Stefan Denev

With the advent of smartphones, smart TVs, and smart watches, the digital marketing industry has been in a constant state of change. Emerging now is yet another device that’s bound to shuffle digital advertising – the Virtual Reality (VR) headset.

While some might view it as just another short-lived fad for a very centralized audience, virtual reality has been picking up steam in the past few months. In their infancy, VR headsets have been gaining support on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, which eventually led to big media companies investing in the technology. Facebook was one of the first giants to dive into virtual reality when it bought the Oculus Rift VR headset for $2 billion. Sony, Samsung, and HTC soon followed by designing their own VR headsets. These companies have recognized the potential of this device to change the way people view and interact with the digital space.

So, how will this change digital marketing?

The VR headset is meant to place the user in a virtual environment where objects can be manipulated and affected at will by the user’s movements. These actions eliminate the limited 2-D plane of interaction in screen-based devices and do not require the use of a mouse or the swiping of a screen, though currently specific motion controllers must be used. This means that any standard (banner) ads won’t fit well within the virtual 3-D space.

Advertising on the VR headset will have to be more creative than simply having an overlay ad appear before the VR experience begins. While this is easy to do, it can feel very intrusive to the experience and will be taken as a negative. Utilizing the virtual environment itself is the key to great creative advertising – your brand’s logo can appear on the walls of a virtual room or placed on interactive objects. Even more creatively, a 3-D model of your product can exist in the virtual space where the user can interact with and examine it. Creative VR advertising has to be non-intrusive and must work in tandem with the VR experience. The increased immersion in VR will make users much more irritated by poorly executed advertising, and they will consider it as something that ruins their session.

But won’t this be expensive and time-consuming to do?

Yes, advertising in such a way will require time and resources, and this is where the industry shift will originate. Tons of open space in the virtual world will be up for sale and advertisers will want to fill it – in an easy-to-ingest, creative way. Marketing companies with resources will have to hire programmers to make ads compatible with VR technology. The buying and selling of virtual space will also be a major part of the advertising process, but even if your company cannot invest in such complicated ways to advertise, it is possible to stick to simple images on the walls of the virtual world. However, it is important for the ads not to ruin the virtual experience of the user. There is a difference between seeing a banner ad on the side of an article you’re reading on your laptop, and seeing the same banner ad on every wall of the virtual space you’re trying to explore. There must be a balance between seeing an ad or sponsored product here and there, and exploring a detailed virtual world.

But, don’t think of VR as being only for video games. The potential is enormous and is still being explored. When using a VR headset, you will also be able to take virtual tours of faraway exotic locations – imagine taking a stroll through Paris or walking on the dusty surface of the Moon. It might not be long until websites become 3-D environments as well.

The adoption of VR headsets will not be immediate, which is partially due to the price tag ($599.99 for the Oculus and $799.99 for the HTC Vive) and partly because a relatively powerful PC is required to run these systems. This will be a gradual adoption, and when the VR Headset becomes a common household device (like the tablet), you will be able to surf the 3-D web for an experience unlike anything else. VR is coming, and it will be big, so make sure to correctly utilize the virtual space, this will be key in impressing your customers.