From my story in The New York Times:
Even in virtual reality, it seems, there will be no escape from advertising.
The Oculus Rift, which is owned by Facebook, won’t be available until early next year, but many of the two billion consumers worldwide who own smartphones can already try out virtual reality on the cheap with Cardboard, a device from Google that folds into a viewer with a slot for a smartphone. As more devices come to market with the aim of making virtual reality more commonplace, advertisers and agencies hope virtual reality will be the next great medium for persuading consumers to buy stuff.
For now, marketers are producing mostly eye candy in their own apps and on YouTube’s #360Video channel. But with virtual reality movies, shows and stories coming soon, the question is what kind of ads, if any, will work on the platform.
Companies including Coca-Cola, Volvo and HBO are struggling to figure that out. So are publishers like Facebook, which introduced 360-degree ads on Thursday, including video ads from AT&T, Nestlé and other brands.The first obstacle is that it is not yet clear what kind of programming besides games will catch on in virtual reality to provide a place for that advertising.
“There’s lots of spectacle, but I can’t name one great story in VR,” said Ben Miller, director of content development at WEVR, a virtual reality entertainment and technology firm in Venice, Calif. And without a clear consensus on what sort of content will succeed in virtual reality, it’s difficult to predict what form the advertising will ultimately take. Success in the new medium will depend on finding the equivalent of the 30-second TV spot or the digital search ad. …