, but it will grow into retail, enterprise, education and others -- a projected $120B market by 2020.

Smartphones started with a piece of hardware, then spawned a development ecosystem that innovated on top of it (a la apps). "Use cases" took new forms that weren't necessarily intended at first. VR will be the same thing on steroids.

Back to the ad question, one of these areas of development will be advertising. A lot of VR content will be media... and just like any other media, some of it will be ad supported. Also like any other media, success will come from "native" thinking.

This was the biggest takeaway at a session during GreenlightVR's VR Analytics Web Summit. Entitled Leveraging Integrated VR Advertising and Analytics Platforms, panelists examined how VR advertising could play out.

What exactly is native thinking? It's designing formats that take to heart the exact parameters of the device or form factor, as opposed to simply porting pre-existing media to a new device or screen size.

Early TV ads for example showed a solitary individual reading a script for Ovaltine or Lucky Strike. The reason: that's the way it was done in radio... but now with visuals. It took time for TV ads to grow into their own.

"The impulse in moving from video will be to apply it to VR," said Framestore VR's Tyler Hopf. "But applying pre-roll to VR won’t work. People won’t want to be placed inside [an ad]. So we have to figure out ways to create valuable ad experiences."

The definition of what's native and valuable in VR will be discovered through experimentation. It will likely be some version of what we now know as content marketing, involving branded experiences or product placement.

"In VR, we have positional head tracking data," said EEVO CEO Alejandro Dinsmore. "We can Overlay 3d objects on top of video such as dynamic product placement. We can place dynamic 3d objects in blank spaces and measure the feedback."

This brings up another "native" aspect of VR beyond creation of ad experiences: new analytics. There too, it will take native thinking and not imposing old metrics on new formats and media consumption patterns (sound familiar?)

"VR has 100 percent viewability," said Airpush's Cameron Peebles. "In other media like online and broadcast, you can’t measure people truly viewing. [VR] is the first medium where you can validate that. And heat mapping takes that further."

But the most native thinking will come from VR's immersive ability to emulate the use or essence of a product. This gets beyond the toolbox of ad copy or creative with heavier artillery to demonstrate products, including local.

"Think of an auto dealer," said Tyler. "There are multiple KPIs to get a user to an experience and visit [the dealership] in the real world. VR can skip those steps and get right to the experience."

Mike Boland

Michael Boland is Chief Analyst and VP of Content for BIA/Kelsey, covering online and mobile media. Mike is a frequent speaker at top industry conferences such as BIA/Kelsey events, Search Engine Strategies, ad:tech, and WHERE 2.0. He has authored in-depth reports on the changing local media landscape including online video, social networking and mobile. He contributes regularly to highly read online news sources such as Business Insider and the Huffington Post. A trusted source for reporters covering the interactive media space, his comments have appeared in major news and trade media, including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Forbes. Previously he was a San Francisco-based freelance writer for business and technology magazines, such as Red Herring, Business 2.0, and Mobile Magazine. Mike began his career in business analysis and journalism as a staff reporter for Forbes magazine, where he covered tech & media.