Viewers of Post Fruity Pebbles' virtual reality content will be sprayed with water guns and pummeled by dodgeballs in an immersive 30-second pre-roll spot beginning next week as part of the brand's lighthearted "Yabba Dabba Doo" campaign. The ad, which takes the viewer through a series of colorful, vibrant activities like painting a mural and jamming with a garage band, marks Post's first foray into the world of VR marketing and will run on multi-platform apps VirtualSky and StartApp.
What truly sets Pebbles' effort apart from other marketers' attempts at VR marketing is that it's a more guided, deliberately organized experience. Whereas many VR experiences "drop the user into an environment and let them explore" for an unlimited amount of time, Pebbles created an edited ad featuring 360 visuals, according to Brian Hurley, creative lead at agency
Mr. Hurley pitched the idea for a virtual reality spot as a natural extension of the "Yabba Dabba Doo" campaign, which he said centers on the notions of "going, creating, exploring, having fun and pushing yourself to do more than you normally would do." Venturing into the relatively uncharted territory of VR marketing, he said, is a reflection of the campaign's ethos.
Pebbles' Senior Brand Manager Oliver Perez said, "A bowl of Fruity Pebbles creates this kind of overload sensory experience, and VR does that exactly. That was kind of the parallel for us."
Of course, challenges arise when tackling such a new form of content creation. "When you [film] for virtual reality, a lot of those rules [for shooting traditional TV spots] go out the window. First off, you can't be anywhere near the camera at all -- if you can see the camera, the camera can see you," Mr. Hurley said, adding that the spot's director used a loudspeaker to communicate with the actors on set.
Additionally, producers of VR are less able to see playbacks of their takes, forcing them to "cross their fingers and then go into editorial and post-production hoping they got the shots they need," Mr. Hurley said. "It does take a little bit of faith and a little bit of luck, but that's what you sign up for when you work in emerging media like this."
Despite the challenges it presents in creation and production, virtual reality interests marketers in large part because it eliminates the viewer's external distractions. In order to make full use of the immersive element of the technology, media agency MediaVest/Spark, which helped Pebbles partner with distribution platforms for the spot, looked beyond Facebook (which recently acquired Oculus) and YouTube, which supports 360 video content.
Andrew Klein, associate director of social experience and custom products at MediaVest/Spark, said the ad's two distribution platforms -- applications called VirtualSky and StartApp -- require the user to wear a VR headset before the pre-roll content launches. Upon opening the apps, users are instructed to tilt their phone and place it into the a VR headset. Only then will the VR content be "triggered," Mr. Klein said.
"What this allowed us to do was the make sure that the audience was prepared to have a VR experience in the headset without having to use a mobile device to look around, and definitely not click and drag on a desktop, which kind of takes away that presence," he said.
Moreover, the virtual reality format affords marketers a plethora of feedback on impressions and guidance on how to optimize content. Both VirtualSky and StartApp use heat-tracking technology that records exactly where in a VR ad viewers are looking at a given time, allowing publishers to use that information as they further develop ads.
"Never before has any advertisement actually been able to measure 100% exactly where everyone is looking at the app," said Cameron Peebles, Chief Marketing Officer at VirtualSky. "So you can measure overall effectiveness and optimize your content by changing it [according to where viewers are and aren't looking]."
Mr. Peebles noted that in addition to heat tracking, VirtualSky gauges impressions on publishers' content by recording total views and total completed views (i.e. viewers who watched a full ad even after being given the option to skip it a few seconds in.)
Though these features of VR technology are clearly beneficial to marketers, the question remains how many potential Post cereal buyers are regularly viewing virtual reality content.
"I think with any new technology, the early adopters tend to be more tech-savvy, but we also know that even tech-savvy people have families and they have kids and they're eating breakfast. So this is a way for us to expand our targets and try and reach new demographics," Mr. Perez said, adding that given the increasing prevalence of Google Cardboard VR headsets, he expects the technology will eventually become popular in a mainstream way.
Virtual reality's lasting effect on advertising remains to be seen, but Mr. Perez is confident the technology will take strong hold in the industry.
"I kind of harken it to 15 to 20 years ago, when no one really thought you were going to be putting TV spots on the internet, and now we're kind of all used to pre-roll. I think that the role [of VR] could be going there depending on how quickly gets adopted," he said. "If VR really is here to stay, I think it's just one more channel that, as a marketer, you need to be aware of."