If you still think AR is just a novelty, you’re missing a trick

Augmented reality has for too long been dismissed as a gimmick in the marketing industry, a novelty worth trialling but not something to include as part of a brand’s core marketing mix.

The time for novelty is over. The smartphone camera’s use in AR marketing is becoming a key strategic focus for the major platforms like Facebook and Snapchat and its offer of both functional utility and creative engagement should be very exciting for any brand.

The potential is incredible, and the winners are going to be those brands who get onboard early to discover exactly how the power of AR fits within their overall brand and consumer engagement strategy.

The macro numbers speak for themselves. Deloitte predicts the total number of AR users to be over one billion this year and each week more than half of all 13- to 34-year-olds in the US play with Snapchat’s AR lenses, for example.

It’s no longer a novelty but the window of opportunity for experimentation won’t last forever as AR fast emerges blinking into the marketing mainstream.

Only this month, Snapchat launched Shoppable AR. Brands will now be able to add links to any of their Snapchat AR lenses that will allow consumers to simply tap through to make a purchase.

As The Drum recently revealed, Adidas, Coty and King have all signed up to take advantage.

But even as it finds favour with global brands, an interesting report last month from Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed 50 of the US’s top 200 advertisers, found that while nine out of ten were using AR, only one in ten thought it was well implemented into their marketing strategy. One reason for this, perhaps, could be that fewer than one in five said that incremental sales was a primary objective for AR.

However, almost a third believed that sales would be their primary objective in 24 months.

Clearly this is no novelty technology or marketing gimmick, it’s a technology that goes beyond its undoubted ability to create highly engaging experiences to one helping real world sales.

Indeed, in our recent AR campaign for Just Eat, using Facebook’s AR studio, we saw 10% of interactions with the experience leading to direct orders.

Often though, brands see the costs of AR as a barrier to entry in the first place. Not just the media spend, in excess of £80k when it comes to Snapchat, but also the production costs.

However, there are moves being made to address this, including the recent launch of our own Byte AR Studio. The Studio, with a dedicated team of 3D artists and developers, was set up to make it much quicker and cheaper for brands to start taking advantage of AR.

Rethinking your brand in multiple dimensions

The key to success in using augmented reality we believe is to rethink how you’re representing your brand and your product from living in one physical or one digital dimension, to one straddling both.

AR offers brands a whole new way of representing products. Think makeup brands swiping through different colours, or 3D models letting you explore consumer electronics products in detail.

Or look at Beauty giant Coty, which is using an AR ‘magic mirror’ in its Bourjois boutique in Paris enabling users to see how lipsticks look on their face via the use of a camera that changes their lip colour on-screen when they pick up a new lipstick

AR gets real

With also need to start moving from entertainment to utility. AR has been proven for games and ‘wow’ visual experiences, but when will we start using it as a smart overlay that serves a real purpose? We’ll see more of this as the platforms increasingly open up to other APIs.

One great example here is Ikea using AR to let customers preview how furniture looks in their home before reserving or purchasing the item.

Clever brands will also look at how they can integrate with map APIs to make geo-located AR experiences. This will be huge, letting brands overlay useful, entertaining, promotional content onto the physical world.

Innovations such as Facebook’s AR target tracking is another development to keep an eye on here. Currently in beta, it enables the camera to track an image and open an immersive experience, letting you create content that’s contextually tied to images, logos, signs and pictures in the real world.

In fact, integrating third party data of every type imaginable is going to transform AR. Take a look at the Singapore Airlines/Boeing AR lens that tracked the first delivery of the 787-10 in March. It used a real-time data feed to dynamically display positional information.

Hurdles still to overcome

Of course, there are a few challenges facing brands wanting to jump into AR.

Firstly, measurement. With only basic click through and limited analytics on AR lenses and effects, it can be hard to measure success, especially comparing it to other channels. If someone’s spent 34 seconds playing with your lens – what behaviours do we see off the back of that?

Discovery is also still a problem. Snapchat has some quite hefty minimum spends attached to creating and promoting a Lens. And Facebook still isn’t able to give accurate usage on the numbers of people using the camera within Facebook.

But Snapchat and Facebook are working on this and given the huge expectations they have for AR, these are likely to be short term worries.

AR is no longer a novelty. It’s here and already generating incredible results. If you get in early and start experimenting it could be an opportunity to create a new way to drive sales as well as stand out from the crowed.

Alex Miller is a founding partner at Byte London

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