Seventeen years ago, The Blair Witch Project revolutionized movie marketing by turning an indie horror film into a blockbuster with a low-budget viral campaign. Now, just ahead of the third installment of the franchise on Sept. 16, Lionsgate wants to conjure some of the same promotional magic with an edgy VR trailer that will immerses fans in 90 seconds of intrigue and terror.
The campaign is the first to come out of Vertebrae, a VR and 360-degree video startup. With $10 million in backing, the Los Angeles-based shop is one example of a growing number of startups experimenting with new ad platforms. Brands and their agencies increasingly are testing the limits of VR and 360 mobile video ad formats on publishers' sites as audiences grow weary of banners and preroll.
OmniVirt, a 9-month-old Silicon Valley VR and 360 ad and distribution platform, recently launched a 360 ad for the fast-food chain Jack in the Box on Twitch, adding to a string of campaigns powered by OmniVirt's platform. Others include 360 video campaigns for The New York Times, Vice and AOL.
"One thing I'm seeing here relative to the early YouTube days is actually a lot more investment from brands, agencies and publishers," said OmniVirt co-founder Michael Rucker, who spent seven years at YouTube before starting his company. "The creative asset piece is still new, but I've actually seen every brand creating content."
Meanwhile, ad-tech companies are busy developing new formats to support the VR push. In July, native video ad platform Teads unveiled its first 360 video ad format. Digital ad company Undertone, which launched its own 360 format last year, is seeing much interest from clients, said co-founder Eric Franchi.
"What's pretty clear to me is that in a world that is increasingly mobile and in a world that has all these options, 360 is a great step into really immersive, really interesting ad experiences," Franchi added. "If you couple that capability with great creative, we're seeing some fantastic examples of how it's being done. So I don't think it's a tomorrow thing, it's a today thing."
Brands that are already using 360 ads say they are happy with the results.
Working with Finnish ad-tech company Kiosked, Hong Kong Airlines created a 360-degree video view of the airline's business class cabin. Over a period of a couple of weeks, programmatic ad buys conducted by MEC led to more than 500,000 views. The campaign delivered results 35 times more effective and viewing lengths nine times greater than traditional display ads.
Antony Yiu, MEC head of digital for North Asia, said the campaign's conversion rate was higher than anything he's ever done with video on YouTube or Facebook.
Said Yiu: "I think it's part of the demand from the people having more control in terms of what they can experience and look at. That actually drives the demand of more people looking to use 360 as a way or a format to communicate with the target audience."
This story first appeared in the September 12, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.