With the completion of the Oculus deal, Facebook has possibly signalled the advent of the next big wave of digital advertising; one that has been impossible to miss: smart wearables, the Internet of Things, Google Glass and so on. It would be silly, though, to assume they had not already been hard at work.
The current movement might be described as the process of the internet leaking into "real life" – the digital signals and constructs that have shaped our online lives influencing more and more how we understand supposedly non-digital things. It cannot be long before places themselves move into this prism of thinking.
In the meantime, Facebook wants to own every major mode of one-to-one communication: text; audio; image; video; and virtual. Its aggressive acquisition strategy is about cementing its place ahead of competitors before they even become competition. In this way, it is not dissimilar to Google’s purchase of YouTube or Twitch – the difference being the level of risk involved.
The opportunities for advertising here are compelling, and also fairly clear: sponsorship and experiential, I imagine, would be the quickest movers, followed closely by some kind of display product.
To say there "might" be advertising seems a touch coy from a company whose motto has been "move fast and break things" and which has a penchant for testing every idea it can think of. But for Facebook to make an actual ads product – instead of paid partnerships – it would need it to really work.
Marketers will need to see what can really be done before adapting this work to commercial ends
However, these early concepts are just that: early. It is worth remembering that the paid social space evolves so fast as to make what we had a year ago look neolithic. What we have already, such as in-app display and incentivised media, will likely survive in spirit – but execution will have to change. The more interesting question is about when and where exactly "in the room" becomes about being "in the space": it’s one thing to be tied to a rotational video feed at a concert or sporting event, but quite another to occupy a fully virtual space.
This is where gaming comes in. Oculus Rift was built for gaming and it will certainly be where the ingenuity will be found first. Marketers will need to watch very closely to see what can really be done, before adapting this work to commercial ends. The UK enjoys some of the best developers in the world, but bringing in the right resource and producing work befitting our clients in such an environment as virtual reality will require a dedication to creativity that we must take seriously.
Perhaps our ideas about what is creative and what is advert will be even more blurred in a decade. Either way, Facebook and Oculus Rift have kick-started a technology that could signal a major change in how we think about everything – our work, our worlds and ourselves.
Ben Wood is the global president at iProspect
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