Evaluation of Unity’s VR Room Ad Standard

How It Works

Last week, Unity in partnership with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Lionsgate announced they are developing the first ever virtual reality ad format called a Virtual Room. The virtual room is a branded experience ranging from 30 to 60 seconds that is inserted into a VR game or app. Players need to opt in by “walking” through a sponsored portal within the game.

Once a player walks through the virtual doorway, they enter a room where a branded experience awaits. Users can interact with different objects, explore the room, and are rewarded with exclusive in game content for participating. The first VR Room ad is being developed to promote Jigsaw, Lionsgate’s upcoming movie in the Saw franchise, and is scheduled to be released this fall.

Make Room For VR Ads

In order for VR to be a viable advertising channel, universal ad standards are a must. The virtual room is the industry’s exciting first attempt at VR ad standards and Unity is building out the infrastructure needed to make it possible. Backed by the IAB, the VR Room is a credible ad unit and gives brands the reassurance needed to start testing branded VR experiences.

One big advantage this new VR ad standard will have right out of the gate is its considerable reach and ability to scale. According to Unity’s estimates, two thirds of all VR content today is built on Unity. and a single Virtual Room ad will be able to reach between 50K to 500K users in VR headsets, depending on planned distribution.

The unit takes full advantage of being built on a game engine, which allows for creative flexibility and advanced tracking unavailable to traditional marketing methods. Entertainment brands such as Lionsgate with Jigsaw are a perfect example of how to leverage this new medium. This room provides them with a way to tell an immersive story where the user is fully engaged in what we all hope is a super frightening escape room.

Room For Improvement

For brands, one of the biggest challenges of the virtual room will be the lack of 3D brand assets. Many brands today do not have the proper 3D logos, products, and branding that will be needed for the virtual room ad unit. Instead, all assets will need to be built from the ground up.

And even if they do have the 3D assets, different brands will have varying brand equity as a draw to get the VR viewers in the door. Unlike an entertainment brand like Lionsgate, QSR and CPG brands have more of a challenge to figure out how to properly leverage this virtual ad unit. The idea of a room plastered with Starbucks PSL’s and iced coffee sounds great in theory, however, in actuality, no one is coming into VR to experience a barista misspelling their virtual name. Plus, it remains unclear at the moment how the creatives will look for the call-to-actions for getting players into the room.

Therefore, developing an engaging room will be crucial to prove the success of the ad unit. The VR industry as a whole is consistently fighting against poor quality VR or even mislabel 360 video “VR”.  If the first virtual ad is a disruptive, boring cube of a room it will be a recipe for disaster.

Final Assessment

Overall, we have faith in the potential of this new ad format and are excited to see how advertisers take on the challenges. The room will live naturally within the pauses that are apart of a game. Users will unlock custom in-game content only available within these sponsored rooms that add value to the overall VR experience. Plus, the in-game rewards that brands will be able to offer to players should help provide the incentives needed to draw the audience in, as long as it is clearly communicated in the call-to-action banner before they enter the room.

If successful, this new VR ad standard should provide developers and creators a way to monetize their VR apps and games. The ability to effectively monetize a game or app increases the incentive for developers to produce VR content. The more content that is produced gives user more of a reason to buy the hardware. This in turn signals to brands that there is a viable audience that can be reached within VR and they will start spending dollars to place ads within the different games, accelerating the entire industry forward.

What Brands Need To Do

For starters, all brands no matter what vertical should be thinking about creating 3D branded assets. These assets will not only make it easier to build VR ad experiences, however, they can also be licensed out to game developers to integrate product indirectly into a VR game, app or experience.

Additionally, looking even further down the VR roadmap and the concept of virtual goods, these branded assets can be virtually sold to consumers for real profits. Last year, $60 million USD was paid out to creators within the Second Life community. Aside from 3D assets now is the time to start developing brand strategies for VR. The industry is young, flexible, and inexpensive, allowing brands to test how they best fit into the virtual environment with minimal blowback.  


