Virtual reality and 360-degree video are growing in both popularity and sophistication as marketing tools, but reaching a wide audience with such advanced technology poses unique challenges for brands looking to provide an immersive experience.
With many virtual reality experiences requiring dedicated apps like Google Cardboard, it can be difficult for brands and agencies looking to reach consumers with VR content to access a large enough network of users and create a campaign that reaches an effective scale.
VR advertising firm Omnivirt is aiming to change that, enabling brands to launch virtual reality and 360-degree content on the mobile web, in-app and across a wide variety of headset devices.
"The idea behind Omnivirt is that we have this next computing platform ahead of us, and every major platform has had a monetisation solution associated with it," said Michael Rucker, chief operating officer and co-founder of Omnivirt. "What AdMob was to mobile, what BrightRoll was to video, what DoubleClick was to desktop, Omnivirt will be for virtual reality."
Omnivirt's solution means brands don't have to create dedicated apps to host VR content they create. Instead, experiences can be accessed within the mobile browser or app as 360-degree video, with consumers who own devices like Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard able to activate a true VR mode.
Hosting the content in-browser means that campaigns can be pushed out through traditional networks and exchanges, reaching much larger audiences. The company has worked with a variety of publishers and brands to distribute VR experiences, including the New York Times, Vice, Samsung, Cartier and Porsche.
"We're still in the early days of content creation, where the producing of content can still potentially be costly, and so we've seen the folks that are using VR tend to be Fortune 100 brands, as well as your top publishers that have been investing very heavily in this space," said Rucker. "The challenge then for them, having invested in this content, is making sure it's worth their investment. We help them get the distribution and the eyeballs.
"Rather than putting all this money into content and not getting anyone to see it, we're able to say, 'Hey New York Times, you're working with your brand partner, they're investing a lot of money in this, lets make sure we get eyeballs on it.' And today, eyeballs are on mobile."
Among the brands who have made use of Omnivirt's technology are luxury hotel chain St Giles Hotels, who teamed up with digital agency Piranha to create a VR/360-degree campaign built around the brand's central locations in cities like London, New York, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney.
Selected guests were provided with Samsung 360 cameras, enabling them to record their activities during their stay and capture how the centrality of St Giles' hotels enabled them to take full advantage of the cities that they visited.
"We partnered with the New York Times because we wanted to engage with a mobile audience, but our budget was quite small," said Venicia Gaul, global brand manager for St Giles Hotels at Piranha. "They used Omnivirt to autoplay 360 videos as part of their online ad placements, which was how we were introduced Omnivirt."
St Giles found that their 360 video formats weren't playing in certain browsers including Safari, and so worked with Omnivirt to adopt their platform campaign-wide, ensuring that however consumers came across the campaign, they would be able to immerse themselves in the experience the brand had created.
"70 per cent of our mobile visitors to the website are on iPhone and iPad, so it allows the experience to be seamless," said Gaul. "In the first month, we had to have a pop-up that said 'Safari doesn't allow for 360 video, please download the YouTube app to experience this in 360'. With Omnivirt it made it a seamless experience."
The change had an instant effect on the campaign, boosting average session times with iPhone users by 102.5 per cent thanks to the more streamlined access to the 360 video. St Giles also used Omnivirt's platform to create banner ads that would appear online in mobile browsers, and played the full 360-degree film within the ad, which consumers could interact with and explore simply by clicking on. These banners drove more than 750,000 impressions in a month.
"52 per cent of visitors to our website are coming via some kind of smartphone, so mobile is a very important aspect of engagement and guest experience, both in-app and online," said Gaul. "We can engage them during the trip, and when they're at home too – before, during and after."