“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In this case, that enemy is the looming presence of virtual reality overshadowing even the most widely used media platforms—Facebook & YouTube. When you log into your account with either of these two interfaces, you’re faced with varying options, but one similarity is glaringly obvious. You’re still staring at a screen. Nothing is augmented about the experience, except for maybe the size of the screen you’re viewing. The fact is, it’s still a screen, but it’s the user experiences generated by these platforms that keep viewers coming back.

It’s even more apparent that driving user engagement through interactivity heightens the number of daily active users exponentially, so why change something that’s already working? Are viewers getting bored with video? Do audience members need to exist entirely in a virtual space to truly feel engaged? The concept of immersive content is being redefined with the addition of virtual reality to brand marketing, and marketers aren’t sure how to use this technology to draw viewers away from interactive video. After all, we just figured out interactive video—why should we already have to learn an entirely new medium of content marketing? VR and video are two halves of the same whole, but each serves its own significant purpose in content marketing.

With video, it’s view, click, and purchase

Brands are rushing to the endgame and trying to crossover virtual with traditional interactive media, and quite honestly it’s confusing consumers. While millennial viewers and younger audiences tend to adapt more quickly to changing technology, other consumer demographics aren’t so sure about the level in which they’re being immersed into advertising and product marketing. Customers don’t like being told that they have to buy a headset to experience an ad, or do things a certain way to reap the full benefits of a promotional offer. Most digital consumers still firmly believe in a traditional three-part video advertising system: view, click, and purchase. Although virtual reality requires little to no actual “clicking,” the manner in which content is presented is that much more overwhelming to intended buyers.

Too many CTAs confuses viewers

Online video offers short to-the-point marketing, usually no more than 30-seconds in length. It gets the job done in the shortest amount of time possible. It’s likely that with virtual reality we will see more branded entertainment interspersed with chunks of VR sponsored content along with more seamless brand integrations within stories. Seamless integration is possible with both facets of media tech, both relying on calls-to-action immersed within the content to explore further options, but interactive video relies more on a storytelling model to drive the point home for buyers. Virtual reality, on the other hand, offers almost too many options that could easily distract and confuse users from the intended brand offering. When users explore the virtual space, they’re guided through it by interactive prompts, but by augmenting the ad space into a virtual world, viewers can easily get lost.

Cater to viewer relevance

Everything is amplified with virtual reality, but the downside to greater audience stimulation is that fatigue from advertising within VR will also be amplified. If brands are testing a product or promoting new features on a new or existing offering, then virtual reality could come in handy. It’s hard to ignore the fact that VR can literally create a virtual showroom for consumers interested in a line of products, but the options for marketability beyond that are pretty limited. How-to videos still dominate YouTube searches, and watching videos for training and certification is still the norm for a majority of big brands and companies. The idea of strapping into a virtual experience just isn’t what most shoppers have in mind, but rather looking at a screen and “window shopping” is still the go-to format for digital consumers.

VR is just a catch-all for interactive

In most cases, the term “virtual reality” is just a catch all phrase used in place of “interactive.” Virtual reality has been around since the 90s, only now the technology has finally caught up with the goal of looking and feeling like the real world. It refers to being connected to another digital environment through sensory devices, and unless you’re fully immersed in the VR realm, it’s not technically virtual reality. 360-degree video, augmented or mixed reality (like Pokémon Go), and personal viewers or screens are not virtual reality. In fact, they’re all varying forms of interactive video. Smart glasses flopped when they advertised first person viewability but in fact they did not produce an AR-style overlay to the real world—just quicker transitions between your viewpoint and screen. When all is said and done, the end user experience is still dependent on a screen. Until advertisers can figure out how to incorporate VR into everyday web traffic, video will continue to triumph across a broader range of target audiences and industries.

(Originally published via LinkedIn Pulse on August 18, 2016)


Max Greenwood is the manager & director of social media for Tivi: Truly Interactive Video, a radical new online video platform incorporating interactivity into live and on-demand video content