Virtual Reality: The Next Big Advertising Medium Is Here


Robert Hof, Contributor

May 21, 2015

Virtual reality is scarcely more than an expensive toy today, but advertisers are already salivating over the possibilities of reaching people with commercial messages while they’re immersed in their Oculus Rift headset.

That also sounds like an excellent way for a brand to annoy potential customers. Then again, that possibility has never scared them off before. So it’s no surprise that marketers are already plotting ways to insert themselves into what Oculus owner and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called the next great communications medium.

During a panel at the industry conference ad:tech in San Francisco Tuesday, several marketers, agencies, and publishers suggested that virtual reality–along with its cousin augmented reality, in which information and images are overlaid on the real world through smartphones or Google Glass-style devices–may be closer than we realize to be the next great advertising medium as well.

“We’ve identified virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality as a new frontier for our clients,” said panel moderator Marc Simons, cofounder of marketing strategy agency Giant Spoon. “This is the reality. When these devices start reaching a massive audience, we need to start preparing for it.”

In a way, they already have reached a mass audience. Some 1.8 billion virtual reality devices are already out in the wild, said Craig Dalton, CEO of DODOcase. They’re called smartphones. DODOcase makes Google’s Cardboard VR viewer and other devices that allow people to insert a smartphone in a cheap stereoscopic cardboard box.

That means that nearly anyone can experience a crude but nonetheless effective version of the much more expensive and not yet commercially available Oculus Rift headset. “It’s designed around snackable experiences on the device you already own,” Dalton said. Although the cases retail for $25, he expects brands to give them away–indeed, the company has already created some 80 branded versions.

And advertisers are already dipping their toes in the virtual water. The fashion denim designer 7 For All Mankind and Elle magazine recently filmed a fashion layout that was also released for VR headsets. Likewise, the animation studio ReelFX, creator of last year’s animated feature The Book of Life, is already filming commercials with a 360-degree camera rig intended for VR headsets, said Dan Ferguson, ReelFX’s director of digital interactive.

Beyond strictly ads, marketers are starting to create more immersive VR shopping experiences. “Right now, e-commerce is extremely flat,” said Valerie Carlson, executive creative director of the digital agency SapientNitro. “Virtual reality is a true experience. We can create roles that go beyond the physical aisle.” She said the agency is coming up with prototypes that it will present at the Cannes Lions Innovation festival in late June.

Actually, the Samsung Gear VR device is already there, Ferguson pointed out, because you get entered into a VR shopping experience right away, though he thinks there’s a lot more work to do in order to get beyond merely recreated physical stores in VR. “I don’t want to take you to a place you can already go to,” he said. “It’s about taking you to a place you can’t go or can’t experience in the physical world.”

Still, when it comes to ads, there’s still that annoyance factor. But even a publisher as traditional as Gannett is coming up with ways to fit commercial messages into the new medium. Gannett Digital recently took readers to the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail, Colo., giving Oculus Rift users (mostly software developers for now) the ability to tour the mountain and see skiers in 360-degree glory, as shown in the video above.

As part of that, said Mitch Gelman, VP of product for Gannett Digital, “we’re creating native ad opportunities within the VR.” For instance, you could drive a virtual Audi to get to Beaver Creek where the Audi-sponsored event took place, perusing information about Audi cars along the way. “It is a perception changer for us, a newspaper company, and a perception changer for any advertiser that wants to associate with a new frontier in media,” he said.

This article was written by Robert Hof from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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