Actually, I didn’t just see it. I experienced the future of advertising in a fully immersive and interactive way. Heck, I even took a ride on it!
The advertising I’m talking about was in a virtual reality environment brought to life by an Oculus Rift (DK 2). And it was a demo for a new capability of MediaSpike, the company that’s pioneered dynamic native advertising in mobile and social games, and is now shining a light on how their platform can power mind-blowing brand experiences in the emerging new mediums of virtual reality and augmented reality.
[Non-trivial disclosure: I’m more than a little biased on this topic; I currently head up marketing at MediaSpike. So, yes, this is definitely a “puff piece,” but it is one that is also from the heart!]
This wasn’t a totally new demo. It was one that our team had created months earlier to showcase our support for Unity, the wildly popular game development system. And that meant I was pretty familiar with the cityscape, having driven a pickup truck all around it on an iPad. Countless times, I’d whizzed past the billboards, checked out the movie theater, looked at the blimp overhead. And I’d even glided over the city, blissing out via the blimp camera view.
So, when the team said they’d gotten it working with Oculus, I thought I knew what to expect. (After all, I had tried Oculus Rift several times, and have been a VR enthusiast for more than 20 years!) And then I slipped on the headset and headphones and picked up the controller and…
…stepped inside the demo. Oh, my! It was like a dream. I didn’t dare move about; I just wanted to drink it all in from where I entered, looking every which way (by moving my head). What used to be a simple demo driving game was suddenly a real world. Okay, not “real” for real, but way more tangible, believable, and interesting than seeing it on an iPad. Instead of playing a game, I was actually in it.
When I looked behind me, I almost jumped. I was just feet away from a billboard for the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios. You see, due to a quirk in adapting the iPad demo to the Oculus, the “camera” was floating 20 or so feet above the ground, so the billboard was at eye level instead of high above me. I was a giant! And, wow, that billboard looked awesome! So big, so bright, so wow. It was not just a secondary object I might or might not notice while driving the truck in the iPad version of the demo.
Of course, the team would go on to fix the “giant’s eye view” issue (by lowering the camera). But I’ll never forget that moment.
The next magical moment came when the team let me know they had gotten the video ad working in the demo – in full 3D. In the iPad version of the demo, by contrast, we included video, but not in a fully native way. If you clicked on a movie poster, we’d spawn the trailer full-screen. That seemed the appropriate experience for a mobile screen.
But within VR, the team wanted to go fully native, and that they did in a bold way, creating a gigantic outdoor movie screen that could be used to display any video. As I drove up to one intersection, I heard Queen’s “Under Pressure” playing in the distance and getting louder as I approached. As I rounded the corner, I saw a trailer for “Minions” (the next installment in the Despicable Me series) playing on what looked to be an 100-foot tall screen:
I could drive right up to it, and the sound got louder. The spatial sound effect also worked as I would turn my head, with the volume decreasing for the far ear. And what did I see when I looked behind me this time? A beautiful “Despicablimp” floating by overhead and a billboard for the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios:
And down at street level, off to the side, I saw a glowing red area in front of a tall building, along with a small sign advertising blimp rides. I drove into the red zone and was magically transported to the building’s rooftop. The outdoor theater was still visible, but was now closer to eye level. As I looked around, the Despicablimp approached:
Using the left thumb stick, I could navigate around the roof in a way that felt somewhere between walking and gliding. (Either way, I felt human-sized, not a giant.) As the blimp descended, I walked toward it. I’ve always had a thing for blimps, and watching this airship directly overhead was jaw-dropping. I could hear the purring of its engines over the now distant sound of the trailer on the big screen.
The blimp docked at the edge of the roof, and the interior of the cabin began to glow red, enticing me to come forward. To enter the blimp, I would have to walk carefully unto the edge of the roof and cross a short air gap between me and the airship. I knew that the team had set it up such that it was possible to step off of the roof and fall to the pavement far below. And so I aimed carefully to “step” into the blimp via a small outcropping of bricks at the roof’s edge. You can see my pickup truck parked in the red zone down below:
Once I was inside the cabin, the Despicablimp set sail, taking me on a blissful ride above the city. The engine sounds were now accompanied by the creaking of boards and what sounded like sails flapping in the wind, adding a kind of steampunk twist to the experience. Here’s the sound file we used.
And on the dashboard was a can of Pepsi. (But we can dynamically change it into a Coke, a Mountain Dew, or any other brand.)
And down below…whoah!
Hello, glass-bottom cabin…
In short, it was a jaw-dropping, hugely fun, and unforgettable experience that gave me a strong, positive emotional connection with the upcoming Minions movie, while raising my awareness of the Despicable Me ride in the most visceral way possible.
And all of it was dynamically served and tracked end-to-end by the MediaSpike platform. And that means the blimp could easily become Goodyear, State Farm, or any other brand. The video on the big outdoor screen could be, well it could be any video. And so on.
All without any changes to the underlying game. No software release.
It’s pretty clear to me that virtual reality is going to be an amazing frontier for advertising. And it will finally deliver to digital a brand-friendly creative palette that not only matches, but greatly exceeds the possibilities of TV, allowing campaigns that are interactive, cinematic, and emotion-stirring.
I, for one, can hardly wait!
If you’d like to experience the future of digital advertising described in this post, we’ll be demoing it at the SVVR holiday party later this week.
And if you want to read more, here’s MediaSpike’s announcement blogpost (yes, also written by me), and well as coverage in VentureBeat by Dean Takahashi and in TechCrunch by Kyle Russell.