How USA TODAY Is Building Advertising Within VR

How USA TODAY Is Building Advertising Within VR
September 7, 2017
VP of USA TODAY's branded content branch GET Creative Kelly Andresen talks about how the studio is moving the needle in the VR ad


Virtual reality stands to revolutionize how a handful of industries approach their work, and it has already hinted at its disruptive potential in the advertising space. With hundreds of innovative brands experimenting with VR, we’ve subsequently seen the rise of productions like a visit to Stephen Curry’s childhood to ‘step inside his shoes’ or L’Oreal’s corporate decision-making VR lab, used to accelerate the rollout of new merchandise. At a time when advertising’s tides have shifted away from blatant self-promotion towards entertainment in the form of experiential narratives, VR would appear to be the perfect tool to capitalize on the trend thanks to its unprecedented level of immersion.


Catalyzing the emergence of immersive technologies in the ad space, USA Today Network’s GET Creative studio partners with brands to uncover and produce stories that captivate audiences, create awareness and drive engagement across a variety of media. PSFK had the opportunity to sit down with Senior Vice President of GET Creative Kelly Andresen to discuss how to deliver value to clients and audiences with branded VR content.


“We fully understand that in this nascent time when VR adoption is still growing, not everyone has a headset. That’s exactly what makes this an awesome opportunity to introduce the medium to our audience of over 115 million people,” Andresen said. “Our approach has always been to meet people where they are. That’s why we always advise to create both true VR content and 360-degree video; you’ll be able to reach a wider audience and introduce them to VR through 360, and then use call to actions to message them and tell them to move towards VR.”


What makes this strategy particularly agreeable for VR consumption is the understanding that spherical videos can be dispersed across the web on platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, while ‘room-scale VR’ (with the ability to walk around in the space and interact with it) is only available with more powerful headsets such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. As such, not only do 360 videos appropriate newcomers to the world of virtual reality, but employing this strategy also gives more seasoned users—who are always on the lookout for new content—an equally powerful experience.


“Before we start any campaign, we first have to understand the marketing objective: Are they showcasing a new model release? Is it about branding? What are the considerations?” said Andresen. “Once we figure out what a brand needs, we then have to ask a follow-up: Why VR? Meaning, will this medium be the best storytelling unit? If the answer is no, we opt for alternative channels.”


In one of GET Creative’s VR ads, people were brought behind a Toyota racing car’s wheel to experience what its like going over 200 miles per hour, while simultaneously educating them on the engineering of the vehicle. This particular experience proved effective in reaching the marketing objectives because it capitalized on what Andresen believes are VR’s core strengths: transporting people to a place they’ll never be able to go, inserting users into the narrative, eliciting an emotional response and teaching things on a deeper level than other formats ever could. Andresen and her team were able to develop an experience that people actually wanted to engage with because it didn’t feel like self-promotional marketing, but rather something fun and exciting. GET Creative has further worked with brands such as Honda, Google Maps and Pure Michigan to deliver one-of-a-kind VR experiences.

“There’s still no standard for advertising in VR and there’s been a lot of experimentation and certainly a lot of big companies are stepping in this space like Google, so there’s still a lot unfolding. Of course, we’ll have to continue to grow the audience for standardization to be viable, since you can’t have best practices [if there’s a limited audience to practice on],” Andresen said. “Already we’re seeing advances in storytelling within VR, which will be key for answering some of the questions we’re tackling such as, ‘How do you elicit an emotional response?’ or ‘How do we create proper guided experiences and calls-to-action within VR?’”


Lack of guidelines for building native VR ads has indeed made navigating everything from the ideation phase to deployment more difficult, but its also presents a wonderful opportunity for GET Creative to position itself as a pioneer within the space. The USA Today Network’s ‘cubemercial’ is a testament to this prospect: a new kind of ad experience in which viewers are situated within a room with each wall displaying videos or products to view and play. The idea goes beyond a virtual pop-up store as it glues multiple aspects of a brand together (from media content to tangible goods) in a way that achieves a level of brand cohesion not found in an isolated retail environment. It also allows for more rapid consumption of media assets than something like a newsfeed, and quite literally immerses users in a branded box they’re completely thrilled to be in thanks to the ‘cool factor’ of VR.


If anything is certain in the budding world of advertising within virtual reality, it’s that VR is the most immersive tool in a marketer’s arsenal if used correctly. While the syntax of how to use this technology is still being formulated by the world’s elite brands, companies who have invested wisely in VR will reap the most benefit when the technology hits the critical mass.

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