NEW YORK: Content delivered in virtual reality (VR) format produces significantly higher levels of emotional engagement than the same material shown in flat environments, according to new research.

A study by ad tech firm YuMe and research firm Nielsen used neuroscience techniques to gauge 150 participants' emotional responses to a clip from an entertainment advertiser and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), which they experienced in three distinct environments: an immersive VR experience on a headset, a 360-degree video on a tablet, and video on a conventional, flat screen TV.

VR elicited 27% higher emotional engagement than in a 2D environment and 17% higher emotional engagement than a 360-degree video on a flat screen, the study found.

And VR viewers were emotionally engaged 34% longer than when they viewed the same content in 2D and 16% longer than when they watched it in 360-degree video on a flat screen.

But the nature of VR – viewers are in control of their own experience – means that attention is easily diverted to aspects in view, such as scenery and landmarks, and away from the primary storyline.

"Guided exploration is critical for brands to convey their message and leverage branding opportunities,” the report noted.

That in turn raises new challenges for content directors, who will have to adopt new techniques rather than rely on what works in a linear environment.

"Advertisers need to artfully balance freedom of exploration and storyline flow in new immersive environments to deliver highly engaging viewer experiences,” explained Stephanie Gaines, VP/Corporate Marketing at YuMe.

The findings "reinforce why we believe virtual reality is the future of vacation planning”, added Cathy Tull, SVP of Marketing for the LVCVA.

"Users are able to explore what Las Vegas has to offer in a virtual setting and gain the excitement needed to book their own Las Vegas adventure.”

Data sourced from YuMe; additional content by Warc staff