It’s (thankfully) not often that a famous football player is accused of a double homicide that leads the LAPD in a slow-speed chase on national television, inadvertently scoring the Ford Bronco the most memorable unpaid visibility of all time. A lot has changed since the 90’s, and, as our world becomes increasingly digital and interconnected, the way we consume media and retain information also continues to evolve. As it stands, we’ve adjusted to the inundation of digital marketing via mental tunnel vision and by employing applications to block ads for us. Anyone who has ever searched for a product online is familiar with what can be summed up as being stalked around the web; in my particular case, because I visited jewelry designer Pamela Love’s website some time this past month, Pamela Love product ads “follow” me to any site privy to my browsing history. Whatever annoyance I felt was negligible, until I was forced to look at ads for $450 jewelry alongside an article on the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. Pamela Love’s marketing team isn’t to blame; it’s the fault of an algorithm that doesn’t discriminate product from content. However, experiencing that cognitive dissonance means I now have a negative association with Pamela Love’s products. These digital marketing methods are very much embedded in the online ad culture and will continue to be a means of distributing sponsored content. Still, I would argue that to further perpetuate these marketing habits will only exacerbate the public’s growing distaste towards sponsored brand presence and encourage the use ad blockers.
Where retargeting is an example of informed but non-contextual digital marketing, ads built around a story represent the other end of the marketing spectrum. Major labels commission reputable ad agencies that know how to frame their brand in a relevant narrative. But smaller companies that don’t have that luxury still know that a strong story — a reason why for the product — resonates. In 2014, toy startup Goldieblox produced an ad that won a four-million dollar Super Bowl spot. That Goldiblox ad then went viral, resulting in sales that have increased 7000% since. People voluntarily view and share ads that embed the product inside of a quality story, and the positive emotional footprint casts the brand in a favorable light, which encourages spending. When we look towards the future, the evolution of programmatic advertising in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) calls for us to set a precedent for advertising practices that resist problematic 2D digital marketing methods. Designing an unskippable ad in VR and AR means matching an immersive platform with narratively immersive sponsored content.