Written by
Jonny Spindler
Published
July 2016
Topics
How VR will change the advertising industry

I was lucky enough to attend the YouTube Create lunch at Cannes where Sir John Hegarty announced: “technology creates opportunity; creativity creates value”.

And that’s where I think we are with VR - it presents a new opportunity for us to get creative and generate real value for brands and businesses. We talk a lot about brand experiences today and VR is a fantastic technology with which to create new experiences.

From travel companies transporting us instantly to our desired destination and allowing us to experience the locale before booking, to automotive brands allowing us to ‘feel’ the interior of a car from the comfort of our home - the opportunities for creating immersive virtual experiences are going to be endless.

"Instead of creating videos for viewers, it’s now about creating worlds for visitors."

Although recreating real, everyday experiences in a virtual world is easy to understand, the interesting question is whether there is a place for the surreal in a virtual world – what we’ll call “virtual surreality”.

For decades, advertising creatives have created imaginative, unreal worlds for the brands they work on to spark emotion and desire amongst consumers. Whether this can be translated the into the virtual world is yet to be seen. Would people want to experience the famous Guinness Surfer or Nike Write the Future ads in virtual reality? Or do we need to completely redefine how we tell stories and convey brand messages?

“Rather than thinking of telling stories through frames created to be viewed, we have to think how to tell stories through the worlds we create - worlds that are designed to be visited.”

Clay Bavor, Vice President of VR at Google, explained it succinctly at a couple of talks in Cannes. He said that “VR is not film-making – it’s very clearly different.” Instead of creating videos for viewers, it’s now about creating worlds for visitors.

The old creative process of film-making had ‘the frame’ at its heart, but now, rather than thinking of telling stories through frames created to be viewed, we have to think how to tell stories through the worlds we create - worlds that are designed to be visited.

The discipline that comes closest to this is the art of the video game developer. In gaming they have been creating imaginary worlds for decades, and agencies and brands will doubtless be trying to access these skill-sets – so it’s a good time to be a game designer or interactive (virtual) director. But there are other talents that we’ll need to employ, people such as spatial designers and architects to devise credible buildings and structures.

As we have seen with several recent technologies, most agencies and brands are likely to struggle to realise this new opportunity to the fullest. In the same way that creative ideas expressed on mobile, via social feeds, or by digital publishers, still resemble the traditional TV and print copy created for decades, this could happen with VR.

Some brands will create whole new virtual experiences, but the majority of brands may simply create virtual advertising – by that I mean, for instance, they may just stick the same piece of outdoor creative we can see in the real world into the virtual world. But I really hope not. We have to guard against this tendency, so we should start setting a high benchmark as soon as we can.

One thing is for sure, expect an explosion of 'Virtual Agencies' touting the need for a 'Virtual Strategy' and the emergence of 'CVO's' (Chief Virtual Officers) in agencies and clients over the coming few years. I may even change my job title…