Header image is a promotional image courtesy of Unity

Here Comes Dash Wand, An Alexa-Powered Barcode Scanner For Your Kitchen

What Happened
Amazon continues with its master plan of conquering every room of the smart home with the launch of yet another Alexa-powered connected device. The Dash Wand, which the ecommerce giant unveiled on Wednesday night, is a cordless barcode scanner with Alexa integration. Designed specifically for kitchen use with its water-resistant, durable design, it focuses on facilitating grocery shopping from AmazonFresh. Prime members can either push a button and tell Alexa what to add to their shopping cart, like they would with an Amazon Tap. or simply use it to scan a barcode of the item they’d like to repurchase.

Thanks to the full Alexa integration, the Dash Wand also doubles as a smart kitchen aid, capable of finding recipes, converting units of measurement, or even finding nearby restaurants when your own culinary attempt fails. Notably, Amazon is essentially giving out this $20 device for free, as Prime customers will get 20 off their next purchase after registering the device.

What Brands Need To Do
Amazon created a smart home product with an incredibly focused user case – helping people cook. With a water-resistant, durable design, it is designed to be used in the kitchen. From finding recipes to getting the ingredients to setting timers for the oven, Alexa can do it all, making it a super valuable addition to a modern kitchen.

For Amazon, this device serves as a gateway to attract more shoppers to use AmazonFresh, which underscores Amazon’s aggressive push into the grocery market. According to a recent report from Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen, about a quarter of American households currently buy some groceries online, and more than 70% will engage with online food shopping within 10 years. In fact, online grocery sales are expected to hold 20% of the market by 2025. No wonder Amazon is willing to give away Dash Wand for free in exchange of further locking Prime members into its ever-expanding ecosystem.

As Amazon continues to push into the grocery market, it is becoming increasingly crucial for grocery and household CPG brands to make their products available and discoverable through Amazon. For food retail chains, this should come as a wake-up call to invest in ecommerce channels of your own or forge alliances with Amazon rivals that can surface your online services via their competing smart home devices so as to reach grocery shoppers right in their kitchens.


Source: Amazon

Header image courtesy of Amazon’s promotional image

Amazon Opens Program For Creating “Watch & Shop” Apps For Fire TV

What Happened
Amazon is launching a program that invites video content owners to create shoppable streaming apps for their content on Fire TV streaming products. The so-called “Watch and Shop apps,” which now has its own section under the Apps tab, allow Fire TV users to view and purchase a curated list of items relevant to the video they are watching. Because Fire TV viewers are already logged in with their Amazon account, they can purchase the item directly from the product description page or add it to the shopping cart for later.

What Brands Need To Do
Buying products from inside a video is not a new concept — YouTube introduced a click-to-buy feature in January 2009. But with more online retailers start experimenting with interactive video each year, it becomes clear that simply dropping a link or a “Buy Now” button into a video ad is effective enough in converting customers. The friction of putting in the payment information alone is usually enough to stop shoppers in their path.

Obviously, this new program offers brands a great opportunities to explore shoppable content as both a new promotional tool and a direct sales channel. For example, a popular makeup tutorial app can create a Watch and Shop app that displays the cosmetic products that are being demoed in that particular video segment. Of course, this being an Amazon program, it would require brands to sell their products on Amazon.com.

Currently, this program is invite-only, and brands that wish to apply will need to have a Youtube channel with a minimum of 15 videos, a YouTube developer key, and, most importantly, a list of products you would like to feature in your videos, along with their unique identification number (ASIN) as listed on Amazon.com. For more information on how to apply, please check the source.

Shoppable video content has been undoubtedly on the rise for the past few years. It is especially popular among fashion and beauty brands. Birchbox, Dr. Brandt Skincare, Beautyblender, and SheaMoisture are among the first ones to try out a shoppable video layer created by video company MikMak that enables users to purchase branded products on Instagram Stories and Snap Ads with a single URL.


Source: Amazon Developer Blog

Hallmark Halves Streaming Ad Load To Attract Viewers

What Happened
The Hallmark Channel is looking to cut the volume of ads in half for its original primetime shows starting next year. According to the network, new episodes of its original shows such as “Chesapeake Shores” and “Good Witch” will only include five to seven minutes of commercials instead of the current 15 minutes of ads. The network says that it is reducing the ad load in the hope of better competing with the ad-free viewing experiences provided by OTT services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

The Crown Media-owned channel is not the first cable network that responded to viewer’s growing ad aversion by cutting down ad load. Networks such as the History channel, A+E, and Viceland have all experimented with similar initiatives.

