Two years ago, Mark Zuckerberg donned a VR headset at Mobile World Congress against a backdrop that read “the next platform.” It sparked fervor and big investment in the VR space. But in the past year, many critics have questioned the viability of the industry, as headset sales underwhelm and buzzy technologies like blockchain and AI debut as the new starlets in town.

And yet, as an immersive ad serving technology working closely with brands, publishers, and producers, we have seen the demand for VR/AR marketing solutions accelerate, even amidst the supposed slump of VR. A year ago we served 100 million VR ad impressions. This year, we’ve served over 1 billion.

As we set out to show how immersive advertising beats traditional digital advertising, we learned a few lessons along the way. Here are our three key learnings from serving 1 billion VR/AR ad impressions.

Prove campaign performance

A year ago, our top goal was identifying how VR could best be applied to brands’ marketing objectives. We learned that brands investing in VR care most about 1) deep audience engagement and 2) audience reach.

This still holds true today, but brands are now expecting real ROI from their investment into this medium. A year ago, it was easier to convince brands to try VR as a trendy innovation test. Now, the trial period is over and a clear explanation of VR’s contribution to meeting (and exceeding) marketing objectives is needed for brands to continue to invest. It is important to not only sell VR, but to sell solutions that meet customers’ business objectives.

It is easy to say that VR performs, but it is an entirely different equation when it comes to proving it. Advertising technology for digital media has become a precise science over the past 20 years. As such, brand’s expectations regarding the accuracy of what is reported is extremely high (and rightfully so). It is not enough to simply create a piece of VR content. Brands need to know how many people saw, engaged, watched and ultimately converted as a result of their investment into this content.

This is how brands and their agencies currently operate. As an industry, we will scale faster if we can fit into our client’s existing campaign operations. This means that as a provider that serves VR ads, we not only report on Viewability, Completion Rate, and Engagement Rate, but we also ensure we can reliably compare how a 360-degree VR ad performs to what our clients are currently running in 2D formats, using standard metrics.

To prove the uplift of VR ads over 2D in an accurate and client-friendly way, we take the following approach:

  • Run both existing 2D creative and new 360-degree VR experiences to compare the performance across the same placement
  • Use standard ad tracking tools to measure the uplift
  • To validate the data further, install 3rd party tracking pixels from companies like DoubleClick, MOAT, and DoubleVerify

We do this for all of our campaigns.  And the results are clear: 360-degree VR ads outperform 2D.

Above: Performance of 360 degree ads

To further understand these results, we ran ads with different fields-of-view: 90 degrees, 180 degrees, and 360 degrees. And we noticed something interesting. As the field-of-view broadened, CTRs and engagement time increased. This means that the bigger the content sphere, the more engaging (and immersive) the content is. With this we clearly and indisputably meet brand objective No. 1: deepen audience engagement.

We also tested performance across different verticals and media segments to see if we could replicate these results.

Above: Consistent engagement with 360-degree ads.

We found that this uplift in performance is consistent across all industries and use cases. In all industries, the same client and campaign will see greater performance from immersive ads compared to the 2D creative they typically run.

And this is why our business in particular has seen repeat business. Customers like Universal Pictures, Travel Nevada, Clorox, Cathay Pacific, The Home Depot, and Disney Broadway have launched multiple VR ad campaigns. These are examples of companies that are not only want creative innovation, but require performance results to continue to invest in this medium.

We’re seeing a shift coming but it will take some work to guarantee it. Eighty-eight billion dollars each year goes into digital advertising; 99 percent of this spend is going into 2D experiences, even when the data clearly shows that consumers are more engaged with 3D content. It’s the VR industry’s job to prove and communicate this.

Deliver experiences that scale across platforms

In addition to performance and deepening audience engagement, we can’t forget about ensuring reliability in our technology solution.

Remember the days when Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome all rendered the same website in a different way? Distributing VR content across all platforms and browsers faces a similar challenge today. It’s like a rewind back to Web 2.0, except worse. Today, the modern web era includes mobile web browsers like Safari, a variety of Android browsers, and embedded web viewers inside mobile native apps. Each environment has its own restrictions, which VR must overcome.

No brand wants to deliver a broken experience to their audience because of these restrictions. We needed to address this fragmentation to make sure we met brand objective No. 2: audience reach. If the audience needs to download an app and/or receives a broken experience when trying to access the VR content, than brands cannot maximize their content’s reach.

We found that even YouTube’s 360-degree video player doesn’t work on iPhone (even with the newest Safari and iOS) nor on many Android browsers.

Above: YouTube’s 360-degree video doesn’t work on iPhone

As such, we tailored our 3D graphics rendering technology to ensure high audience engagement across all browsers, web and mobile. To be successful in bringing innovation to customers, it is critical to have your product work seamlessly where audiences are today.

Show, don’t tell

In any new exciting industry, there will be a lot of new players and noise. While anyone can speak to their capabilities, the best way to convince a brand or agency to commit their dollars to your product is a live demo on their devices. Customers need to see it to believe it. We found that talking about the promise of our solution wasn’t enough. This is especially applicable in VR and AR, where most companies are very new and the customer is not yet familiar with their product.

This is why every new product needs a live demo before for the sales and marketing pitch begins. This may sound like common sense, but if you do a quick review of most VR and AR startups you will see that more than 90 percent only have marketing material on their landing page with no live demo or self-service product to experience.

Our first customer in the US, The New York Times, chose to use our platform because they could first try a live demo of our ad solution. After an engineer validated the technology, they reached out with confidence that we were the right partner for their VR advertising needs.

Live demos are critical to show not tell the magic of immersive content and we found we had to do this for every ad format available in the industry today. Here are a few examples:

Above: Interactive 360-degree video

 

Above: In-headset VR ads

 

Above: AR web formats

 

Above: 3D photo ads

The next 10 billion …

As we gear up to serve our next 10 billion ads, we’re looking forward to sharing more updates, continuing to learn from others, and reporting back on more lessons learned and the growth of this industry.

Brad Phaisan is CEO of OmniVirt, a 360-degree/VR/AR advertising platform for brands and publishers.