How Will Virtual Reality (VR) Affect Digital Advertising?

woman viewing PPC ads on virtual reality headset


People are spending more time in virtual reality worlds.

Where people go, ads will follow.

Virtual Reality will no doubt alter the digital marketing landscape.

How exactly?

No one knows for sure but here are some ways I think VR will change the day-to-day for digital advertisers over the coming years.

Creating Digital Ads Designed for VR Experiences

Google needs to put ads where people spend their time. As more people spend time in VR worlds, that’s where Google wants ads to be. The future health of Google’s display ad network will rely on its ability to monetize people navigating VR spaces.

In June of 2017, Google announced that they were working on placing ads in VR worlds via a project in their incubator Area 120.

They shared a quick GIF of what the ad unit might look like.

The ad is not earth shattering when viewed in 2D. But it does demonstrate the nuance of how VR will change how people interact with ads.

The white dot in the GIF indicates where the person wearing the headset is gazing. You can ‘click’ or select something in a VR world simply by looking at it and holding for a beat. That action is a completely new paradigm to consider as a marketer.

Gazing Replaces Clicking

From Google’s announcement: "By tapping on the cube or gazing at it for a few seconds, the cube opens a video player where the user can watch, and then easily close, the video.

In VR worlds, a user’s eyes have a lot of control. The headsets can tell where you are looking. In order to activate an ad you might only have to gaze at it for a couple moments.

Marketers may have metrics like ‘gazes’ instead of ‘clicks’ in their Google Ads UI in the future.

I have worn a VR headset and used my eyes to navigate around. It’s trippy. When I returned to the office, I was more aware of how my eyes navigated to many places on my screen that my mouse did not.

No longer will you look at an ad and decide if you want to expand it. The ad will pop open if you gaze at it for long enough.

VR Workstations

Imagine being immersed in an Excel sheet or controlling your favorite PPC software with eye or head movements. With VR, you will no longer be limited by the edges of your monitor.

I think this will allow marketers to consume larger amounts of information at once due to the sheer size of VR displays as compared to monitors.

HP has a VR Workstation currently available.

virtual reality workstation

But, a VR workstation is still a lot to lug around today. Headsets will grow more powerful, and when combined with a paired cell phone, that may be all most people that work in the cloud need.

Modern companies might simply have walls of VR headsets that employees grab from.

VR Conferences

Conferences are a big part of some digital marketers lives.

Many of polls I see still list speaker-presented content/sessions as the number one reason to attend a conference. The number two reason is networking.

You don’t have to be in the same room to get value from a talk.

Great speakers are powerful and often more powerful in person. But I’ve had the hair stand up on the back of my neck watching a YouTube video too.

Many conferences already live stream their events today. VR is a natural extension.

In VR, the presenter is not limited to what can appear on a screen behind them.

Instead of some well designed slides, presenters could completely transport the audience to a different time or place during a presentation.

Companies such as TheWaveVR have shown that people will attend concerts in virtual reality. Artists love having extra tools at their disposal to create engaging experiences for their fans.

With the costs of attending a digital marketing conference continuing to increase, I see opportunity for VR to deliver compelling experiences for a fraction of the cost.

Will VR Completely Alter PPC Advertising as we Know It?

Yes. But not for a few years.

VR must overcome several societal hurdles to gain mass adoption from living rooms to workplaces. But sales of virtual reality/alternate reality units are growing.

IDC projects 2018 sales of 12.4 million units — up from around 8 million unites sold in 2017.

By 2022, sales are expected to grow to over 65 million AR/VR units.

It may not happen next year, but we’ll be gazing at ads in VR worlds sooner than most think.

About the Author

Jon Davis, co-founder of Shape, spent years as a PPC consultant and agency analyst before focusing on making software. He enjoys thinking about how technology fits into the future of digital marketing and how it's used within agencies delivering great results for clients.

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