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Media Innovation Round-Up: AR shopping, NFT validity and Clubhouse potential

By Marek Wrobel

March 25, 2021 | 14 min read

Marek Wrobel vigilantly tracks emerging media tech for Havas Media Group. In his new monthly column in The Drum – the Media Innovation Round-Up – Wrobel talks through the ’new and shiny’ things and their role in the ever-evolving marketing mix. This week he explores AR shopping and brand building experiences, NFT, the potential of voice and Clubhouse for brands.


Shopping in AR?

Machine A, a high-end fashion boutique, launched an augmented reality (AR) store environment to promote its London Fashion Week collections. How does it fit into the e-commerce revolution?

If someone woke me up in the middle of the night asking which emerging technology has the biggest potential to change marketing, I would say augmented reality (once I stopped screaming). I feel even more bullish about it now it is being supercharged by technologies such as WebAR, Persistent AR and LiDAR. These make AR more accessible, turn it into a shared experience and offer better interactions.

I feel AR is still seen as a fun gimmick or a pure branding tool (even though Snap argues otherwise). But looking at AR solely through a brand lens is a missed opportunity.

Not only have customers changed their minds about AR, but brands have also started to notice its potential in driving sales. Harvard Business Review put it best stating: “Once a nice-to-have feature, AR has quickly become an essential technology for retailers.” AR offers different levels of engagement – 3D models, virtual try-on and, finally, a fully-fledged virtual shopping environment.

Think about how to leverage them in paid media campaigns across social, web, print, OOH and CTV. It has never been easier or more relevant to use AR to drive sales.

Alexa, show your true value for marketers

Bayer launched interactive voice ads in partnership with Say It Now and Global Radio. I will come clean and say that I believe that the hype around voice technology is over. However, that doesn’t mean that voice tech is over.

As the Gartner Hype Cycle has taught us, the moment the hype dies is when the real work and progress begins. Not only does voice tech keep on evolving and maturing, but in addition, smart speaker engagement levels got a boost during lockdown.

I see three main elements that have experienced different levels of hype and/or attention over the past few years. Voice search and voice apps have been grabbing the most attention. Then there are also what I call ’voice-enabled app experiences’, which are the result of integrating voice into the existing media ecosystem. All three will play an equally important role in the short term, but it is voice-enabled ad experiences that offer brands the best opportunity to get involved.

They may be shorter and less sexy than a full-on voice app, but are no less meaningful. They are not only integrated into already established media behaviors, butalso have the potential to drive action.

Clubhouse, Clubhouse, Clubhouse

Square Inc-owned payment company Cash App has become one of the first global brands to activate on Clubhouse. Is Clubhouse ready to deliver value for brands?

Clubhouse is an invite-only drop-in audio chat app built around chat ’Rooms’. Moderators control who gets speaking privileges while listeners can raise their hand to ask to speak. It’s not recorded and it hit the news because of the Musks and Zuckerbergs of this world dipping in.

It really does encompass all kinds of weird and wonderful content, the production of The Lion King one of the most publicized examples. There are also many ’moan rooms’ where people come to take turns to vent, as well as rooms in which people sing lullabies.

It is really, really early for it to become an important platform for brands. There are questions that need to be answered about moderation and brand safety, about monetization and about the Clubhouse experience itself – especially its invite-only nature and content not being recorded, which both led to the success we are witnessing but impact its reach and brand opportunities. It seems that drop-in audio chats will be part of our real and media lives for quite some time.

E-commerce with a human touch

Urban Outfitters ran virtual appointments throughout the pandemic, driving a 25% increase in sales. So how does virtual shopping fit into the idea of hybrid retail?

This activation made me think about a slight unbalance I notice when people talk about hybrid retail. Hybrid retail is about merging the elements of online and offline retail, but I often feel like offline retail ends up being the butt of a joke for being old school or just not cool enough, while e-commerce is all sexy and exciting. When we talk about hybrid retail or the future of retail in general, there is a tendency to focus on all the things people love about e-commerce – how connected, automated, fast and easy it is and how these elements can (or rather should) be translated to offline environments. I know I’ve done it many times myself but, ironically, the pandemic has shown me why doing so is to miss a trick.