What Brands Need To Do
Back in 2015 when Apple announced its decision to enable ad-blocking extensions in Safari in iOS 9, we advised brands to counter the trend of Ad Avoidance by trying new ad formats, sponsored and branded content, and generally improving their online ad experiences. Two years later, new unblockable ad formats, such as sponsored selfie lenses and VR product placements, have emerged or become widely available for brands to explore.



Source: AdAge


Snapchat Goes All In On Self-Serve Ad Platform And Tools

What Happened
Snapchat is going all in on self-serve ad platform and tools to make it easier for brands advertisers to create video ads and launch their campaigns with three new initiatives. To start with, the company announced the Ad Manager platform last month, and the self-serve ad platform officially became available for marketers big or small on Monday.

Snapchat also launched Snap Publisher, a browser-based creation and testing tool that makes it easier for advertisers to create vertical video ads and create Snap ads for different objectives. It is integrated with Ad Manager, so once advertisers are done optimizing their ads for Snapchat, they can simply buy through the self-serve platform with one click.

In addition, Snapchat launched a new Certified Partners program to highlight its ad tech partners, which currently include SocialCode, Adaptly, Unified, and Hyfn. Snapchat’s Ads API is open to a wide range of ad tech companies, but the ones in the Certified Partners program received some extra training as to building tools for optimizing Snap ads.

What Brands Need To Do
Amid a slowed-down user growth and the mounting pressure from Facebook’s relentless copying, Snapchat is trying to make a strong case for itself to brand advertisers as a viable mobile ad channel by expanding the accessibility and accountability of its ad products.

Beyond the three initiatives launched on Monday, Snap also acquired mobile location intelligence company Placed last week to improve the offline attribution of its app, allowing advertisers to see if their Snap ads resulted in store visits. As Snapchat continues to step up its ad game and make its app more advertiser-friendly, we expect to see more brands getting on board to try out Snapchat’s unique ad products.



Source: TechCrunch

Twitter Integrates Call-To-Action Buttons Into DM

What Happened
Twitter is adding a new feature to Direct Messages (DM) to make it a better customer support tool for brands. Now, when brands manage their Twitter DM through Twitter’s API, they can send call-to-action buttons via direct messages that, when clicked, can direct people to visit a specific site, post a pre-written tweet, follow the brand’s account, or start a chat with another of the brand’s accounts.

What Brands Need To Do
This new addition should make Twitter DM a more convenient customer support tool to leverage and create a frictionless experience for customers. As Twitter continues to improve its chat functionality, it is attracting many brands to extend their customer support operations to Twitter DM. For example, Dutch airline KLM recently added their customer service bot to Twitter DM to better serve its global audiences that are not using Facebook Messenger, which is where KLM’s bot originally resides.


Source: VentureBeat



Niantic Marks Pokémon Go’s One-Year Anniversary With DOOH Campaign

What Happened
Niantic, the company behind Pokémon Go, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its smash hit game with a digital out-of-home campaign that utilizes real-time data to highlight its global popularity. The outdoor ads will feature real-time data from the game app in Tokyo, London, and New York, such as numbers showing how many Pokémons are being caught nearby. Some billboards are also activated as “PokéStops,” where players go to collect in-game items, as a fun, meta way of adding a real-world layer to its campaign message.

What Brands Need To Do
While the collective fever for Pokémon Go has considerably died down since last summer, the game still holds its place as the biggest mobile game in U.S. history, and quite possibly, in the world as well. Not even the iOS release of Nintendo’s Super Mario Run managed to challenge that. Last week, the game surpassed 750 million downloads, an enviable feat that underscores the longevity of the game. This OOH ad campaign cleverly captured just how hugely popular Pokémon Go is and reminded people of the enthusiasm it commanded. Similarly, Spotify ran a well-received end-of-year OOH campaign last year that featured funny music streaming statistics. More brands should consider plugging real-time data into their digital OOH campaign to help make its case.

Pokémon Go is also widely credited as the game that introduced a lot of mobile users to augmented reality. Since its debut last summer, the mobile AR space has certainly accelerated its development, with Facebook and Apple both coming out with their own developer platforms for AR. For more information on how brands may tap into the rapid development in AR to create engaging customer experiences, please check out the Advanced Interfaces section of our Outlook 2017.


