Ever since VR's 2016 revival, it seems we can't get away from talk about "futuristic" technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). What do these terms really mean and, more importantly, why should advertisers care?

Here's a brief overview of these three developing technologies and how they translate to native advertising.

AR and VR: What's the difference?

The terminology around AR and VR tech is often confused, and not without reason: Both technologies are used to alter a user's perception of reality, and both are commonly used for entertainment or productivity purposes. But there are some important differences that advertisers should be aware of.

Virtual reality (VR) is a digital simulation of a of real-life environment, in which the user's field of vision is completely immersed by the "other" reality. This virtual world is typically accessed via a headset or goggles. Notable VR products include Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and HTC Vive.

VR technology is commonly used for entertainment applications, such as gaming. However, it can also be used to re-create real-world scenarios for training purposes – flight or surgery simulations, for instance.

Augmented reality (AR) enhances a user's experience of the world around them by adding, or overlaying, virtual objects onto a real-world environment. For example, a user might look through the camera on their mobile phone and see virtual creatures, as in the case of Pokémon Go.

Many AR apps are more practical in nature, helping users solve everyday problems such as translating foreign-language text or easily testing new furniture layouts in their homes. The most common type of AR technology is built into apps and associated with QR codes. A user can then activate the AR experience using the camera on their mobile phone. More advanced examples of AR tech include augmented and mixed reality computing platforms, such as Microsoft HoloLens and Google Glass.

Uses of VR in native advertising

VR technology opens up a new world of possibilities, allowing advertisers to showcase their products in exciting and memorable ways within the context of imaginary universes. The future of VR includes the following types of native ads:
  • Ads that blend into a player's virtual surroundings, such as billboard ads in a racing game
  • Products – such as food, clothing, or cars – that are used by the player or other characters in a game
  • Brand-sponsored levels or character upgrades within a game
In VR, players can interact with products and "try them out" in an alternate universe before buying them in real life. With the addition of haptic feedback, users will even be able to "feel" products instead of just seeing and hearing them, adding to the memorability of the experience. As the technology advances, advertisers will be able to personalize ads on an individual level based on data associated with the user's headset.

The mainstream adoption of in-VR advertising isn't a distant reality. The International Data Corporation estimates that shipments of VR headset devices will reach 99.4 million units in 2021 – almost 10 times as many as were shipped in 2016.

Uses of AR in native advertising

With the possibilities of VR limited only by the developer's imagination, it's easy to see its potential. But AR offers a lot of exciting possibilities as well.

Unlike VR ads, which are native to digital environments such as computers, AR ads are native to our real-world surroundings. This allows advertisers to target consumers in an endless variety of everyday situations. The future of in-AR native advertising includes:

  • Virtual product tours at physical business locations
  • 3D product advertisements
  • Products or logos "superimposed" over people and objects
  • Sponsored videos connected to specific landmarks, such as tourist destinations
With AR, brands will be empowered to add value and entertainment to a user's daily experiences, anywhere and at any time. Using the data attached to a user's mobile device, advertisers will be able to target AR ads according to a user's preferences as well as their real-time actions.

Below is an example of a highly successful in-AR campaign by the Australian wine brand 19 Crimes. Users with the 19 Crimes app installed on their phones could hover their camera over the wine labels, and the historical figure on the label would begin to speak.

19 Crimes Wine Augmented Reality

Native advertising and artificial intelligence (AI)

Once considered the stuff of science fiction novels, artificial intelligence has become an integral part of programmatic advertising – and it's still in its early stages of potential. AI technology works by combining data with sophisticated algorithms to continually build upon its knowledge base. It can solve complex problems based on incomplete data, and it allows us to process huge amounts of data and apply it in practical ways. And it can do all of this at incredible speed.

AI is already making significant headway into the digital advertising arena. Programmatic relies on a form of AI called machine learning technology, which makes ongoing, automated optimization of campaigns possible.

Another application of AI currently on the rise is semantic targeting, which allows ad platforms to contextually evaluate the content of a webpage based on semantics and sentiment, rather than the keywords it contains. Using semantic targeting, advertisers can match ads to closely related editorial content. This means that the native ads of the future won't just match the editorial look of surrounding content, but also nuances like tone, subject matter, and sentiment. As it becomes more sophisticated, here are just a few more benefits AI has to offer to advertisers:

  • Precision targeting based on larger datasets encompassing criteria like beliefs, social behaviors, and actions
  • Automation of manual tasks such as assembling advertising creatives, bid setting, and reporting. Advertisers will be able to scale with ease, running and optimizing many campaigns at once.
  • Help with decision making, including what channels to use and at what times of day. AI will also calculate probability scores based on how likely it is for users to engage or convert.
As VR, AR, and AI technologies continue to progress, advertisers should be aware of the implications for the native advertising landscape. By staying on top of the latest developments in tech, advertisers can maintain a competitive advantage.