What Brands Should Know About Facebook's New Virtual Reality Web Browser

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Mark Zuckerberg showed off new virtual reality software at the Oculus event on Thursday.
Mark Zuckerberg showed off new virtual reality software at the Oculus event on Thursday. Credit: Oculus VR via Twtich
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Marketers are already jumping into Carmel, the new virtual reality web browser that Facebook showed off at its Oculus Connect conference on Thursday.

Ford has developed VR and 360-degree video stories that take viewers inside world-famous races. That fits the style of storytelling that many brands have latched onto to enter VR.

"Brands are definitely thinking of virtual reality and augmented reality," said Noah Mallin, head of social at MEC North America. "Mark Zuckerberg has made it really clear this is a priority for Facebook. So if it is for Facebook, we have to take it seriously."

Facebook has been doing yearly Oculus events ever since it bought the virtual reality headset in 2014 for $2 billion, calling it the platform of the future. It finally went on sale this year for $600.

At the Oculus event, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg presented some of the new software for the device, including the virtual reality web browser, which means developers and brands can build sites, not just apps that require downloading.

It's one of the advances that brands and marketers think will help make the technology more accessible. Here's what advertisers need to know about the future of virtual reality on display at Thursday's Oculus conference.

What's in store?

Well, consumers will be, Facebook hopes. Devices like Oculus or Google's new Daydream View, a headset that works with a phone inserted, will be able to take people into the shopping aisles of stores via VR websites in Carmel.

"A big-box store could jumpstart its e-commerce business," Mr. Mallin said. "It could recreate an in-store experience, so it's as if you are shopping but it's all happening virtually."

Until now consumers would have had to download the store's VR experience. "You create the possibility for brands to build immersive environments," Mr. Mallin said.

Virtual Burning Man

The social network also is building a social hangout spot in virtual reality, where people have avatars and can play games like chess. For now the virtual chill sessions are for up to 8 people, but it could get more interesting when more people get involved.

"You could have a conference in virtual reality as brand," Mr. Mallin said. "It's a way for people to have branded experiences that are surround experiences."

The product placement game

There are one million people playing virtual reality already, and many of them are gamers, the first adopters. Facebook showed off plenty of new games from studios building on the platform.

Mr. Mallin said that there were efforts under way in the ad tech space to standardize ad formats that could be served into these types of environments -- games and other activities. Brands want a standardized way to get their virtual reality ads into the picture.

There could be technology that would automate product placement, say putting a soft drink maker into a game, Mr. Mallin said. "Companies are looking at how you could do standardized ad insertion into VR environments," Mr. Mallin said.