Branded experience vs display advertising: two ways of marketing in VR

Oh that good old banner ad! With those fantastic click-through rates, only to be found that most of the clicks are either robots, or people who have no idea how to use a mouse. But hey, at least it's measurable, it's everywhere and it's cheap, right?

Now, advertising guy will tell you after three beers that banner display advertising is like riding on a dead horse, even with all the programmatic bells and whistles. We shouldn't make the same mistakes in virtual reality. 

Today, virtual reality marketing comes in two forms: it's either a branded experience, or some form of display advertising.

The former are much more popular, and it's easy to understand why: virtual reality simply doesn't have a big enough crowd. Just as it's a bad idea to put a billboard next to a farm house in the middle of North Dakota, it's not ideal to buy display ads on a platform that few people uses. Yet.

VR experiences are fully customised, and they can fit nicely into a broader campaign.

Branded experiences

Our CampaignWatch column is about great virtual reality / augmented reality campaigns, and if you look closely enough there are common themes emerging. Often it's about letting you experience something you probably won't in real life, like jumping out of a plane (Red Bull) or sitting in the first row at a fashion show. Often it's directly about a product you might want to purchase, like driving a car. Many car brands built custom VR applications for this.

Brands are building diverse channels to engage with potential customers, and branded VR, as a strange illegitimate child of event, ambient, experimental and content marketing is definitely getting traction. The audience, however, is still rather small, and building custom software is expensive.  

Bring in the artillery

The display ad is the artillery of advertising. And, make no mistake, they will come to virtual reality. If you want to know how it will be done, take a look at the gaming industry. Display ads appeared in video games since the early 90s. We are not sure who's been there first, but when the FIFA-series started in 1994 they had banners of Adidas and other brands in the virtual stadiums. 

FIFA 94 by EA

NCAA Football 98 by EA

FIFA 98 by EA

In-game billboard advertising is an excellent example for organic advertising, but it's somewhat limited, especially on a flat screen. How do you measure it? Can you target it? How can you change the format or message? This questions become even more relevant in virtual reality. 

Where to put those ads in an immersive 360 world? The answer is: use the environment. Let us recall our recommendation for good virtual reality advertising:

Never break the presence. All advertising in virtual reality must feel as natural as possible. The user lives a "second life" in virtual reality, and as there are no pre-rolls to watch when you do something in real life, there shouldn't be any in a virtual environment.

People are used to advertising around them in the real life, so you can even argue VR advertising actually makes the immersion stronger.

How to measure them? We've already covered that: it is all about attention, and VR is an analysts paradise. Everything can be measured with incredible sophistication. 

Media agencies need to start thinking right now about how they will use virtual reality. We need a good platform, enough users, and a sound approach. Everything else will pretty much sort itself out.