Virtual advertising: a glimpse into the future

30 April 2024. Published by Elizabeth Alibhai, Partner and Lola Akinloye, Associate

What is happening? 

Virtual advertising and experiences are transforming the way real world property can be used by turning it into a canvas for digital content. 
In our October 2023 White Paper, together with our client, Darabase, we discussed the legal considerations arising as virtual advertising and PDRs develop; which span all of property, advertising, data protection and intellectual property law (RPC’s White Paper here). In this article, we focus on property law and the implications of these developments for retailers and consumer brands who own or occupy property. 

Why does it matter?

Virtual advertising can give an immersive, multi-layered advertising experience to consumers while also leaving real world property untouched. 
The use of real world property in a virtual context is derivative of the legal and regulatory framework in the real world. The owners of a building itself and the intellectual property in its designs have the primary right to licence its use. However, numerous third parties – the planning authority, central government, individual right holders etc control what advertisements can be placed on it. 

If a property is instead used within a device – such as a phone or a pair of smart glasses – the place-making and other location-based sensitivities underlying these controls fall away, bringing exciting new opportunities. 

It would also be a mistake to underestimate the potential of using a property for immersive experiences and advertising. Brands are already starting to utilise tools, for example to allow customers to place furniture in real world environments, to improve customer experience. 
There is also significant asset value attached to advertising inventory, based on incremental revenue generated. For example, Landsec’s Piccadilly Lights screen in London currently has an asset value of over £200m, making it one of Landsec’s most valuable assets, larger than many office and retail properties they own.

A permission-based system? 

The key question however is: “how will we protect PDRs and regulate the use of virtual billboards?” 

In England and Wales, HM Land Registry registers the ownership of important interests in land and property. The register is recognised across the world for its high degree of accuracy which underpins the success of the property marketplace and resultant property values. 

  • However there has been no consistent and easy way to register and sell PDRs. 
  • In our White Paper, we explore how a similar registration system could work for the registration of PDRs and look at what the first movers are doing. The “property digital title” in a property can be equated to the title of a physical property, as registered with the Land Registry. Property owners can then use their property digital title to assert ownership of a property for the purposes of placing virtual advertising, record whether they allow third party immersive advertising to be associated with their property, and whether they reserve the property for their own immersive content or whether they block any immersive content from being displayed. 
  • This way property owners can generate a revenue stream with their virtual advertising space, while also taking an important first step to ensuring that only appropriate content is displayed on, or in connection with, their property.

What action should you consider?

This is a fast-moving area and there is still some way to go in the development of a fully secure and reliable PDR registry. However businesses can and should: 

  • Consider what location-based immersive experiences and adverts to offer to enhance the experience and loyalty of their customer base, and 
  • consider registering their properties on a digital advertising platform, and what content they would permit, in order to take advantage of this new revenue stream.


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