Marketing in the digital age can often feel like plate spinning. Just as soon as you get comfortable enough with a new piece of technology to effectively bed it into your marketing campaigns, another will emerge as the 'next big thing' and demand attention. It's the job of marketers, then, to anticipate which of these myriad emerging technologies are worth investing in, and being tech literate enough to put them to work. One of the latest of these is 360 content, specifically video, which is becoming more prominent thanks to 360 cameras hitting the consumer market. You will have seen them on social media, as publishers experiment with what is an underdeveloped format right now.
Facebook is pushing the technology particularly eagerly. On top of giving prominence to 360 video on its timeline, in essence rewarding users for creating and sharing it, Facebook is actively piling resources into becoming *the* platform for 360 video hosting. Last year, the tech giant made it possible for users to live-stream 360 video on Facebook, and in April 2018 it rolled out 360-degree photos on its Messenger app. The photos currently need to be captured outside of Messenger itself, but Facebook is actively encouraging its users to share 360 content by working to support it.
Clearly, the drive for 360-degree content is related to the growth of VR as a medium. Truly, the only way to properly enjoy 360-video is to view it through a headset, otherwise you end up awkwardly dragging your mouse or thumb over the video to see it from a series of different angles - it's hardly a fluid experience. And so 360 video is beholden to the success of VR if it's to have mainstream appeal. It also requires a 360 camera to produce, which, at their current price, will be unlikely purchases for most Facebook users. It seems probable, then, that 360 video will be something brands produce as part of their drive to have the most original and engaging content on any given platform. It's easy to imagine marketing executives getting excited by the prospect of a fresh digital medium, but is there any evidence to suggest that piling money into 360 will see a return?
Well, yes. For every 360 video that VR ad company Omnivert ran last November, it identified a 2D video of similar length. To ensure that differences in performance were not down to 'bad creative' - and, ultimately, to make its self-serving study creditable - it chose the invariable quality of Super Bowl commercials as its test group. It targeted skippable pre-roll video inventory across the same set of targeted websites for both creatives, while evaluating video-completion-rates, cost-per-completed view, and cost-per-conversion. The results were fairly conclusive, with 360 outperforming regular 2D video against the key metric of video completion rate (VCR). On average, the VCR for 360 video was 85%, a solid 46% improvement over the 2D videos which had an average of 58.2%. Similarly positive results were seen when 360 display ads were weighed up against standard 2D display ads. It's unclear how much of this disparity is down to curiosity over what is a new medium for many, but there is enough there to suggest that brands could benefit from investing in 360 video.
Even so, as with all new technologies, there is no use in diving in headfirst just because that's what you see others doing. Just as brands need to decide whether Instagram is the place for them - B2B SaaS companies? Probably not. Footwear brands? Probably - businesses should evaluate whether the story they are trying to tell is appropriate for 360 video. If the story your brand is trying to tell could be made immersive, then it will feel natural to experience it in VR, otherwise it will feel like another shoehorned piece of digital marketing. Ultimately, it'll be the more playful brands that are successful with 360 video; very few people will strap on their VR headsets for a tutorial about a new Cloud service.
One successful use of 360 video came last year, when Sony put together a 'snackable' 10-second ad for its thriller 'Don't Breathe'. The ad put the viewer right into the middle of the action, into the claustrophobic space inhabited by the movie's characters. The company claims the use of 360 greatly increased engagement; initial tests apparently showed that people spent an average of two minutes with the ad, a remarkable figure on mobile. But there are teething problems with 360 despite the encouraging engagement metrics. A relatively high cost isn't matched by particularly high-quality videos at present, and this is something that will have to improve to keep audiences interested in 360 video as the format grows.
So should your brand be interested in the development of 360 video as a medium? It depends. Just as with any technology, being an early adopter is only worthwhile if your product makes sense on the platform. While the hardware is still relatively expensive and the video quality is still relatively poor, it'll be left to number of imaginative brands to explore what is possible with 360 video. Until VR headsets become mainstream household items, viewing the videos will be awkward for most people, too. So, despite 360 video offering clear boosts in engagement metrics, it's perhaps one for the future for most brands.