To promote the second season of “Mars”—a science-fiction show produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer—National Geographic is venturing where no brand has ever dared go before: programmatic virtual reality ads.
Ahead of next week’s premiere, NatGeo is partnering with Verizon-owned Oath (soon to be: Verizon Media Group/Oath) on a campaign that inserts ads into several VR games, placed on billboards, walls and other surfaces inside of several titles.
“It’s no different than how we look at it in the real world,” said Dennis Camlek, NatGeo’s executive vice president of strategy and consumer marketing. “[In VR], if you look around and see Mars marketing hitting people in a real-world [format], it makes you kind of stop in your tracks a bit.”
The ads—which will run through Nov. 18 in Out of Universe, Skyfront and Jurassic VR—show up within the existing VR landscape of each game. The deal marks the first time Oath has found a buyer for its new VR offering, which it announced this summer at Cannes Lions. The technology is powered by the supply-side platform Admix along with BidSwitch and Oath’s own demand-side platform. And just like regular programmatic ads, it targets users based on their interest in tech—especially if they are among an “affluent” demographic, said Jeff Lucas, Oath’s head of sales Americas.
The VR campaign is just part of a larger push across a number of media including online, television and out-of-home ads. On Monday night, NatGeo partnered with the show “Jeopardy!” to make an entire column of questions related to Mars. (NatGeo said it didn’t pay the show anything for the placement.) And later this week, marketing for “Mars” will wrap the subway shuttle that goes between Times Square and Grand Central Station in Manhattan, appearing on both the inside and exterior of train cars all month in hopes of catching the eyes of New Yorkers and everyone visiting the city for the holiday season.
As for television, NatGeo began running ads earlier than normal to give the show a longer lead time, starting with the MLB games in the summer along with networks such as Fox News, FX, Fox Sports and NatGeo itself.
This isn’t the first time NatGeo has used VR to promote “Mars.” Ahead of its first season two years ago, NatGeo built an exhibit in lower Manhattan that let visitors try VR while going on a ride that simulated what it might be like to land on Mars, as they were lifted up and down by a robotically controlled cable system. In another room, they could put on a headset while walking on an anti-gravity treadmill equipped with technology used by astronauts to simulate walking on the the red planet.
Asked about whether VR spending has gone up, Camlek said NatGeo’s VR spending has been at an “appropriate level” and similar to last year. However, “Mars” isn’t the only show for which it’s created immersive media. For its “Genius” franchise last year, it built an exhibit at South by Southwest in Austin, where NatGeo used both VR and augmented reality to help visitors see inside the mind of the show’s subject: Albert Einstein.
For “One Strange Rock”—another series created by Darren Aronofsky about Earth—it created custom-made helmets that let people view the planet from 360 degrees to understand what the planet might look like from the perspective of space.
“It depends on the show,” Camlek said. “I think we have shows where VR makes a lot of sense and others where I don’t think a VR tactic is something that we want to do.”