360 Degree Videos - An Online Marketing Revolution? A Critical Review and Outlook for Social Media Marketers

Written by: Jens Gudacker

Teaser Image: 360 degree video in Facebook’s news feed (Source: Facebook, 2015)


360 degree virtual reality videos seem to be the newest trend in online video marketing. 360 degree videos attract attention, drive interaction and views are growing rapidly. First figures predict better click-through and engagement rates than traditional videos. But has this new technology a revolutionary potential? This E-paper provides a critical review and outlook for social media marketers. 

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Keywords: 360 degree video; social media; online marketing; virtual reality


The newest trend in online video marketing - What is a 360 degree virtual reality video?

Online marketers are trying to design their videos to become more immersive and interactive in order to increase likes, shares, view-through-rates and total views. As a result of the constant motion in the online video industry, new technologies will be developed to help online marketers to achieve their goals (Alaupovic, 2015). The newest trends are 360 degree virtual reality videos, which are a new type of video that “makes you feel like you’re actually there” (YouTube, 2015a). These clips display a spherical scenario, where a special 360 degree video camera has prerecorded all possible angles of an environment (Calero, 2015). Unlike traditional videos, the viewers have the control over what they see, choosing the camera angle by tilting and panning on their computer or mobile device without being required to wear a virtual reality headset. This simplifies the viewing experience, but still provides a 360 degree virtual reality feeling (Alaupovic, 2015). While viewers have to use their mouse or keyboard to drag the point of view around on desktops, the best viewer experience is generated on mobile phones and tablets, where you simply have to move your device around to see all the different angles (see visual 1). Since today’s most important video marketing platforms, YouTube and Facebook, invested in this technology, both publishers and viewers have now the opportunity to distribute and watch 360 degree video content easily (Alaupovic, 2015). Because these clips are available for video advertising as well, this technology is highly relevant for online marketing and might become a new trend in social media advertising (Calero, 2015). 


Visual 1: How 360 degree video looks on your mobile – e.g. Star Wars 360 video (Source: own creation)

Why 360 degree video is a great tool for social media marketing?

According to Facebook’s global marketing vice president, Carolyn Everson, Facebook wants to push the boundaries of online marketing in social media: “We continue to develop capabilities that allow marketers to tell deep and immersive stories through sight, sound and motion with the new 360 degree videos” (Beck, 2015). But why are 360 videos a great tool for social media marketing? According to Marshall (2015) the possibility to give the viewer the chance to immerse themselves in a fictional environment is a great marketing opportunity for any brand. It gives your audience a rich media experience, drives interaction, provides a fully interactive look and is the best current video format to engage with your viewers (Alaupovic, 2015, YouTube, 2015a). The director of research at Parks Associates, Brett Sappington, is more specific: “Advertising is all about attracting attention and 360 degree promotions of products and services provide a level of immersion that is pretty compelling. […] With a typical video ad, all of the action is within the user’s field of vision,” he said. “In a 360 environment, the director will need to capture the user’s attention in order to communicate branding or a call-to-action” (Levine, 2016). While marketers can share the entire filmed moment, viewers are able to interact and choose the content they want to see. Therefore, this technology provides brands a complete new way of storytelling (Alaupovic, 2015). 

Visual 2: Give your audience a fully interactive look with 360 degree videos (Source: Verge, 2015)

First online marketing initiatives - Do 360 degree videos perform as promised?

Many people are already familiar with 360 degree still images since lots of brands use them in industries like tourism, navigation or real estate. 360 degree videos work similar and allow viewers to gain a fully 360 degree interactive look in an ongoing video. Therefore, customers know already how the technology works and are able to change their video consumption behavior quickly. Although 360 videos are new in social media, first figures show that their use is growing rapidly. Red Bull was one of the first brands who used 360 degree videos to promote their brand, while allowing their audience to take part in their adventure sport experience brand strategy. While Audi showcases their cars in a 360 degree video, the Australian airline Qantas is cross-promoting flight experience with some of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. Beside promoting products, destinations and adventure experience, other brands started to produce 360 short films (e.g. Mini), showcase events (e.g. Tomorrowland), develop 360 degree music videos (e.g. Avicii), create immersive 360 television (e.g. BBC) or come up with other immersive ways of storytelling. But how do they perform? 

According to Calero (2015) first social media figures predict that 360 degree videos produce more engagement and message retention than traditional videos. This might be mainly because of their content versatility and high levels of user engagement, which boosts the content reach and generates repetitive consumption (Calero, 2015). For social media marketers it is always challenging to define what you want to present to the consumer. With 360 degree video, you hand over some of this control to the consumer themselves (OhVideo, 2016). According to Patrick Walsh, Managing Director of a British video marketing company, “click-through and conversion rates are much higher on advertising that utilizes 360-degree video”. However, he mentions that consumer tend to filter out social media advertising, but when they come across something innovative, they are more likely to engage with that advertising. Nevertheless, YouTube’s promise to reach higher view-through and engagement rates do not seem to be unrealistic (OhVideo, 2016).

Visual 3: 360 degree videos – An important step towards virtual reality marketing? (Source: Wista, 2016)

More interactive and engaging – But will 360 videos go viral?

