The Drum Awards for Marketing - Entry Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Advertising Virtual Reality (VR) Long Reads

How to get ‘better ads’ into augmented and virtual reality

By David Ellison | Marketing Services Manager

December 9, 2016 | 6 min read

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are moving mainstream, having been featured in ‘The Apprentice’ last week. However, rather surprisingly, they have been around for a while.

How to get ‘better ads’ into augmented and virtual Reality

‘The Wonderful World of Oz’ was written by L Frank Baum back in 1900. The next year he wrote ‘The Master Key’, featuring glasses which layered material onto what the user was looking at.

In 1992 the terms ‘Augmented and Virtual Reality’ were coined by engineers working at Boeing. This year has allegedly been the year of AR and VR – which are now attracting mass interest and we need to determine if and how we can seamlessly incorporate ads.

Rather than intrusive, annoying ads which interrupt the user experience, we need lighter, ‘Better Ads’ which won’t encourage users to reach for ad blocking software, which has been the case on desktop, tablet and mobile. Maybe using subtle product placement within the AR and VR experience, ensuring that it’s a seamless experience, blending in with both the content and context.

Back to basics, we need some definitions…’s easy to confuse AR with VR.

AR is rapidly becoming mainstream, layering computer generated images and graphics on top of reality, seamlessly blending digital elements and reality together. To achieve this you’ll need a pair of AR glasses or a smartphone. Current applications include overlaying text on your TV screen (weather forecasting and football matches) and mobile devices – laptops, smart phones and tablets, as well as holograms.

VR is basically an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life situation. Instead of merely being layered it’s actually anchored into your environment. There are a number of worthy, practical applications, the most obvious being flight simulators. And of course we have the immensely popular world of video, computer games and entertainment, not forgetting 3D TV. Both AR and VR offer opportunities in the medical, architecture and automotive sectors.

Police in Holland are currently testing AR which allows officers to stream video from crime scenes to HQ, with remote experts transferring back information via headsets or mobiles. The whole package will be up and running next year.

AR and VR aren’t mutually exclusive – they can work well together to produce ‘mixed reality’.

With VR you need to invest in a head-mounted or hand held controller to stimulate what you hear and see. Big players such as Google, Sony, Facebook and HTC are all heavily involved in the technology - both software and hardware. Right now the tech is still relatively very expensive – only 3% of the population plan to buy a headset this year.

Microsoft has rather surprisingly bypassed VR for AR, although this certainly isn’t a cheap option, with its recently launched ‘Hololens’ giving you little change out of £3k. A more affordable option is Google’s Daydream View VR headset, enabling YouTube to become ‘your own personal cinema’, launched last month for £69, up against Sony’s Gear VR, retailing at £80.

With Pokemon Go generating up to $10 million per day, AR gaming has already proved that it can be monetised.

Globally the computer games industry is worth £70 billion. Companies are now pushing headsets and games into the mainstream market, pushing their imagination and design skills to the maximum, proving that anything is possible. From a games manufacturer and advertiser perspective the potential revenue and advertising opportunities are as important as the game.

Snapchat, recently rebranded as Snap.Inc as it looks to build a holding company that will house other products and services, is the first big player to actually make a profit from AR. Claire Valoti, its UK country manager, recently presented to our Digital Action Group, which acts as the leadership Group for ISBA (the Voice of British Advertisers) on all digital issues.

Snap’s Spectacles, which can record digital video, were launched in November in the US. In her presentation Valoti outlined three different ad formats – lenses, filters and snap ads, and outlined the advertising opportunities available.

In the words of Alex Bennett, senior manager, digital marketing, content & social media at Nationwide, "sometimes brands can do more with a Snapchat Geo-Filter than a 90-second TV ad". Proof that advertisers can work successfully with AR.

But of course advertisers need to be careful here. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes that were made previously with display and video ads. Otherwise we’ll turn users off. We need to be a lot more subtle, weaving in more creative, lighter ads and no doubt native advertising.

The most important element of AR and VR is the consumer. Is this the next shiny new gimmick or will AR and VR literally take over the world of entertainment, design, architecture, social networks, and of course advertising?

ISBA has been tracking ad blocking for the last four years, organising events and publishing guidance. We are involved involved in ‘Better Ads’, the global initiative focused on establishing best practice guidelines on how to improve the advertising experience for users.

This initiative concentrates on display and video ads served on desktop, tablet and mobile. It isn’t too early to extend the remit to include AR and VR, trying to ensure that these exciting opportunities for advertisers to engage with users aren’t blighted by clumsy attempts to shoe horn ads into this environment.

But there might be potential challenges and in part two my colleague, Mario Yiannacou, will discuss some rules which may help control the fun…

David Ellison, marketing services manager at ISBA

Advertising Virtual Reality (VR) Long Reads

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +