Home Data-Driven Thinking How AI Will Introduce New Ad Units Into VR And AR Environments 

How AI Will Introduce New Ad Units Into VR And AR Environments 


Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ken Rona, chief data scientist at IgnitionOne.

About 10 years ago, the marketing consulting firm I worked for was discussing where to focus our efforts. At the time, leadership was very skeptical of internet-based advertising, and I argued that advertising agencies have historically proven adept at effectively leveraging new media for their clients. Attention is attention.

Today, any organization focused on the future of consumer attention, whether agency or consultancy, will likely agree that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) aren’t that far off from the mainstream. But the questions remain the same: How do brands leverage these new forms of media? And what will advertising look like in an AR/VR world?

Pre-roll of some sort is one likely option, but any ad experience that removes the viewer from the reality they are in – AR, VR or other – to watch an ad or interact with a branded experience does not seem like it would be good for users. I can’t imagine content creators are going to be very supportive of a pre-roll in VR.

Rather, advertising success within an AR/VR experience will rely on product placement but evolve from its current form. To deliver and measure messages in virtual or augmented worlds where there are no delineated spaces for advertising, the industry will have to write new definitions of product placement, ad units and viewability.

One possibility is that marketers will use artificial intelligence (AI) to scan the AR/VR content for objects that it can identify and tag with metadata. Think of it as facial recognition for objects. The AI will create metadata about the object, including size, location in space and shape. This data will then be made available to advertisers and serve as the equivalent of an ad placement.

Advertisers and their agencies will look to “wrap” these objects, substituting their own brand logos for the original. Imagine that a can of Pepsi becomes a generic cylinder that can then be wrapped with a Coke logo. Or that a Frigidaire, seen within augmented reality, becomes the latest model from GE. Of course, consumers will be able to click on the placed product to order it.

This wouldn’t be the end of traditional “banners,” as any flat surface can become an ad unit. In the end, everything within these environments is an object that can be used to build brand recognition and drive conversions. As with display ads, content creators will need to set limits on the amount of advertising “in-view” at any given time, but product placement will be the dominant form of advertising in these created realities.

Some of the enabling technology for AR/VR product placement is already in place or starting to gain traction. The most obvious piece of technology is glasses or goggles. Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are among those who are actively working on some kind of AR/VR eyewear.

Meanwhile, AI for image recognition has some components in place, but the principles are well understood. One of my favorite nerdy things to do is to feed a picture into Google’s image recognition software (here is the link if you want to try it. Scroll down to the “Try the API” part of the page and drag and drop a picture into the box).


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Then there’s one of the most important components: the ad server (or an object server), which will deliver the right soda can or refrigerator to the user. While digital ad serving is well understood, adding the capability to serve “wrappable” objects needs to be developed.

Lastly, marketers will need a measurement solution, which presents another area for real innovation. Almost by design, AR/VR eyewear tracks consumers’ pupils and where their attention is focused. This brings a whole new level of “viewability” to the industry. Advertisers will not only know if a placed product has been in the viewed scene – the equivalent of “viewable” – but will know if a user has looked at the product and for how long. They will be able to tell if the user interacted with the product – the equivalent of a click – and if the user came out of the experience to purchase the product.

While this requires a new perspective on the ad units and measurement used in the past five years, the addition of AR/VR product placements as ad units should not have any dramatic impact on where advertisers will acquire eyeballs. These ad opportunities will still be available in upfronts, on ad exchanges and through private marketplaces.

I have every confidence that marketers and ad agencies are going to figure out how to use these new media experiences to help their clients. But then again, I thought in-game console advertising was going to be big.

Follow IgnitionOne (@IgnitionOne) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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