The Invention vs. Affordability Peak
Inventions have always fueled changes in the advertising industry. The printing press allowed for the dissemination of daily content and advertisements in newspapers and magazines. The television gave advertisers the first glimpse of multimedia content with the ability to craft ads using visuals, sounds and copy. Then the internet broke the advertising industry; sweeping in marketing megalith tools like Google, all the flavors of Social Media, and Mobile advertising.
Changes in consumer habits, which signal advertising opportunities to advertisers, have always been influenced by technology’s affordability. As each advertising medium – print, radio, TV – reached consumer affordability, actual advertising spending skyrocketed. Just look at mobile advertising, which is projected to surpass $100 billion in ad spending in 2016 –twenty-three years after the first sale of an online banner ad. With roughly 4 billion out of the global 6.8 billion population owning a mobile phone and the average unlocked premium phone carrying a price tag of $585, it’s safe to say that mobile advertising has reached its invention vs. affordability peak.
Sci-Fi’s Fantasy of VR
In the 1980s and 1990s, a select number of futuristic inventors and technology obsessed minds tried to utilize progressing technology and create the first virtual reality (VR) universe. For decades the possibility of VR languished, either dismissed as the technologically advanced version of Dungeons and Dragons or venerated by VR acolytes, eagerly waiting for VR technology to meet its affordability threshold for the masses. However, the arrival of personal computers – and then the seismic shock of the Internet – meant all fantasies of delivering digital VR experiences were void.
Now VR technology is evolving at lightning speed, thanks to Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift – the most promising device to deliver fully immersive VR experiences – in 2014. Since VR shed its genesis as a dream of sci-fi enthusiasts, it’s looking more like the next platform to deliver dystopian capitalism, with advertisers expected to pay millions to create VR advertising.
The big question is: will VR transform from its basement dwelling, sci-fi origins and upstage mobile advertising as the next major advertising medium?
VR’s Futuristic Promise
VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR offer viewers a chance to immerse themselves fully into otherworldly experiences, from Tolkein-esque realms to Mars’ dusty landscape. Users who put on the bulky, black boxes reminiscent of Geordi La Forge’s VISOR, can explore virtual worlds thanks to a plethora of VR-specific features. From tracking sensors to embedded infrared LEDs and 100-110 degree field-of-view to 360-degree surround sound, VR headsets are fully-equipped to carry users into their desired reality.
All of these components total up to a fully immersive VR experience complete with the most quintessentially American product, good ol’ advertising.
VR: Creating a New Generation of Mad Men
For advertisers, the nascent VR market is ripe for itive advertising as there are virtually (get it) no limitations to VR advertisements. Many Fortune 500 companies, like Nabisco’s Oreo Cookies or Marriott, are spending millions to invent VR advertisements and how they will stimulate consumers’ senses – and wallets.
For the most part, ad agency advertisers are pitching VR campaigns to their big brand clients that are so out-of-this-world, that they don’t even make plausible sense. Similar to the Mad Men era of advertising swept in by television’s accessibility; VR’s impending growth is sending advertisers into a creative capitalist overdose as they fight to define this decade’s biggest advertising market.
On the other hand, Immersv is the first VR mobile ad platform to take advantage of the embryonic VR market. The platform “houses several dozen ads, all of them for VR app installs”, but only a couple of ad formats have been rolled out for VR gaming, which is expected to reach $5.1 billion this year.
The ad formats currently offered provide an exciting insight into the future development of VR advertising. One ad format rewards users for viewing the ad until completion with benefits like gaining another level whereas another ad format is served in-game by users clicking via gazing at a “more content” button.
VR ads deliver on their namesake, too. Once an ad is triggered, users are transported from their hack-and-slash game to a new virtual reality space that allows for total immersion into the advertisement without in-game or real life distractions.
Immersive Advertising or Virtual Ad Prison?
So far, VR ads are performing much better than traditional mobile ads. In beta testing, Immersv VR ads were watched to completion 80% of the time, compared to the average 46% completion rate for mobile video ads. Is this because VR ads are simply that compelling or because VR is still twinkling in novelty?
Cabo beach, the sunset glittering along the ocean water and the wind sweeping through the palm trees as you reach for a cold Cerveza. Who can resist that initial, exotic and virtually free experience? Not me. But maybe after the tenth time, that Cabo beach looks less like an idyllic vacation and more like an intrusive hijacking.
After all, the only way to escape an advertisement is to disrupt your virtual reality experience by taking off the VR headset.
And as with any new advertising platform, questions about user privacy and sharing data to advertisers have already emerged. in regards to whether the company can capture data about a users’ activity – like how long they advertisers. Oculus released a statement, saying that “we’re not sharing information with Facebook at this time,” implying that the company will likely sell users activity data in the future. After all, why would you purchase Oculus for $2 billion if you’re not going to exploit its goldmine of advertising opportunities?
With Oculus Rift already in people’s homes and PlayStation VR scheduled for an October 2016 release, we’ll see if VR ads and new immersive experiences pushing app store purchases continue to enthrall audiences. Or will people simply take off the virtual ad prison?