Microsoft Maps Out Virtual Ad Medium

NEW YORK Three-dimensional mapping technology has advanced to provide an increasingly realistic virtual view of the urban landscape. Now it will become even more lifelike with the addition of billboards.

Microsoft is adding advertiser messages to the cityscape as users zip through its new Virtual Earth 3D technology that combines photo images and modeling to create realistic representations of cities. Microsoft is making Virtual Earth 3D part of its Live Search offering.

Nissan, 20th Century Fox, Zip Realty and John L. Scott are the first advertisers to run virtual out-of-home placements on the 3-D maps.

Microsoft is providing the new ad options as part of the release of 3-D models for 15 major U.S. cities, which it plans to expand to more locations.

The billboards are served dynamically using the ad-insertion technology Microsoft gained through its acquisition in May of Massive, which runs similar placements in video games. The placements are meant to imitate roadside billboards.

20th Century Fox is promoting Eragon, a fantasy-action movie due for release in December, in billboards running atop buildings in Virtual San Francisco.

Ads have begun to infiltrate virtual experiences, from video games to Second Life, as advertisers seek new ways to reach consumers. Google Earth does not show any advertiser billboards, but the company has struck deals with companies like Saturn to use the technology in campaigns.