6 times augmented reality really brought outdoor advertising to life
As part of our Out-of-Home Deep Dive, we explore how AR can enhance OOH advertising, highlighting six of our favorite campaigns.
Smartphones are an easy (and nearly ubiquitous) portal into AR experiences. / Adobe Stock
There are few technologies that are reshaping the marketing landscape more profoundly than augmented reality (AR).
As its name suggests, AR blends virtual elements with the physical world. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which takes place entirely in virtual environments, AR experiences allow the user to interact with virtual imagery that has been superimposed on to the physical environment.
A brief history of augmented reality
Though AR tech has been around since the late 1960s, it has only hit mainstream consciousness – and made it on to most marketers’ radars – in very recent years. A watershed moment for the technology arrived last year when Snap released the fourth generation of its Spectacles, which came equipped with AR capabilities analogous to those that had already been available on the company’s smartphone app in the form of filters. (Snap released the first generation of Spectacles back in 2016, the same year that the company changed its name from Snapchat.)
This summer, Google announced that it would begin testing AR device prototypes – including some that look like normal glasses – in public settings. That announcement arrived more than eight years after the release of Google Glasses, which incorporated elements of AR but were quickly scrapped by the company. (The headline of a 2014 article from The Guardian reviewing Google Glasses described them as “useful – but overpriced and socially awkward.”)
Apple is expected to release some kind of AR/VR headset, as well as “smart glasses,” sometime in the next few years. As is to be expected when it comes to products from Apple (a company known for keeping its R&D projects hermetically sealed until they’re ready to be revealed in final form to the public), the rumors vastly outnumber verifiable facts. But the company’s CEO Tim Cook does seem to have his eyes firmly fixed on AR as a valuable area of investment: in a recent interview with Dutch publication Bright, he described AR as “a profound technology that will affect everything.” In another recent interview with The Guardian, Cook contrasted the potential of AR with that of the “metaverse” (which, thanks largely to Meta, has come to be perceived by many as being roughly synonymous with VR), describing the latter as “pretty ambiguous and hypothetical.”
Cook’s comments on the metaverse – which have been echoed by Snap CEO Evan Spiegel – could reflect a growing disenchantment with VR among tech entrepreneurs as Meta continues to struggle to sell its vision of the metaverse: in October, The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta’s goal of reaching 500,000 users in its Horizon Worlds platform was falling far short of the mark, standing at the time the report was published at less than 200,000.
Meta’s fortunes could of course ultimately change, but if its multibillion-dollar efforts to make the metaverse appealing to the general public ultimately fail, tech entrepreneurs could take heed and choose instead to throw in their lot with AR.
Bottom line: though AR is still a relatively young technology, it’s becoming a major focus of leading tech companies and it could soon become an integral technology in each of our day-to-day lives – potentially changing the world as much as social media or personal computers.
Marketers would do well to pay attention to developments currently taking place in the AR space.
Our five favorite AR OOH campaigns
Luckily, there are plenty of case studies that can help marketers understand how to wield AR most effectively.
For reasons that are fairly obvious, the out-of-home (OOH) advertising space has proven to be particularly amenable to AR. In a world where nearly everyone has an AR-compatible device (ie smartphones) in their pockets at all times, brands have a valuable opportunity to enhance traditional OOH ad platforms, such as billboards and bus stops, with a technological twist.
Adding to this opportunity is the fact that most people, as a result of having lived through the Covid-19 pandemic, are now intimately familiar with QR codes – one of the most common portals into AR experiences. Not so long ago, QR codes were obscurities; now they’re a common feature in most of our daily lives. “People have gotten really comfortable with using their phones to interact with the physical world,” says Kevin Bartanian, founder and CEO of OOH advertising company Kevani. “That represents an enormous opportunity for out-of-home.”
