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Google Begins Experimenting with VR Ads

As virtual reality continues to grow in popularity, advertising is sure to be close behind. Google recently made a big announcement regarding their future plans for advertising. Their recent Google Developers Blog details the plans for mobile VR platforms.

The entire VR advertising project is being run by Area 120, which is Google’s workshop for experimental projects. One of the first ideas shared is a floating cube. Activated by either a tap or gaze, the cube is designed to seamlessly integrate into a virtual environment.

The cube format can use existing ad formats, which allows for a larger field of advertising opportunities. Companies don’t have to develop entirely new VR ads. Instead, they can use existing ads, including flat video. VR isn’t quite popular enough for many companies to develop VR-specific ads, so using existing ads is usually the most cost-effective solution.

Google’s plans for VR advertising are still being developed. Currently, developers can apply for early access to the VR Ads Plugin for Unity program. The ad format will be tested on Android, iOS, Daydream and Gear. The name implies the ad system will be similar to mobile ad platforms, with ads able to be easily plugged into existing VR content.

Advertisers are sure to love the flexibility VR ads offer. After all, they don’t have to spend time or money developing ads specifically for VR. Instead, their existing ads can be used in an all-new space.

The VR User Experience

While that’s all great for advertisers, what about consumers? VR users aren’t exactly thrilled that the VR experience is increasingly easier to advertise in. What advertising strategies are people likely to see develop within virtual reality?

Traditional methods might not be effective. Picture a free-to-play mobile app, like a game. Many apps are covered in ads. There might even be ads permanently displayed on the screen.

This is unlikely to work inside a virtual space. A virtual environment is incredibly immersive. The user is transported away to a fictional land. Ads will break that immersion. Plus, anything which disrupts the immersion is likely to annoy the user. The user’s feelings towards the brand will likely not be positive.

Google’s cube format is widely expected to be successful precisely because of its simplicity. The cube is unobtrusive but still visible. Versatility is another benefit. Unlike a banner, a cube can fit into smaller spaces. When dealing with a three-dimensional virtual environment, ad placement takes on a new layer of complexity.

So, where will these ads be placed? Some VR developers are already experimenting. The ideal placement seems to be away from the main action of the VR experience. Ad cubes seem to work best in pause menus, loading screens and similar.

The Future of VR Advertising

As new technologies emerge, advertising is sure to follow. Even though virtual reality is still not quite a mainstream technology, its popularity is poised to explode quickly. Google is already helping advertisers to prepare. While there will likely be some missteps along the way, hopefully both advertisers and consumers are able to successfully navigate the future of VR advertising.