Is Branded Virtual Reality Content the Next Frontier in Marketing? - Wall Street Journal

By Jack Marshall June 23, 2016 1:00 p.m. ET

Two of the shiniest objects in marketing in 2016 are branded content and virtual reality, so its no surprise that the two collided during the Cannes Lions advertising festival in France this week.

VR was a popular talking point among ad agency executives, tech companies such as Samsung were demonstrating their latest hardware, and online services such as YouTube were showcasing the content now available on their platforms.

Publishers and media companies also were joining in, pitching marketers on the idea of branded virtual reality content, which they hope to produce and distribute on behalf of paying brands in the latest frontier for marketing.

Salespeople and VR experts from Gannetts USA Today Network, for example, spent time this week demonstrating a sizzle reel for its upcoming weekly VR show called VRtually There, as well as branded VR content its already produced for companies such as Honda.

It also demonstrated a new VR ad unit it created, which its calling a cubemercial, that effectively places the viewer inside a virtual-reality room. Brands will be given the opportunity to showcase videos or products on each of the cubes six sides, said Gannetts chief revenue officer, Kevin Gentzel.

Weve been showing this to industry leaders throughout the week and weve been seeing a great reception, Mr. Gentzel said, although no brands have yet committed to a trial with the unit.

The company said it recently signed a deal with a new client to create three new pieces of branded VR content, due to be published across its network of sites and properties later this summer.

Meanwhile, AOLs recently acquired VR production company RYOT was also in Cannes touting its own content creation capabilities.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said RYOT had taken meetings with multiple marketers and agencies over the course of the festival and expects to sign deals as a result.

Elsewhere, publishers were picking up accolades for their VR efforts at the Cannes Lions awards ceremonies. T Brand Studio, the brand marketing unit of the New York Times, NYT 1.02 % won a Mobile Grand Prix prize on Wednesday for the newspapers virtual reality app, NYT VR.

Since launching in November, NYT VR has been downloaded 600,000 times, the company said, and has featured branded films for both GE and Mini.

Write to Jack Marshall at Jack.Marshall@wsj.com

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