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How Snap uses AR to drive purchase intent for brands


By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

November 16, 2021 | 8 min read

We catch up with Snap Inc’s European head of creative strategy, David Norris, to find out what Snapchat users’ adoption of AR could mean for advertisers.


Snapchat’s work with brands is creating new customer experiences in augmented reality

Creating purchase intent is the ultimate test of digital advertising. The ability of a platform to drive consumers to buy from an advertising partner is among the most important KPIs. As augmented reality (AR) has evolved, it has become one of the best tools to drive purchase intent on Snap and beyond.

Snapchat has 306 million daily active users, creating and consuming ephemeral content from friends and brands. Of those users, 200 million use its AR tools every single day. That user base alone might explain Snap’s investment in features such as its Lens Studio, which allows people to create their own AR lenses for use on the platform. More importantly, however, it allows the platform to demonstrate the uplift in terms of brand recall and purchase intent that can come from AR advertising.

David Norris, European head of creative strategy at Snap Inc, tells me that the company’s research found that using AR drove a 2.4x higher purchase intent among users of the platform. He believes that brands are discovering that having a presence within AR – effectively within the camera of the user – is driving tangible uplift.

“I think agencies and clients are recognizing the need to have a camera strategy, to understand the role you can play through the funnel,” he says. ”Yes, there’s still absolutely a role in terms of key set piece campaigns or brand moments ... but more and more, it is now about layering on top the always-on experiences, the trial experiences, the utility experiences that help drive that salience of the brand and shift that journey through the funnel.”

Norris claims that for an AR campaign by COTY that uses AR within Snapchat, a massive 62% of the audience that went through the experience ended up making a purchase at the end.

“What we saw was this incredible lift in terms of purchasing ... We know that the Snapchat generation is supremely confident in terms of purchasing through mobile. It’s not a big leap. But still, when you see the numbers that came back from this campaign and that six in every 10 people who engaged in the lens bought the product ... that’s the behavior we’re looking at and talking about here in terms of scale.”

Consequently, he believes that as “culture breaks in the camera” for its users, it is natural for brands to exist within that space. He cites the speed with which users created AR lenses related to Netflix show Squid Game in the immediate aftermath of its premiere as an example of the zeitgeist-based content that brands can take advantage of.

He attributes the success of AR campaigns from Warner Bros, Tommy Hilfiger and more on Snap as a consequence of being in camera, stating that Snap’s philosophy is that “the camera is the keyboard” for users navigating within the app. He also says that the integration of AR with utility functionality can have positive impacts when integrated with other parts of a campaign.

Speaking about Adidas’s recent campaign promoting its flagship Oxford Street store, which allowed Snap users to interact with AR elements of the out-of-home (OOH) campaign, he says: “We built a lens with it that would dynamically pull in distance. So if you look at the bottom, it’s just shifting that distance for you as a utility. I think utility is an area that is going to keep growing in terms of brands recognizing the power that the camera can buy.”

It also benefits brands, he argues, by reducing costs associated with in-person try-ons and returns. By allowing users to see what clothes or items would look like in person or in their homes ahead of time, it improves the confidence of users to make purchases that they will keep.

Impediments to AR growth

Retail tech startup Wool & Water, which specializes in web-based AR, recently found that more than half of consumers surveyed (51%) believe AR and virtual reality (VR) have improved over the last six months and will play more of a role in shopping in the future. Additionally, around eight in 10 (83%) consumers are somewhat or very likely to say that AR or VR would improve their shopping experience.

Wool & Water’s partner and chief strategy officer, Justin McAneny, believes that shoppable AR is currently limited by the fact that it primarily exists within apps like Snapchat. Noting that its own research found that around eight in 10 (82%) have not bought anything directly through Snapchat using their AR shopping feature, he believes instead that the hassle gap of having to download and open is an impediment to shoppable AR’s growth.

Norris, however, points to the fact that Snapchat’s users both already have the app and primarily use their camera as the key tool of interaction. It is that audience, primed and habituated to AR already, that brands seek to reach via the technology. He also notes that while filters and virtual try-ons have previously been best used by fashion and beauty brands, the number of sectors experimenting with AR is widening. “The ability to tell brand stories is also fundamental to it. Look at the likes of Tesco, which invest heavily in AR, which maybe you would assume wouldn’t be a natural fit. John Lewis just did their Christmas campaign where their alien came to life through the lens, which was super fun.

“Then you know other sectors that are involved are CPG, entertainment and streaming ... obviously like the potential of telling your stories through AR. Also other sectors like telco where the world of brand building is so important, right? It’s the differentiator between one contract and another. We’re definitely seeing telco brands such as Virgin, 02 and Giffgaff all invested heavily in AR – to play the role of an experience to help you understand the brands.”

For AR to be a reliable and consistent part of brands’ ad spend plans – rather than a novelty and add-on at the tail end – then it needs to demonstrate it has a tangible impact upon the wider campaign. As Snapchat is demonstrating, provided audiences are primed and ready to use AR as part of the usual experience, brands can use the technology to drive and prove purchase intent.

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