Source: Creativity Online


Apple Adds In-Episode Analytics To Podcast For Better Audience Measurement

What Happened
As Apple announced at the WWDC event last week, the dedicated Podcast app will receive a makeover in the upcoming iOS 11. Now more details have emerged about this impending update, which will bring a new interface as well as some changes to how podcasts can be structured for better presentation. Users will also be able to download a full season of podcasts at once to get their fill.

More importantly, Apple is finally opening up the in-episode analytics of podcasts for content creators beyond simple episode downloads, which will allow podcasters to get detailed information such as how many people have listened to a particular episode and where listeners stop or skip.

The iOS podcast app, although only one of the many, many channels for podcast distribution, is arguably the most popular app for listening to podcasts. In fact, a 2016 survey found that Apple-device podcast downloads outpace Android downloads at a rate of 5.4 to 1. Overcast, another p0pular podcast app, launched its own in-app display ads earlier this year to help podcasters monetize their content.

What Brands Need To Do
According to a recent report by Edison Research, over 35 million people listened to podcasts weekly in 2016. The same report also found that U.S. podcast listeners on average earn $10,000 more than the average American, making them a highly valuable customer base for brands to target.

Yet, despite the sizable high-value audience base, many brands have been hesitant to explore podcast advertising due to its lack of accountable ROI measurement. This important update to the podcast app should spark some new interests to podcast advertising, as the in-episode analytics will allow podcasters to provide more accurate audience measurement, such as how many listeners actually listened to the episodes they downloaded and whether or not they skipped the sponsors’ messages. In a sense, it partially solves the “viewability issue” for podcast ads, giving brands more reassurance to try out podcast advertising.

These newly added metrics, which brands will need to work with podcast creators to access, should provide more transparency and clarity to podcast advertisers regarding their campaigns. In addition, brands with their own branded podcasts should leverage it to access better measurement to gauge user interests and engagements.


Source: Re/code

Major US Banks To Launch A Venmo Competitor For P2P Payments

What Happened
Zelle, a digital payment network backed by more than 30 US banks, is ready to launch after six years in development. Major banks, including Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo, are beginning to roll out the first stage of Zelle, which comes as a new function integrated into the banks’ owned apps. This will let customers send and receive payments for free, regardless of bank affiliation, while also allowing for instant withdrawals. A standalone app is in the works and is set to launch later this year to take on the likes of Venmo and Square Cash.

What Brands Need To Do
This news came just a week after Apple announced last week at WWDC that in the upcoming iOS 11, Apple Pay will be integrated into Messages to enable P2P payments via texting. Now with the impending roll out of Zelle, mobile payment is set to gain a significant boost in the coming months thanks to the increased accessibility of P2P payments and its resulting network effect. Financial service brands need to prepare for this by making their services compatible with the various P2P systems so as to better serve customers. Retail and ecommerce brands should consider integrating Apple Pay support for their mobile website to remove friction for online shoppers.


Source: The Verge



KLM Extends Customer Service Bot To Twitter And WeChat

What Happened
Dutch airline KLM was one of the first airlines to create a chatbot for Facebook Messenger, now the airline company has expanded its bot action to Twitter and WeChat as well. Rather impressively, the bots are fluent in 10 languages, helping KLM to better serve its international customers. They can provide booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding passes, as well as flight status updates to any customers who checked in through KLM.com and elect to get their info through Twitter DM or WeChat.

What Brands Need To Do
This extended chatbot support underscores KLM’s commitment to using bots as a customer service tool to help streamline the flight check-in process. Messaging apps has become a channel for brands to effectively reach mobile customers, and bots can be a powerful and cost-effective tool for handling basic information requests, managing business bookings, and facilitating direct purchases. More brands should be coming up with a conversational strategy that includes not only how to use bots to improve their brand messaging and services but also how to properly promote the bots.

KLM is also smart to expand their chatbot support so as to better serve their international customer base. Different messaging apps enjoy varying regional popularity, as Facebook Messenger is most popular in the U.S. whereas WeChat dominates the Chinese market. Twitter DM is a good solution to cover the other global markets. For more in-depth analysis how brands can leverage global mega-channels and niche micro-channels to effectively reach key audiences across the world, check out the Global Culture section of our Outlook 2017.


Source: MarTech Today