Skip Ad in 5 Seconds: Advertising Standards for VR
Advertising’s relationship with the internet has long been paradoxical since it enables the existence of online content through financial backing while often depreciating the quality of the content through distracting interfaces, sponsored content, and pre-rolls. Behind the scenes, users may be targeted according to their web searches and haphazard visits to websites will rapidly inundate their browser with cookies, which leads users, in turn, to install ad blockers that partially maintain the security of their data and reduce frustrations in their experience. As with Spotify, free-to-play casual games, and podcasts, getting ad-free content has even become a premium for which some will gladly pay. Now, in the attention economy as some equity shifts from the computer monitor to VR, marketers must decide on the most effective model for spreading their message, but traditional methods will not be ideal and poor solutions could, indeed, be lethal to the medium.
Out of the Google workshop Area 120, an upgraded format of the banner ad seems to be taking shape in which mobile VR users are presented with an interactive cube that can be used to view advertising. It seems a relatable solution that takes advantage of the added degrees of freedom provided by VR, but it seems to rely upon users voluntarily watching an ad, which they’d only do if properly incentivized, for example, with power-ups in a game. It also provides the benefit of knowing for a fact whether or not the ad is being watched. As the mere addition of a geometric dimension, it still feels native to a flat interface and may detract from the immersive experiences promised by VR. For many fans, VR is highly attractive for its awe-inspiring landscapes and general lack of clutter. Breaking a beautiful and immersive experience with clumsy messaging could backfire when audiences steer away from the material product and its material representation.
Within AR, there’s been talk of customized experiences in which interior designs and targeted ads are superimposed on the real world according to our individual preferences; this can be done with the aid of an AR glass or, in the future, lenses applied directly to the eye. But in VR platforms, advertising, the user, and the virtual environment may be integrated, making the object of promotion a more tangible fixture of the experience and something with which the user more readily identifies. To give a simple example, someone in VR might open a refrigerator to find shining pink cans of Tab Soda polished and standing in a row; they might drink a can, make sounds of glugging or refreshed gasps and, in-game, the beverage may also restore player health. Likewise, city governments might commission VR developers to include a glowing representation of their city and its landmarks within their game; for example, Edinburgh could commission the inclusion of its famous castle for a tower defense game in the hopes that tourists will visit in real life.
Beyond questions of where users will find promotional material and how they’ll interact with them, the advances of digital virtual consumption will open the gateways to multi-platform purchases, which will be valid across games, social VR apps, and even real life. To illustrate, let’s say that a popular social VR platform partners with a shoe manufacturer named after the Greek goddess Nike. Buying that shoe in real life would give users access to the same brand of shoe in a social VR platform and any other game studios with whom the manufacturer is partnered. Depending on the customer’s relationship to virtual environments, the value placed on the item may rise significantly if it may be carried over from the material into the digital. This creates additional grassroots marketing material as your signature swoop is found throughout the VR experience and it may be used as a conversation piece within the experience, which is often necessary to get the ball rolling conversationally within social VR. Product placement is nothing new to video games and purchases within the virtual environment Second Life has for a decade been commonplace.
As a major industry, VR is still sprouting. When virtual worlds are polluted with banners and the users’ threshold for obtrusion is tested. VR runs the risk of alienating its fans, meaning companies could lose a potential market and the momentum for new VR content could be slowed. Marketers and developers must aim to augment user experience by introducing their product into the environment, making it a component of users’ explorations, rather than require users to sacrifice cognitive real estate as penance for downloading free content. There are certainly many forms of integrations and even the pay-per-click model may even function in VR if companies are charged for each time a user interacts with their product.