With everyone seemingly keeping a close pair of eyes on the potential size of the virtual reality marketplace, discussions on how marketing, advertising, and promotion will look in this new immersive space are somewhat overlooked.
To move that agenda forward, Vertebrae has emerged from stealth today with the launch of the first native virtual reality (VR) advertising platform. The company has also announced $10 million in Series A funding.
Vertebrae’s remit is a simple one, even if the technology and marketplace it is looking to augment is not — enable monetization for content publishers within virtual reality experiences on all platforms. Importantly, Vertebrae is headset-agnostic, with a strong focus on ad tech.
So why is now the right time to come out of stealth, raise these funds, and go after the VR advertising marketplace?
“Vertebrae was founded in 2015, and we spent the last twelve months driving technology development and understanding the evolving VR needs of publishers and brands,” Vincent Cacace, Vertebrae CEO and founder, told me. “We focused on collaborating with beta partners during this formative time so that our tech solution is relevant, additive, and scalable as adoption of the medium grows. We also have invested a lot of time with the IAB Tech Lab, as a founding member of the VR/AR ad standards board, to define the formats and measurement tools which will set the foundation for the industry.”
But Cacace also understands that while the mission is simple, the reality is not.
“What we realized is that one thing is constant in this much-hyped industry,” Cacace said. “Making VR content is expensive. Adoption of the medium will require great content, and our goal is to connect brands and publishers so that VR truly becomes accessible to all users.”
The platform itself has been in use, in private beta, for some time, attracting entertainment studios, games companies, creative agencies, and brands. The solution has been delivering everything from native ad insertions to fully interactive, immersive ad formats. In fact, in collaboration with Lion’s Gate, Vertebrae provided the technology that adds the world-first VR teaser trailer for the new Blair Witch movie to the existing Sisters app, developed by Otherworld Interactive.
The financing will support several business functions, including talent acquisition and product development. The Vertebrae team consists of media, gaming, ad tech, and brand marketing professionals, with backgrounds at companies such as Oculus, Google (YouTube), Activision, Facebook, and Twitter.
The future for Vertebrae includes adding its technology to both mixed and augmented reality solutions and establishing a central repository for VR advertising. It is currently developing relationships with data management platforms (DMPs) and demand-side platforms (DSPs) to ensure that VR audience data and ad targeting work in harmony.
“The big picture here is very bright,” Cacace said. “Creators, developers, and publishers need an effective way to monetize VR content outside of, or in addition to, a transactional model. Simultaneously, VR is an incredible new medium for advertisers, due to its immersive nature and the feeling of presence. Vertebrae serves as the conduit that connects the two, at scale. We see a model of intensely creative and compelling ads supporting great VR content as a mechanism to drive the ecosystem forward.”
Of course, VR comes in all shapes and sizes, from Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR headsets that use smartphones to deliver the experience through to the “premium” experiences offered by the likes of Sony’s PS VR, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and HTC’s Vive.
“Though our technology is headset-agnostic, we are more focused on the mobile VR market at the moment,” Cacace said. “Platforms such as Sony, Oculus, and Vive are reminiscent of the traditional game console market, where a consumer pays a lot of money for a console and each individual title. Therefore, [those customers] generally do not expect to see advertising. Conversely, we see the mobile VR market as a larger opportunity, due to the more casual nature of the content and the wider demographic of users.”
Of course, just as most marketers will rejoice at the launch of a VR advertising technology platform, consumers may have the opposite reaction. Publicity and marketing in VR, MR, and AR is inevitable, but how will we deliver great, immersive, brand-sponsored experiences without turning the VR user off?
“The VR industry has a responsibility to respect the consumer because we hold their undivided attention,” Cacace said. “With the Vertebrae platform, publishers decide where and when ads get seen — whether that’s natively within the content, or as a companion before or after. The ads should be contextual to the content and the audience. Advertisers need to have compelling and engaging ads, and if they do, the prize for winning is high brand affinity and engagement. We see VR as a medium where the advertising can be as compelling as the content.”