There are already 360 degree video content pieces which received several million views. But a real vibe and viral popularity boost is still missing. As we learned from Patrick Walsh, consumer are usually more likely to engage with advertising that is considered “being something new”. But why are 360 degree videos not going viral? Harvard Business Review (2015) revealed that the “most powerful drivers of viral success are psychological response (how the content makes you feel) and social motivation (why you want to share it). […] The greater the intensity of feeling the content evokes, the more likely people are to share it.” This was proven by Dafonte-Gómez (2014) who explored that the most successful viral videos trigger dominant emotions of surprise and joy. Additionally, Tucker (2015) reveals that successful ads not only encourage consumers to share the ad with others but also take time to respond to the ad itself. Therefore, video marketers should try to transfer these findings into their 360 video stories and drive social motivation of sharing in the new highly enjoyable video technology. 

Besides this phenomena, Teixeira (2012) explored that it is important to hook people instantly to maximize viewership. 360 degree videos comply with this finding since they are able to generate instant joy and surprise early on. Additionally, she explored that “ads which produce stable emotional states generally aren’t effective”. In other words, to make a 360 degree video go viral, you need to implement emotional ups and downs to keep viewers watching your ad. Furthermore, logo visibility needs to be considered as well. Teixeira (2012) proved the hypothesis that “the more prominent or intrusive the logo, the more likely viewers are to stop watching” the ad. These findings could be approved by Huang et al. (2013). They identified that the attitude toward the viral video advertisement and the attitude towards the brand have both significant impacts on sharing activity. Accordingly, 360 degree video marketers should consider brand logo placements accurately. 

Furthermore, there is a symbolic link between the content shared, the personality of the user sharing it, and the perception of the community it is shared with (Alhabash et al., 2015; Dafonte-Gómez, 2014). Of course marketers of 360 degree videos will need to target the right audience just like any other traditional video ad. Hence, marketers should consider to target consumer who are technological pioneers, amazed by this new format and willing to share it to their community. If you consider all these research findings in your 360 degree video, there is definitely the potential that your content piece will go viral.

Conclusion and Outlook – Has this new technology revolutionary potential?

The last video marketing revolution, live streaming, appeared because of the ease of accessibility, not only for watching but also creating them (Alaupovic, 2015). With YouTube and Facebook investing in the technology, 360 degree videos are following the same path and are becoming easily accessible to distribute and watch on social media. However, the number one pitfall might still be the high cost of video production and the trend will first stay reserved to brands with big marketing budgets (Wagner, 2015). However, if consumer-priced 360 degree video cameras become affordable to end-consumers, 360 degree videos can definitely become a new online marketing trend. That, in addition to the growth of high-quality smartphone cameras, drones, and GoPro-style sports cameras, could make this new video format even an online marketing revolution (Alaupovic, 2015).

However, next to the high investments 360 degree videos are new and not yet explored by all consumers. Only if the new technology will be accepted and likely used by viewers, the new technology will be able to go viral. Even if YouTube and Facebook have simplified the user experience, the control panels on desktops are still lacking convenience and first 360 degree videos failed to become viral. Nevertheless, the battle between YouTube and Facebook for video supremacy can help the new 360 degree technology to receive more interest, traffic and new additional features to become an even better option for brands and viewers (Calero, 2015). Nevertheless, you can only speak about an online marketing revolution if the majority of viral videos will be 360 degree videos.

Another important point is the upcoming technology of “real” virtual reality. 360 degree videos are very similar to virtual reality since it simulates a person’s perception according to the direction that person would turn. But it doesn’t consider all five senses like “full virtual reality” (Bravo, 2015). Acoording to Youtube (2015b) “virtual reality makes the experience of being there even more awesome and immersive”. Until now, it is unclear if 360 degree video will be only a step into virtual reality marketing or a revolutionary approach to virtual reality technologies (Bravo, 2015). 360 degree videos help marketers to understand how virtual reality advertising could look like and how it is created (Wagner, 2015). However, 360 degree videos should more be seen as a social media trend, while “real virtual reality” might bring a revolution to online marketing at the end.

All in all, 360 degree videos are a highly interactive approach for your social media marketing. According to Yaydees (2016) “using 360 degree videos can provide the significant marketing advantage your company needs to effectively attract, engage and retain members of your desired target audiences”. Building your brand with engaging media like 360 degree videos is a unique way to step out from your competitors. To give the viewer the control of experience helps your audiences to gather new information and increases their overall engagement, each and every time (Yaydees, 2016). However, considering high investments, technology barriers, past consumer behavior and "real virtual reality” 360 degree videos might not be responsible for an online marketing revolution. But 360 degree videos will definitely become a social media trend and should be considered by every social media marketer.

Got inspired? – Check out useful practical content for social media marketers:

Video: 360-degree videos – A step beyond the second dimension (Source: Verge, 2015)


Alaupovic, S. (2015). 5 Things Marketers Need to Know About 360-Degree Video Right Now. Onlinevideo.net – Online Video Marketing Strategies, News, and Tips. Available Online: http://www.onlinevideo.net/2015/07/5-things-marketers-need-to-know-about-360-degree-video-right-now/ [Accessed 16 February 2016]

Alhabash, S., Baek, J., Cunningham, C., & Hagerstrom, A. (2015). To comment or not to comment?: How virality, arousal level, and commenting behavior on YouTube videos affect civic behavioral intentions. Computers In Human Behavior, 51(Part A), 520-531. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.05.036

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Levine, B. (2016). Live 360-Degree Video Would Attract Attention, But Would It Help Marketers? Available Online: http://marketingland.com/live-360-degree-video-would-attract-attention-but-does-it-help-marketers-162537 [Accessed 16 February 2016]

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