With all of that in mind, here are six marketing campaigns that have successfully leveraged AR:
Pepsi Max’s ‘Unbelievable Bus Shelter’ (2014)
In 2014, Pepsi decked out a heavily trafficked London bus shelter with AR tech to surprise and delight commuters – and also to promote Pepsi Max, a sugar-free cola. A screen facing the inside of the shelter – which by all outward appearances seemed to be a normal, transparent pane of plastic – was actually a digital screen that projected all kinds of outlandish (and jarring) scenes, including a Bengal tiger trotting up to the station, a meteorite crashing to the sidewalk and flying saucers hovering over the street. Hidden cameras strategically placed around the shelter captured the unsuspecting commuters’ reactions, which range from joy to deep confusion. The campaign reportedly garnered around 3 million views on YouTube in just three days, while Pepsi Max sales rose 35% year-over-year (YoY) during the month that the campaign was live.
Lacoste’s ‘LCST AR Retail Campaign’ (2014)
Lacoste’s in-store AR experience, created in partnership with UK-based agency Engine Creative, blended image-recognition technology with 3D interactive product models: using a mobile app, customers simply had to scan a Lacoste logo in order to be directed to the experience, wherein they could virtually try on its LCST sneakers. Purchases of physical products could then be made directly through the app – a powerful example of how a brand can leverage AR to link interactive virtual product experiences directly with points-of-sale.
Burger King’s ‘Burn That Ad’ (2019)
Burger King set out to commit virtual arson when it launched its AR-powered ’Burn that ad’ campaign in Brazil. Using a feature available through the Burger King mobile app, the campaign allowed fans to hold their smartphone cameras up to the brand’s competitors’ OOH ads and virtually set them ablaze. As the fire spread, it would reveal a coupon for a free Whopper, along with the text: “Flame grilled is always better.”
Los Angeles Rams’ in-stadium AR experience
Earlier this month, fans at the Los Angeles Rams’ SoFi Stadium took part in “Rams House AR,” a first-of-its-kind AR experience launched in partnership with Stagwell: Using only their smartphones, they could view a variety of 3D virtual elements (picture: giant Rams players, fireworks, enormous floating Rams heads, a gamified field goal challenge and the like) superimposed onto the physical stadium; a virtual experience, in other words, on top of the IRL experience. The campaign was launched using ARound, a Stagwell-owned AR platform which “uses 3D spatial computing to localize content to individual users throughout the venue, enabling SoFi Stadium's 70,000 attendees to see the same real-time 3D effects and participate in the same shared experiences,” according to a December 5 press release.
Bon Viv’s ‘Virtual Vending Machine’ (2020)
Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned spiked seltzer brand Bon Viv recently deployed AR to transform what would otherwise have been completely normal billboards into interactive, 3D virtual vending machines and retail directories. Launched in San Diego and Los Angeles, the billboards were emblazoned with large QR codes that could be scanned by a user’s smartphone, opening the virtual vending machine in a web browser. The user could then select a Bon Viv product, which would roll out and be enlarged for close-up viewing. Users then had the option to search for nearby retail locations that sold that product, or simply order the product online.
The National Health Service’s ‘Virtual Blood Donation’ (2016)
In an effort to promote blood donation and attract new donors, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) launched an AR-powered campaign that viscerally demonstrated the potential for donated blood to restore the health of sick patients. The campaign revolved around a massive billboard that showed real patients who, for a variety of medical reasons, were looking unwell and in need of donated blood. The image of an empty blood bag was printed next to the patients.
NHS workers stood nearby, encouraging passersby to fix a small sticker to their forearms. Once in place, a smartphone could be placed above the sticker, revealing a virtual needle drawing blood. On the billboard, the blood bag would begin to fill with blood and the patient would gradually begin to look much healthier; their complexions returned to normal, they looked more at ease and their sickly frowns were replaced with contented, easy smiles.
According to a video published by the NHS (see above), the campaign resulted in 583 people signing up to be new blood donors over the course of just five days.