Virtual Reality is a combination of hardware and software technology that creates an artificial environment that a user can experience through sight and sound, though advancements in hardware and software have already made it possible to also provide tactile and olfactory stimulation as well. While the concept has been around for some time (the first working prototype was called the Sensorama and was developed by Morton Heilig in 1962, effectively predating digital computing), the technology has only recently matured enough for mass-market application, with new implementations that are viable for educational, entertainment, and of course, advertising purposes.
Types of Advertising in VR
It is not surprising that businesses will see Virtual Reality as a new platform for advertising. After all, it is an advertising channel with literally no limits in terms of physical space. There’s only so much billboard space in real life, and companies will have to compete over this finite resource – that’s not even counting all the permissions and restrictions that they’d have to deal with. All of these are not a concern in a Virtual World, where a company could have an entire world as their advertising space and the only limit would be the end-user’s willingness to be advertised to.
Billboards to Giant Movie Theaters to 360-Degree Screens
The approaches that many media companies are considering are nothing short of novel. VR has the ability to reproduce advertising formats from the real world. They can turn a simple LED billboard into a virtual gigantic movie theatre while also turning the virtual sky into a giant screen.
This type of virtual advertisement can be expanded upon easily – if it’s been done in the real world, it can be done through VR. Computer and TV screens in the virtual world can show trailers and commercials, walls can have posters. Virtual establishments can play jingles, and even virtual leaflets or magazines can be rendered inside a virtual world.
Banner and Live Pop Ups
Another form that advertising can take inside VR is the simpler type of banner or pop up ads that are already prevalent online. VR applications, particularly entertainment-oriented ones, have UIs and/or HUDs that users need to interact with. It is possible for these UIs to carry advertising, similar to how Microsoft’s Xbox Live or Sony’s PSN carry advertising on their respective dashboards.
It’s not only tech companies that have embraced VR. Coca Cola has already used the technology in their Casa Coca Cola 2014 campaign, which allowed their visitors to wear a VR headgear that puts them right on the pitch in a 2014 World Cup game, where they are able to play for the home team. Car company Audi also joined in on the VR movement, by releasing an immersive campaign that used VR technology to make potential car buyers feel what it’s like to drive a virtual Audi to Beaver Creek, where they get to join a virtual Audi-sponsored event.
What is VR Good For?
VR technology was originally conceptualized for entertainment purposes, and the main driving force towards user adoption is in fact video games and multimedia, but over time a number of different, more pragmatic uses, have become apparent. These newfound purposes include:
Unlike traditional Internet ads, VR ads give advertisers a lot more freedom on a wide range of factors that used to limit or affect efficiency in other mediums, such as duration of visibility, the angle of view, the distance, and of course the form that the advertisement will take.
Additionally, VR headsets and the software APIs that drive them are more powerful than any existing standards when it comes to tracking potential. The technology could be used to track a user’s reaction to an ad much better than conventional platforms, as the hardware itself comes with various functionalities that let software track hand, eye, and body movement in response to visual and auditory prompts.
For example, VR could technically tell if the person ignored an advertisement by moving or looking in a different direction immediately, or in case he looks at the ad, the software will be able to tell which specific parts of the advertisement caught his attention more.
Research and Product Development
Virtual reality technology can be used to aid in research and development of new products, as the ability to render and interact with prototypes in a virtual space will improve the speed of testing, not to mention minimize costs in materials. It also allows manufacturers to scale up their testing as it’s easy to get their virtual prototypes in the hands of multiple users compared to manufacturing and distributing a finite number of physical prototypes. Through VR, they will have no limitations as to the number of units that can be sent as samples to testers and reviewers, and the feedback from which will be extremely valuable in future development.
Education and Training
For a long time now, simulation programs have been used to aid in the training of individuals in a wide range of fields, from military operations, to aircraft piloting, and even the use of factory machinery. VR will make these simulations even more useful as the immersion it provides will be more effective in preparing students for the real thing.
VR has proven itself to be useful in the medical field. First is through clinical skills training, via the use of simulation in a virtual environment, where medical students and trainees can practice on virtual environments and specimens as a first step before moving on to physical models such as cadavers. It is also possible to adapt VR for use in surgery, where the immersion can better allow surgeons to perform remote surgeries as opposed to the current approach, which require extensive training on the part of the surgeon due to the lack of tactile feedback and immersion.
Additionally, VR is also useful when it comes to exploring and evaluating areas of specialization such as mental health therapy, motor and cognitive skills rehabilitation. And the wealth of potential tracking and data collecting capabilities inherent in the technology will help in monitoring and assessment of the trainees and their respective performance.
Challenges that VR Ads Must Address
Like any new technology, Virtual Reality has a number of challenges that it must hurdle, including:
Immersion-breaking effects of advertisements
One of the biggest selling points of VR technology is complete immersion. It gives users the experience of a whole new world separate from the real one, but the current implementation of VR ads can disrupt this immersion.
For instance, a McDonald’s Ad may give users an irresistible discount through a coupon, but in order to claim this coupon a user may need to click the ad, and clicking it may exit him from the VR and lead him straight to a browser. This could ruin the VR experience and may turn people off of VR ads in general. Companies need to address this very important challenge and create seamless experiences if they want to succeed in the VR landscape.
Lack of Interactivity
While many brands have already embraced VR as a new advertising platform, their implementation tend to be superficial and tacked on. Most of the ads running on VR right now are just traditional ads rendered in a virtualworld, such as a static poster or a billboard. They lack interactivity, which is one of the things that VR users are looking for. At best, non-interactive VR ads are an annoyance or at worst, a distraction. Companies need to come up with more interactive and immersive VR ads.
Lack of tracking and data collection
While the capability is there, companies have yet to implement smart VR ads that can track user interaction and response the same way online ads track clicks and bounce rates. In this case at least, the capability is already there and all that’s needed is for companies to actually realize the concept.
In order to fully realize the potential of VR as an advertising platform, the VRAD pushed for a technology that will utilize the strength of Virtual Reality instead of work against it.
VRAD has a seamless system that allows products, brands, and ads to become part of the virtual world as interactive elements as opposed to static ads. It can be patterned more after product placements in films, where instead of billboard ad for a soda, the user can instead pick up and interact with a virtual soda can. This approach will be particularly powerful for products that can offer virtual samples, such as toys or equipment.
There will also be a campaign to work more closely with publishers to ensure better tracking of relevant data, as well as to ensure that said data can be usable in improving the advertisements from the sides of both the user and the publisher.
Lastly, there will be a move towards improving the flexibility of a system so that it can be adapted for use in different kinds of research, usually by expanding upon the ability to interact with virtual objects and by ensuring that the virtual ones can better simulate real world physics.