New twists come to 360-degree video marketing

Highly visible campaigns from KLM, Club Med, Marriott and now Hilton are breaking new ground in interactive video content. Andrew Hennigan reports

When low cost virtual reality headsets, YouTube support and off-the-shelf camera hardware hit the market in 2015 EyeforTravel predicted that 360-degree video content would become a mainstream tool for the travel industry (Virtual Reality on Road to Becoming Mainstream, EyeforTravel, September 2015).

Fast forward just six months and this technology is already commonplace, with highly-visible campaigns by companies like KLM, Club Med Resorts, Marriott Hotels and many others, allowing people to experience the experience of standing on a beach, diving a tropical reef or simply viewing the interior of a new airplane.

But there is still space for new ideas, both in technology support and marketing strategy. On the technology front, in April 2016 Google added live streaming capability for 360-degree video to their YouTube channel. The idea was to create opportunities to replicate Periscope-like live-stream experiences in full 360-degree immersion.  This new YouTube technology was demonstrated at the Coachella Festival last month and is available for anyone with a suitable VR camera to live stream content.

YouTube also added ‘spatial audio’ for the live-streamed video, helping to create the illusion of actually being at the source of the video stream. What is more, it also makes it easier for people to interact with the 360-experience, giving audible cues about which direction to look. This year early adopters will be testing new campaigns based on live experiences, a 3D equivalent of Royal Caribbean’s 2015 ‘Come Seek’ Periscope live video campaign.

Hilton’s new concept

On the marketing front, Hilton Hotels and Resorts demonstrated another new concept in a new 360-degree video campaign, which launched in April.  With this campaign Hilton takes viewers on a virtual vacation using technology from Opera Mediaworks. Beginning with a short scripted video ad, the campaign then leads into a so-called ‘end card’ which invites users to view 360-degree video content simply by moving and tilting their smartphone. 

The interactive part is set at the Hilton Barbados Resort and presents viewers with a series of stages in the story – the ocean from inside a sea cave, a beach from a guestroom balcony and a jungle walk. After the interactive video, the user returns to the end card, a key moment for the customer. Why? Because at the point when they are most motivated to visit the resort, they are prompted with a ‘book now’ button.

While booking is not the main focus of the campaign, and the interactive experience may not lead to direct sales, the argument goes that it will help consumers to think about the brand in a new light. Also, by adding a call-to-action to a compelling 360-degree experience adds virtually no incremental cost to the campaign. This combined with programmatic targeting technology means that the interactive 360-degree experience is likely to grow in popularity in 2016.

With ever-slicker smartphones and tablets, 360-degree video is compelling and effective, particularly for the travel and tourism industry but there is still one barrier that could limit its usefulness.

To headset or not to headset

The least obtrusive way to watch 360-degree video content is simply to use the mobile phone or tablet without a headset. To get the most immersive experience a headset works best, but this is not something most people want to do in public, except, perhaps, in an exhibition space where anything goes.

Even the best smartphone-based headsets are clunky, require you to make unusual head movements and block your normal vision. In the privacy of your own home this may not be a problem, but for 360-degree immersive video to become the norm in video content consumption, somebody might want to come up with a less obtrusive headset design.

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