Our 3-step-plan to master VR/AR adtech

My main job as the CEO of Admix is to think ahead about what advertising will look like in immersive technologies such as VR and AR.

Overall, I believe immersive technologies will give advertisers a great opportunity to improve the creativity and experience delivered to their users. But getting to a point where everything works seemlessly won’t be a walk in the park — there will be many technological and design challenges along the way.

After almost a year of work on Admix (time flies!), talking to dozens of VR/AR developers, and meeting hundreds of advertisers, we have a clear idea of where we want to be — the leading adtech platform for immersive technologies — and how to get there.

Here is the macro-strategy that we are following as a company to make it work.


1. Fit in the adtech ecosystem

Adtech is a $590B a year market — one of the largest industry in the world. Compare that with the current $5B VR/AR industry and it is easy to see the difference in magnitude.

We believe that for advertisers to buy in, we need to make advertising in VR and AR as simple and frictionless as possible. Only then will we maximize the adoption.

According to us, the best way to do so is to become a fully programmatic solution. Programmatic advertising — an ecosystem of millions of advertisers, accessing worldwide inventory and making purchase decision based on consumer data — will become more important than ever, driven by the ever increasing amount of data captured. It currenty powers 70% of the advertising volume worldwide. Ignoring programmatic signals, in our opinion, a fundamental misunderstanding of the ecosystem.

The good thing about programmatic, is that despite being a fairly complex world, it also has many rules and standards to follow. So, making VR and AR advertising fit with the existing standards and conventions of the adtech industry is our first challenge. Rather than building our tech on the side, we want Admix to fit in the ecosystem, make our formats compatible with what advertisers already know and use, and list our inventory on platforms and exchanges they already trust.

That way, we build credibility within the ecosystem and make our inventory available worldwide. We become part of the existing dealflow — the pipes are already connected, and it becomes a matter of convincing brands/trade desks/DSPs of the benefits of VR/AR advertising, to re-arrange a share of the budget away from existing channels such as desktop or mobile.

Long term, Admix may become an exchange — buying and selling inventory to other SSPs — but initially we will focus on our own relationships with content developers and publishers.

When the ecosystem is in place for trading, the second step will be to create the best experience for our users —so that publishers can maximize their revenues.


2. Minimize intrusiveness: understanding the media

Non-intruiveness is at the core of our values — the first rule of the VR/AR Pledge we co-created. Therefore, we will heavily invest our resources to develop ad units that fits the medium.

Immersive tech is just an extension of reality: starting from the real world, to the augmented world, to the virtual world. VR, AR, MR — they are all aligned on what I call the ‘immersion line’, with different levels of immersion. Of course these media will co-exists and advertisers will built different strategies to best fit the media. Real life (such as mobile) ads will be different than AR ads or VR ads.

The ‘immersion line’

For each technology, the challenges will be twofold:

  • technology challenge (what is required to physically serve the ads)
  • UX/design challenge (what is required to create a good user experience)

Tech challenges will be the subject of another post. Here I want to focus on our biggest challenge, which is to display ads in immersive content in a way that users feel comfortable with.

As it turns out, advertising at both extremities of this immersion line is fairly easy. We have already pretty much figured out the real world. On the other extremity of the immersion line is VR.

a. VR

VR is a fully contained experience — meaning 100% controlled by the content developer. The experience will be the same regardless of where the user is. In a way, it is similar to web or mobile content.

For this reason, advertising in VR is relatively straightforward. Our approach is to give complete control to the content developers, since they already control the complete experience. With a simple game engine plugin, they can identify areas of their content to be sold to advertisers :

  • 2D areas: banners, videos
  • 3D areas: product placements, e-commerce
  • ‘Metaverse’ portal

Developers also have access to a web interface to filter or blacklists advertisers to ensure that the placements are relevant with their content (you wouldn’t want to see a full scale 3D car on a table). Long term, machine vision algorithms will help us understand the content and recommend most relevant advertisers.

