Immersive Promotional Media is a three-year (2018-2021) research project funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Grant. The project investigates the aesthetic, narrative and affective connections between IPM, brands and consumers. Using interviews with producers and focus groups with consumers it aims to paint a clearer picture of what immersive promotional media are, their role within media marketing strategies, who they benefit and in what ways.

Immersive technologies (virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), haptics) and experiences have received an increasing amount of attention and funding in both public and private sectors over the past 5 years. 2017 saw the launch of the AHRC & ESPRC Immersive Call made a total of £2m available to collaborative projects between academic researchers and industry partners.

This formed part of wider investment as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Audiences of the Future programme, a £33m fund to support research and development of new products and services that exploit immersive technologies. This public funding indicates the perceived importance of immersive media to the UK’s Creative Economy.

Immerse UK‘s 2018 Report for Innovate UK on the UK’s Immersive Economy indicates there are 1,000 immersive-specialist companies in the UK employing around 4,500 people and generating £660m in sales, potentially representing as much as 9% of the global market share.

UK government strategists predict the global immersive market will be worth over £30bn by 2025.

PWC predicts the UK’s VR industry will grow at a faster rate than any other entertainment and media industry between 2016 to 2021, reaching £801 million in value. By 2021 there will be 16 million VR headsets in use in the UK.

Other estimates vary but the numbers are all big:

  • Goldman Sachs – global market could be worth $95bn (£73bn) in 2025
  • TechCrunch – VR & AR will be worth $108bn (£83bn) in 2021
  • Citi – $569bn (Nearly £438bn) in 2025.

Promotion and advertising have already seen investment in immersive strategies. Both are increasingly regarded as a creative endeavours (see Cannes Lions Awards) but remain firmly commercial arenas. Films, games, TV series and consumer products as diverse as vodka and automobiles have been promoted using immersive techniques and technologies, including: VR, AR, alternate reality games and live immersive experiences.

These new media forms lend themselves to marketing strategies – their sheer novelty creates PR buzz. This project looks beyond the initial excitement that often surrounds ‘new’ media and takes a more critically evaluative approach to the dynamics of immersive promotional media (IPM). As marketers explore the various modes of engagement available, there is little clarity about the aesthetic, narrative and affective connections developing between IPM, brands and consumers, and their impact within an increasingly convergent media landscape. Immersive media may function and be received very differently when deployed in specifically promotional spaces. Yet little is known about the effectiveness and/or impact of these highly creative innovations operating in complex commercial environments, where mulitple stakeholders may mean conflicts in terms of expectations and what the promotional products can actually deliver.

This research project therefore seeks to answer five key research questions about the role of IPM in the contemporary media landscape:

  1. What are immersive promotional media? As more technologies and marketing strategies start to emerge, the terminology becomes increasingly vague. What does immersive marketing encompass and what does it exclude?
  2. Do these strategies establish significantly new aesthetic, narrative and affective experiences and relationships between consumers, brands and marketers?
  3. If so, what is the nature of these new relationships and how are they established?
  4. What value does this hold for consumers and producers? Who benefits from these new configurations of texts and experiences, and in what way?
  5. What is at stake when we invite audiences to become ‘immersed’ not only in a piece of storytelling or narrative world, but in something which is (explicitly or otherwise) a piece of branded content? What are the textual, ethical, financial and regulatory implications of this mode of address?