Virtual reality: bring your content marketing to life

by on 11th May 2016

What do McDonald’s, Star Wars, and Michelle Obama have in common?

Answer: they’re all pioneers in the world of virtual reality.

Star Wars VR

Virtual reality, just in case you’re unfamiliar with this trend, is a 3D computer generated world that allows users to explore and interact with their environment. Videos shot in 360° and VR video games allow users to move through content, explore an environment from multiple different angles, and sometimes even manipulate the world. You can view 360 videos on your phone or desktop, but for the full experience you need special hardware and a VR headset.

This technology’s potential is limitless.

Imagine the ability to test drive a new car without having to actually visit your local dealership. Or the utility for surgeons and pilots in training. Not to mention its entertainment potential (it’s already doing exciting things in the horror genre:

How Scary is the Paranormal Activity VR Game?

The Challenge of VR

The irony of virtual reality is that it allows for some of the most amazing and immersive marketing experiences ever created, but the technology itself is incredibly difficult to promote. As Erik Frederikson notes, “If you try to advertise the hardware, people can only see how dorky the user looks. If you advertise the game, it’s impossible to show what the experience is like for the player.”

That said, I encourage you to check out this Valve ad for their HTC Vive, which is the best showcasing of the technology I’ve found to date:

Virtual Reality – SteamVR featuring the HTC Vive

Follow it up with this interview by The Verge with Michelle Obama, which is essentially VR infographic. Then check out these 360° videos—preferably on your smart phone, if you don’t have a VR headset or a clever workaround like Google Cardboard or McDonald’s Happy Goggles:

As you can see, various companies are already experimenting with this exciting new technology, and it’s potential has only improved as the medium becomes more mainstream.

Getting Started

Do you have a special piece of content just begging to be turned into an interactive experience? Here’s what how to get started…

  1. Invest in a spherical camera (preferably one that adds 360 metadata) – Special cameras made for shooting 360 videos will cost you anywhere from £200 (Ricoh Theta m15 or LG 360 Camera) to £43,000 (Nokia Ozo), but as you might expect, you get what you pay for. Professional companies with some budget for VR marketing shouldn’t skimp on the camera. If you’re looking for options in between those two extremes, Pocket Lint offers a list of useful comparisons.
  2. Buy 360 video editing software – Editing a 360° isn’t quite the same as editing any other video. You need special software able to stitch 360 videos together and render them in higher resolution (e.g. 4K), such as the AutoPano Video Pro.
  3. Account for the differences between 360 video and traditional video – When recording a 360 video you need to be constantly aware of your viewers’ point of view. Rotational and translational movements within your video can be disorienting for a VR user, so you’re better off fading in and out instead when your camera moves positions.

How to Publish the Best Quality Videos

360 videos still need to pay attention to basic video marketing principles (e.g. lighting, backgrounds, narrative-driven, etc), but they have some unique requirements when it comes to formatting and uploading. Here’s how to publish your 360 videos on the two most popular platforms:

How to Format 360 Videos for Facebook
FormatMP4 container with H.264 video compression.
File SizeVideos recorded in a 360° format are limited to 1.75 GB.
LengthFacebook offers some conflicting guidelines on this front, alternately stating that videos must be under 10 minutes long and under 6 minutes long. Keep it under 6, just to be safe. 5–6 minutes.
Resolution2K or 3K (max).
Aspect Ratio2:1
Frame Rate30 fps
AudioBackground audio and music can be recorded in stereo, but any audio that’s part of a scene should be recorded in mono, because sound will not move with a user through an environment. Use an MP3 container.
Bit rate16-20 mbps

How to Upload 360 Videos for Facebook

If your video was recorded with a spherical camera that adds 360 metadata, you can upload your 360 video the same way you’d upload any other video. If 360 metadata isn’t automatically added to your video file, you’ll need to manually adjust it by following these steps:

  1. Follow Facebook’s basic steps for uploading a video to a Page.
  2. Click the Advanced tab before publishing your video.
  3. Check the box labelled This video was recorded in a 360° format.
  4. Click the new 360 Controls tab and set the camera orientation and field of view you desire.
  5. Click Publish.

How to Format 360 Videos for YouTube

FormatMP4 container with H.264 video compression.
File SizeVideos recorded in a 360° format are limited to 2 GB, but you’d be well served to keep it below 1 GB if possible.
LengthSame as above—try not to exceed 10 minutes. Shorter is better.
Resolution4K is recommended, but these videos can range anywhere from 2K to 8K.
Aspect Ratio16:9
Frame Rate24, 25, 30, 48, 50, or 60 fps
AudioYouTube VR uploads support Mono, Stereo, and 5.1 surround sound.
Bit rate16-68 mbps

How to Upload 360 Videos for YouTube

Uploading a 360 video to YouTube that lacks 360 metadata is a bit more of an involved process, because you’ll need to install a separate app that adds the metadata for you by following these steps:

  1. Download the 360 Metadata app for Mac (click here to download) or Windows (click here to download).
  2. Unzip the file and open the 360 Metadata app.
  3. Choose your video file.
  4. Click the checkbox labelled Spherical. Leave the checkbox labelled 3D Top-bottom blank.
  5. Click Save as and enter a name for your file. Save your new file.
  6. Upload the new file to YouTube. It may take up to an hour for the 360° effect to process.

Final Thoughts

I’m a gamer and a fan of Star Trek so it’s not hard to understand why I’ve been following developments in VR technology with bated breath (holodeck adventure, anyone?), but digital marketers have just as much reason to be excited. The future of advertising is happening right now — and there’s a world of untapped potential in VR content creation.

That said, I pray that we’ve learned our lesson from the prolific rise of ad blockers across desktops and mobile browsers. When it comes to advertising on VR, the marketing angle should be an afterthought of creative and engaging content. We’ve never seen such a rich medium for interactivity and storytelling—let’s not ruin it with it with uninspired ad content.

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