Of course these placements can be mixed up into one experience, as the developer intends. Socialising in VR? You can do it in a Hard Rock Cafe, with Heineken bottles on the table, a RedBull promo playing on a TV and the ability to see Coldplay in a virtual concert. All of these are adverts, but as far as the user is concerned, they are just part of the experience.

Given the developer control also creates self monitoring loop. It prevents them from being greedy and over-monetizing — loading the experience with too many ads would create a terrible experience and drive users away.

Another example of brand placements in a virtual room. How many can you count?

But advertising in VR goes way beyond this. As anyone working in the space, our vision of VR is a unique world that can be navigated freely without going back to a menu or the need to remove the headet — the Metaverse. Navigating the Metaverse (deeplinking between apps) can be a way to monetize VR, and something we are already working on, with amazing content partners. Watch this space.

b. AR/MR

Context

AR is giving UX designers nightmares — for the first time, the content mixes with the real world. Therefore, content developers in AR are not in control of the full experience — that control is shared with the user, deciding of where they are consuming the content.

With AR, both worlds matter, so the device needs to understand the real world around it to serve relevant information. An ad in the wrong context would be detrimental to the brand and the end user.

To get this sense of context, we will be relying on neural networks (machine vision algorithm) to recognize the content, and the depth camera to position placements serve relevant ads. The issue is that these technologies are still in their infancy and a few years away from being available on every smartphone. Google, Amazon, Blippar and countless startups are all working on these solutions, building a database of real world objects, which they are able to lookup instantly to identify the object in question. Apple Face ID is also a first stab at a technology that could eventually recognise everyone’s face. Apple is believed to release a similar tech to the rear camera of the iPhone in 2019.

Persistence

The second UX issue with AR is the idea of persistence. If you see an virtual Audi parked in the street, does your neighboord see it too? This is what Ori from Super Ventures refers to as the ARCloud — a persistent virtual world overlaid on top of our real world. Companies like Google or Microsoft are working on this — the Hololens currently enables multiple users to share one local experience. Instead of experiencing separate AR experiences, users would all see the same one.

But distributing this at scale, all across the world, brings enormous computation challenges. It basically requires to build a point cloud across the entire surface of the globe, know the exact location (to the centimeter) and orientation (3 dof) of the device to be able to render the placement correctly across all angles, and in real time. This level of computation cannot be provided by our current cloud. Startups such as Arcona.io are working on this, with an innovative blockchain solution.

Until this technology is available, AR won’t be a social experience, which is not necessarily a problem from an advertising point of view. It still outlines that a lot of work remains to be done to master the complexity of the ‘mid-immersion’ range.


3. Maximize relevance: data and machine learning

With programmatic advertising, mastering data is key to ensure ads are relevant, and reach the right person at the right time — this is the second rule of the VR/AR Pledge. Immersive tech gives us access to extra data points which we will leverage to maximize relevance.

Specifically, gaze tracking data — where users look—will provide advertisers with more consumer insights than web advertising ever has, while maintaining their privacy. Effectively, contextual data will replace personal data, improving ad relevance without relying on mass data harvesting. More on that later.

Relevance is important for the end users, but also to maximize advertisers’ ROI and publishers’ revenues. We see Admix becoming a data-led company as we start to activate this part of our master plan. This may become a separate entity of the Admix business (Data Management Platform), as we centralise and package data from as many immersive apps as possible — even the ones we do not have direct relationships with.


Conclusion

Overall, our strategy is to not reinvent the wheel: there is a strong infrastructure in place that we want to fit in with first. Minimizing friction will help democratize immersive advertising to a large pool of advertisers. But immersive technologies also present their own particularities and challenges, which we will solve step by step, starting by creating a great experience for our end users, and leveraging data to maximize return on investment for advertisers and publishers.

An exciting journey that I will share within these pages!

I am the founder of Admix.in — building adtech for VR and AR. Check my website or follow me on Twitter!