If you were to stroll through London's Hyde Park, or Central Park in New York, with Snapchat’s art lens open on your mobile, chances are you'd discover a giant three-dimensional balloon dog by the artist Jeff Koons.
Walking around the augmented installation, photorealistic reflections of the background shift and refract across the dog’s chrome finish, just as they would if you were viewing one of Koons’ original sculptures.
Reflections on art aside, it’s clear to anyone who’s been following the space that mobile AR has advanced in leaps and bounds in the last year.
On the marketing front, Snapchat’s new 3D World Lenses offer brands AR ad spots within the app; and just last week the Venice Beach-based firm launched 'augmented trial' lenses which essentially let shoppers 'try before they buy'.
The ever increasing processing power of smartphones coupled with the recent launch of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore has made creating sophisticated augmented experiences easier than ever.
New ways of working
Snap has reported that its sponsored AR lenses result in an average 19.7 point lift in ad awareness and a 3.4 point lift in action intent. Given the effectiveness of augmented content, it’s no surprise that the physical world is rapidly being populated by 3D digital content created by brands, either geo-tagged to specific locations or available for consumers to place in the environment of their choice.
Creative teams find themselves working on the cusp of a profound paradigm shift in the way we consume information. And yet, while augmented reality opens up an almost infinite number of creative possibilities for brands, it also requires creative teams to rethink some of the most fundamental aspects of the creative process.
For example, we’ve long been accustomed to the edict that ‘content is king’, but with the rise of augmented reality, context is fast becoming a challenger for the crown.
In many ways, it pays to think of context as a new dynamic to play with in the AR creative process. Brand executions that omit or miscalculate the interplay between an AR asset and its real-world location – say the campaign of a drink brand accidentally geo-tagged outside a school – may at best fall flat with consumers or, at worst, provoke a backlash.
But are creative teams ready to make the leap into creating augmented content?
The two-dimensions that govern traditional media have shaped not just the output of creative teams, but also the structure of creative teams themselves. Bringing an augmented campaign to life means considering polygon counts, motion tracking, visual positioning, lighting effects and legibility.
The required expertise in 3D modelling, rigging and often games design is frequently outsourced but as AR becomes an ever more staple part of the marketing mix, it’s likely that these skills will increasingly become blended into the core creative team itself.
A particular challenge in developing augmented experiences lies in integrating one of the oldest means of presenting information: text. In mobile AR, text is presented on the screen against the backdrop of a dynamic real-world camera view.
Common problems encountered include lack of legibility against the background view, quality of branded type, challenges with dynamic content, pixilation and global language support.
At Monotype, we learned in conversations with more than fifty brand and agency customers that delivering text as part of the augmented experience has proven to be such a burden that creative teams often try to minimise the use of text or simply avoid using it altogether.
Whatever the medium, the presentation of legible typography is an intrinsic part of consistent brand identity and good user experience. While artists may be able to present augmented sculptures with little or no text, for brands this limitation holds back the development of innovative ideas and ultimately confuses users, meaning it's something they'll have to consider before making the foray into AR.
On the horizon, meanwhile, new technologies beckon, promising more seamless ways to engage with augmented content. Their bold vision for the future is one where it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between the real and the digital, creating a truly ‘mixed reality’.
Which technologies we’ll adopt beyond the smartphone remain to be seen, but one thing is certain. It’s the brands reconfiguring their creative thinking today that will continue to engage and delight in tomorrow’s brave new augmented world.
Steve Martin is chief Innovation officer at Monotype