NEW YORK -- Toyota Motor Corp. is testing a new type of advertising by running the first commercial designed to be viewed within USA Today's new virtual reality program.
The ad for Toyota's 2017 Camry will debut today when it sponsors the first episode of "VRtually There," said the show's creator, Gannett Inc.'s USA Today. The show, announced in March, can be seen on USA Today apps and YouTube with a VR headset such as Google Cardboard.
Each episode will last about five to seven minutes and mostly feature inspirational and adventure stories, Niko Chauls, director of applied technologies for the USA Today Network, said in an interview.
Lisa McQueen, media manager for Toyota Motor Sales Inc., said in a statement: “The network's approach to bold storytelling and use of new mediums aligns with our brand and our creative approach for the new 2017 Toyota Camry.”
Virtual reality, the panoramic technology with roots in gaming, is still in its infancy and has yet to go mainstream. Content makers such as Gannett and advertisers are trying to figure out how to make money with virtual reality content and advertising.
“VR has an amazing opportunity to transport people to experience something that you just can’t do in regular 2-D video or in graphics and text. Obviously this has a lot of appeal to automakers because you can get people behind the wheel or experiences related to it without ever leaving the comforts of your home,” Kelly Andresen, head of Get Creative, the network’s creative studio, told Automotive News.
“It’s a great way to experience an actual model, a brand, a story and get them introduced to an automaker and helping them move that interested party down the marketing funnel.”
Chauls dubbed Toyota's ad a "cubemercial," because viewers see visuals as though they are placed on four walls around them with blank space when one turns their head toward the floor and ceiling.
More brands will advertise in upcoming episodes, Andresen said, declining to provide additional details.
To tap potential revenue streams, Gannett's bet on virtual reality is part of an expansion beyond the declining print business. The company is testing new digital content and ad formats, while making acquisitions in the newspaper business to expand its footprint.
After the premiere, the new show will air at 2 p.m. EDT every Thursday.
Gannett's first show features three segments with adventure and travel experiences such as the landing of an F18 jet on an aircraft carrier and the annual hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, N.M.
The show can be accessed through the USA Today app, the USA Today Network's VR Stories app and on the "VRtually There" YouTube channel, USA Today said. Those who do not have VR headsets can watch the show on mobile devices and desktop computers that can display video in a 360-degree view.
The USA Today app has been downloaded more than 20 million times.
Toyota also is leveraging virtual reality for another campaign with USA Today called “Wish you were here,” which features the Camry.
The series will take viewers on a 360-degree journey to Australia, Estonia, New England and Nova Scotia. The sponsored-content has a landing page on USA Today’s site that features a written account of the adventures as well as photo galleries and Camry ads that take people to a configurator.
GET Creative teamed with Toyota agency Saatchi & Saatchi LA on the campaign.
“The Camry buyers are an aspirational group that is adventurous and likes to experience a lot of things and have dreams of doing a lot of cool and exciting experiences. But oftentimes, they live busy lives and don’t have time to take those adventures,” Andresen said. “We wanted to provide a value to that audience and really enable them to go someplace they may never ever be able to go.”
Vince Bond of Automotive News contributed to this report.