What brands need to know about virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) is all the rage. Premium publishers are jumping on the bandwagon to prepare. Google is working on a VR version of Chrome. US broadcaster NBC and Samsung offered viewers a new way to watch the 2016 Olympic Games with Samsung’s VR headset.

Some streaming services even already have dedicated apps, or “theatres,” where viewers can consume massive amounts of VR content—and other media powerhouses/ film studios including Live Nation, Vice Media, 21st Century Fox, and The Walt Disney Company are placing big bets on VR with large scale investments.

But when will brand spend move to VR, and what moves should marketers be thinking about making now?

Think beyond thirty seconds

One thing is for certain: 30-second spots will not be the most efficient way for brands to get on board. Instead, more branded entertainment with chunks of VR sponsored content will be on the horizon, and we’ll also start to see more seamless brand integrations within stories.

VR is especially suited for the latter scenario because it allows viewers to choose how they see content. Brands could trigger engagement by allowing viewers to interact and zoom in - telescopically - to experience more in-depth branded content and then zoom back out to the main storyline. This ‘next generation of interactive video’ may very well take branded entertainment to a whole new level with immersive storytelling. Imagine LG showcasing a new line of mobile devices in a video ad with hotspots. Viewers could engage by zooming into one of the phones to play with the device via a realistic, 360-degree model of the phone, even watch a video shot with that new device, thereby zooming into an entirely new storyline within the ad.

VR is the quintessential medium for this type of captivating content, and brands that succeed to connect with consumers within this newfound VR world will dream up immersive experiences rather than try to work VR into an existing campaign. Many brands are already tinkering in the branded VR entertainment game. Honda and Audi are fully producing short VR videos.

While the traditional big spenders in storytelling - Hollywood studios - sit on the sidelines to experiment with VR, marketers are diving in head first to create immersive ‘bursts’ of content that will help boost a brand’s story. That’s a massive shift.

Everything is amplified

Virtual reality by definition intensifies the impression of reality. All of the viewer’s senses (and more) are heightened including sight, sound, and motion; content that delivers fully immersive experiences will be in high demand. 

Anything that makes the viewer feel as though they’re actually inside the video - from sitting behind the goal at a football match to watching a lecture from the front row of a classroom - will capture interest. In theory, the more a viewer perceives that they are physically present in a certain situation, the more the experience may feel like a human memory once completed.

Imagine how this could drive brand recall. Fatigue from advertising within VR will also be amplified. The technologies that make interactive features possible for flat, internet-based online video are working well now but the experience could really come alive if and when it is developed with VR in mind. At the very least, tapping buttons in the VR world should be rewarded with more immersive content. Better yet, head tracking will signify engagement more than any other measured metric.

Yes, branded entertainment and VR are practically made for each other but the combination of branded entertainment, VR, and interactive video (including everything we can now do plus all its rising possibilities) will transcend into marketing success beyond any marketer’s wildest dreams. The key for marketers will be to focus heavily on creating the best user experience possible.

VR will go native

Even if marketers create amazing VR content, we still have a fundamental discovery problem. At the moment, users need to download several different apps within their VR gear to see virtual reality content.

For brands, this makes zero sense. Instead, VR content will likely go the native route and appear as playlists within publishing infrastructures. For example, audiences visiting Sky Sports online may someday soon see a dedicated menu option or channel with extreme sports VR content from brands like GoPro or Red Bull. Some of this content may be original while other videos will be sponsored.

As the VR content viewing experience improves, monetisation tactics will most certainly follow. Marketers will either support an ad-free SVOD subscription model, a la Netflix, or an AVOD (ad supported video on demand) strategy, or both. Copying and pasting the way video content is monetised on desktop will definitely not work.

Bottom line: This is just the beginning for VR. Technology is improving every day and monetisation is right around the corner. As publishers and media giants prime the pump, marketers need to start thinking about how they can best reward viewers for paying attention.

Tal Chalozin, co-founder and CTO, Innovid

Image Credit: Knight Center for Journalism / Flickr