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Is there room for Advertising in Virtual Reality?


Presently there is widespread resistance against current forms of digital advertising and marketing among younger generations. This is evident in the rise in popularity of adblockers and subscription services like Netflix, which provide users with an uninterrupted ad-free experience in exchange for a monthly fee.


This rising resistance is most likely down to the intrusive and increasingly creepy nature of modern advertising, that has left a generation feeling more preyed upon than persuaded. This shift in consciousnesses is becoming a problem for those at the forefront of the marketing industry who have been forced to find new ways to engage younger viewers.


With Augmented and Virtual Reality predicted to eventually make their way into the mainstream, the marketing industry is hoping these new technologies will provide new platforms to capture the attention back from the younger demographic.


Pre-roll advertisement in VR


Pre-roll video advertising has already made its way into the virtual world. My first experience of this was with CaveVR (a simple walk-through experience) where after being dropped to the bottom of a cave I was exposed to a loud and aggressive hovering screen.


The mere presence of this ad ruined the experience entirely. While immersed in a natural environment the last thing you’d expect to see is a suspended television hovering in mid-air filling up your field of vision.


And this is only the start. Unity, one of the leading development engines for VR, has developed a new form of advertising it’s calling ‘virtual room’. Ads will apparently appear naturally as part of the experience narrative and users will enter a room in which they then become fully immersed in a brand experience for 30–60 seconds.


This desperate attempt to court advertising firms marks the beginning of a trial and error period for advertising in VR. This is a worrying prospect given the lack of research into the technologies long-term effects on the brain, and the seemingly care free stance towards consumer protection held by the marketing industry.


‘Virtual room’ by Unity


Looking at our current use of technology, the correlation between depression and addiction to social media is gradually becoming widely accepted. What’s being talked about less though is that this addiction has been manufactured intentionally by the creators of those social media platforms.


These influential companies gain financial profit from user generated data. They do so by offering advertisers the opportunity to target groups of users based on profile and search data, messages, likes, geographical locations and relationships.



What this business model has created is a relationship based on how the company can maximise engagement, get users to create more data and in turn convert that data into profit.


The results of this model manifest themselves in devious ways to keep you addicted to the platform. The mini-dopamine hit created from receiving a new notification is something that has been exploited massively, with companies creating more and more reasons for notifications to be produced with the aim of incessantly reminding you to use the service.


‘Snapstreaks’ on Snapchat is another prime example of an underhanded technique used to keep users bound. A feature that rewards users for sending direct snaps back and forth with a friend for several consecutive days, manipulating them into using the service frequently and consistently.


Organisation like Time Well Spent have been founded to make consumers aware of these techniques and provide guidance on how to realign our relationship with technology.


The detrimental effects of our current relationship with social media are yet to be fully realised, but apply the same business model to get users hooked to a virtual reality application and you’re looking at something even more dangerous.


The future of virtual reality and its relationship with advertising is fundamentally going to be determined by its users. There is an increasing amount of resistance against advertising and a growing awareness of the monetisation of user generated data. Hopefully this will act as the catalyst for a more critical approach to applications, especially those that are free.


The small sacrifice of paying for an experience that protects user data and provides an uninterrupted ad-free experience, will go a long way towards preventing virtual reality becoming a vehicle for advertising and a tool for mass data harvesting.



*This article is written and published on VirtualRealityPop

Erick Tran
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