"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Ephraim (Jeff) Bander, former president and chief revenue officer at Sticky.
Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs predicted that by 2025 virtual reality revenue will outpace TV revenue. While it projects TV to reach $99 billion in 10 years, Goldman expects virtual reality to hit $110 billion.
Amid the frenzied excitement and anticipation behind augmented reality and virtual reality, brand marketers have already begun to salivate at the massive storytelling opportunities that await them in this intensely immersive channel.
General Electric, for example, has already been toying with virtual reality and launched an animated video on the New York Times app last year.
“For the brand and user the intimacy of VR is really dramatic,” said Linda Boff, GE’s global chief marketing officer. “It’s a tool to tell a powerful story in a way that’s much more personal and up close than we’d normally be able to.”
Numerous other global advertisers, such as Nike, Toyota and Samsung, are exploring entirely new ways to engage their audiences, from educating teenagers about dangerous driving to helping people conquer their phobias. The opportunities for marketers to take creative license seem endless.
But with massive potential ahead, marketers already feel great duty to preserve this new channel’s promise to connect with consumers. Virtual-reality content creator Resh Sidhu at Framestore VR Studio worries that, “If we don't treat VR with the respect it deserves by putting the user first, it risks becoming just another channel for forcing marketing messages down jaded consumers' throats.”
I, too, fear that augmented reality and virtual reality’s golden revolution will hit major issues, particularly when ad tech comes into play. While it’s still too early to understand the full scope of problems that will come to bear with regard to familiar industry issues, including viewability and ad fraud, it’s never to early to begin the discussion.
Virtual Reality Viewability
Viewability will continue to dominate digital media discourse as new video and mobile formats proliferate.
But what about viewability in virtual reality? Can’t we always assume 100% ad viewability, since consumers are strapped into a physical headset that “forces” them to see ads within their immersive virtual reality experiences? Not necessarily. It’s not far-fetched to think about different digital advertising scenarios in virtual reality that can lead to concerning discussions around viewability.
For example, what will native advertising or branded content look like in virtual reality? In desktop and mobile experiences, there’s a relatively simple construct, where sponsored content can mirror the look and feel of the publisher’s web page within the editorial feed.
But in virtual reality’s three-dimensional space, the “in-feed” construct doesn’t exist yet. In the context of video games, the leading category for virtual reality sales to date, will brands try to natively insert content into the gamer’s environment, such as a magazine or graffiti on a war-torn building? How will marketers measure and validate viewability in these types of experiences, where impressions, clicks and other traditional units of measurement fail to hold up in virtual reality’s 3-D world? As we’ve seen in the past over and over, fraudulent actors particularly benefit when policies and standardization lag behind innovation.
In thinking through just a few simple scenarios, veterans in this space can already anticipate how virtual reality will turn discussions around viewability measurement completely upside down, and lead to major debate across stakeholders across the digital ecosystem.
The Need To Start With Education
Viewability is just one of numerous issues that digital media leaders will inevitably need to tackle head-on as virtual reality takes hold and marketers explore this entirely new medium.
But before anyone can dive in, virtual-reality content creators and agencies need to lead education around this new technology by introducing new concepts and other vital terms to our digital vocabulary. For example, what are the pros and cons of leveraging live action versus computer-generated imagery technology?
Understanding these new types of nuances will significantly expand brands’ horizons and alter their approach to developing and executing marketing strategies. And let’s not forget and underestimate a new beast for consideration: hardware. Oculus Rift has dominated so far, but new hardware products with different operating systems will come on board.
Undoubtedly marketers will have a slew of storytelling opportunities within virtual reality's immersive environment that leverage other high-impact strategies, such as product placements. But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that down the road our industry will need to grapple with major issues around the potential for fraudulent activity. My hope is that this happens sooner than later so we’re prepared to fight the good fight.