Nokia touts future of virtual reality ads... but who's the audience?

Can you pick up product, examine it from all sides? Not yet

Opinion Nokia has premiered what it calls a first-of-its-kind immersive virtual reality advertising experience for its new line of digital health products. The advert is hitting two Nokia birds with one virtual stone: the ad shows off Nokia’s own burgeoning line of VR content creating hardware – the OZO camera – and its suite of digital health products.

Nokia claims it’s advancing advertising, and the prospect of VR ecommerce with the new spot by “allowing consumers to not only discover Nokia’s new digital health products and solutions, but to interact with them and, in a first for VR, make purchases directly through an immersive experience.”

Indeed, retail is one of the key verticals where VR seems likely to make a huge impact. Shoppers can enjoy the benefits of shopping from home, but with the added benefit of being able to better examine the products using VR.

Augmented reality will be even more useful, where shoppers can overlay potential purchases into real world environments, like making sure a new couch fits in the living room, or even seeing how a new dress may look. The new VR ad, created by agency Brandwidth, doesn’t do any of that, though.

The ad takes the viewer around different rooms of a house, where the viewer can watch a family go about their daily lives using various connected health products. Then, at the end of the ad, the viewer has the opportunity to learn more about each product and maybe purchase it.

Nokia’s CMO Rob Le Bras-Brown said he believes VR-embedded purchases will become inevitable, as VR is the marketer’s dream for brand engagement. Matt Littler, Brandwidth’s head of moving image, said the VR ad and its e-commerce ending “marks a shift in advertising. Gone is the ‘created’ reality of standard media. Now we have a far deeper level of truth, that we invite you to see the products in real time, first hand.”

As far as the Nokia ad is concerned, that’s really only half true. Instead, the viewer gets to see how this family is using these products from a distance, without the viewer getting to see the products themselves up close. It should also be noted that Nokia’s VR ad is technically a 360-degree video ad. A truly VR ad – so promises the industry, at least – will be immersive and interactive. That means consumers should be able to pick up the product and examine it from all sides, at the very least, if they can’t actually try a virtual version of it.

The difference is that this ad can be watched on a desktop computer, or a mobile phone – no head-mounted display (HMD) needed. That’s good because HMD sales are still struggling. In Q1 2017, PC-based VR headsets sold a paltry 159,000; while mobilebased sets (like Google Daydream and Samsung GearVR) sold 952,000, according to SuperData Research.

Nokia’s ad was filmed using its own OZO+ 360-degree camera and software. Nokia unveiled the camera and accompanying video processing and production software at the start of 2016, making it one of the first professional-grade VR cameras capable of live streaming VR content.

The camera has since been used in a number of high profile events, such as former US president Barack Obama’s farewell speech. But the $60,000 camera hasn’t gained much penetration yet among the professional studios filming VR content. Somehow, GoPro has managed to gain significant market share among content creators filming VR video, perhaps because GoPro cameras are cheaper and more rugged.

To help gain customers for its VR camera and software solutions, Nokia partnered with Accedo earlier this year to integrate the OZO SDK with Accedo’s suite of VR products, and likely to gain access to some of Accedo’s customer base. Accedo’s content partners include Netflix, NBC Universal, Fox, HBO and Disney.

Nokia is hoping that VR advertising, and by extension demand for its VR products, will expand in the coming year. The big question is how, exactly? VR headset applications remain limited to gaming and entertainment. The entertainment proposition seems particularly unstable, as watching a two-plus hour movie with a pair of goggles on doesn’t actually offer an improved viewer experience.

How will advertising be incorporated into gaming in the short term? And won’t those ads only be delivered to an extremely niche audience of gamers? Will gamers be interested in things like an Internet-connected thermometer that tracks a baby’s fever? Probably not.

And will there ever be a world in which all types of consumers have VR headsets that they put on when they want to watch advertisements? Probably not. So while the potential for VR and AR technologies to transform advertising may exist, the use case for delivering ads to wider audiences on these devices doesn’t, at least not yet.

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