Just as Nasa's Curiosity Rover treks the undiscovered terrain of Mars, Oath and 360i are partnering with National Geographic to explore the new world of programmatic in virtual reality.
To promote the second season of its hybrid docu-drama Mars, Nat Geo is working with Oath and 360i on first-ever programmatic VR campaign.
Jeff Lucas, head of North American sales and global client solutions at Oath, told The Drum that programmatic VR is a natural extension of what Oath already offers.
"It is allowing advertisers to extend in the virtual world, take part in it and make an ease of transaction," said Lucas. "And what they have to do is provide the same assets that they would provide in any other case of programmatic, but our distribution, instead of going through our typical traditional partners, goes into a whole new set of partners, with a whole new ad world that is based in virtual reality."
The VR experience lets users explore what life would be like on the red-rock planet. Naturally, life on Mars won't be without ads, as any good marketer knows to follow its audience.
Lucas added that the Mars demographic matches the upscale, younger consumer that uses VR, which made advertising in the space a natural step for Nat Geo and provides value for brands in the future.
"You're getting a lot of dedicated engagement time. It's a different environment for ads, and that drives more value. It's also [about] access to an entirely different audience that's very hard to find anywhere else."
Kolin Kleveno, head of programmatic at 360i, said everybody involved in the project wanted to make sure the ads looked alive and realistic on VR without being intrusive.
He added that 360i had the in-house resources, including an innovation lab, to help reach Nat Geo's target audience. He did admit that programmatic VR is still not yet scalable.
"There's limited scale. There's limited inventory.... Since we're running on essentially one inventory partner, what we did was a pre-vetting of the apps," Kleveno said. "We worked with our innovation lab, which has an entire VR studio [that was] able to troubleshoot and identify if there were any things that looked weird.
"People spend time [on VR]. Obviously there's not a tremendous amount of people who have VR headsets. That's the bigger question — to see how many more people adopt it, or is it just going to be true gamers."
The campaign will run for about a month, and Lucas expects to see more brands to follow.
"You're going to see theatricals and television," said Lucas. "Then you start to get into beverages and candy companies. What does a gamer profile [look like]? I think you're going to see tech [brands] because here are people who take tech to the next level, and they want even more. They're hungry for it."
Lucas added that the future of programmatic VR could look even more different with the coming of 5G, a space Oath has an inside track on as it's owned by Verizon. Lucas said there may be increases in computing function and speed, but that likely won't come for another two years.