So, for brands to transform and enhance the retail experience as a whole, it’s important to also explore what makes offline retail great – human touch, immersion and the shared experiences it offers. Virtual appointments enabling people to connect and chat and ask questions of a real person is one of many ways to do this. There are also virtual 360 shopping experiences, digital sampling that gets you connected with a real product, chat solutions that aren’t just about automation, digital fitting rooms, connected packaging and solutions enabling people to shop online with their friends.

Brand storytelling with AR twist

Online bank N26 has highlighted the lack of representation of women on cash by using AR to transform images of men on banknotes into pioneering women.

Brand-led activities have long been AR’s bread and butter. One of the reasons why AR has been leveraged in this area is the fact that it delivers on two fronts that are so important for marketers – grabbing attention and memory encoding. So how can we use AR when it comes to brand-led activities? Let’s start with AR’s most popular feature – lenses. While some may think lenses are old news, they have been constantly evolving. But they are only one of the weapons in AR’s quite sizable arsenal. There are 3D models, AR portals, overlays and AR games… and that’s just for starters. These open up really cool opportunities such as AR gigs, product launches, visual explainers and even portals, like Pepsi ran during the Super Bowl. Look beyond AR as a tactical tool to see it as a new way to tell your brand’s story.

It’s NFT’s world and we just live in it

Taco Bell has decided to get involved in the NFT craze, issuing NFTs for four digital art collectables. I can’t help but roll my eyes a bit seeing the levels of hype around NFTs, but what is beyond this hype and should we care?

NTF stands for Non-Fungible Token. ‘Non-fungible’ means not mutually interchangeable. For example, in the case of currency, which is fungible, you can exchange one pound for one pound. You cannot exchange one NFT for one NFT as they can have a different value and this value is decided based on a shared belief in said value (like pieces of art, cars or houses). As for ‘Token’, by this we simply mean a digital record that is stored on blockchain. It’s the technology that powers NFTs. So, in simple terms, an NFT is a certificate of ownership for virtual assets such as gifs, memes, videos and digital art.

To bring it to life, let’s look at the NFT issued for Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, which was sold for only $2.5m just a few weeks ago. The highest bidder on one of the digital marketplaces for crypto art (Zora, SuperRare and Nifty Gateway) is now the owner of the tweet – they will receive a certificate, digitally signed and verified by Jack Dorsey. However, that doesn’t mean that the tweet will be deleted or digitally cordoned off so just the new owner can see it. So, when you think about NFTs, remember that they represent ownership but not the work itself. Some say it’s a fitting evolution of the concept of ownership for the digital age.

Naturally, content creators are the biggest beneficiaries. They hope NFTs will stop other people from using their work – or that, even if they do, NFTs can help them to prove their rights and seek compensation. Additionally, as NFTs are digital and forever connected with a piece of content or art, some artists may add a stipulation that they will receive 10% of any future sales. Other big potential winners are super fans as – if you think about it – NFTs give people the ultimate bragging rights and can turn almost anything into a collectable. But they can also offer deeper engagement, with the idea for NFTs being issued for a limited number of fans rather than ‘just anybody’. Some artists say the owners of NFTs will get access to more perks – for example, a personal chat, extra content etc.

Lights, cameras, (cashier-less stores in) action!

Amazon has opened its first cashier-less stores in this UK. Is this a glimpse of the future of physical retail?

The experience of shopping in cashier-less stores is fairly straight-forward – one scans the Amazon app on the way in, goes shopping, scans the app on the way out with payment taken from one’s Amazon account. Magic, right? Well, magic plus tons of cameras on the ceiling, computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion. I enjoyed the convenience of it although I get that not everyone may feel comfortable in such a setting.

Does it mean we should expect all stores to become cashier-less? Cashier-less stores are part of the trend in physical retail I call ‘convenient retail’, which encompasses physical retail experiences that are as easy as they are fast, as online-like as possible and powered by emerging technologies. However, while checkout-less stores are grabbing headlines, there are other ways to make physical retail more convenient. I believe payments will be an area that we will see loads of innovation – whether it comes to mobile payments, QR codes or biometrics – especially since cash has been one of the victims of the pandemic. And the biggest trend in this space is bricks and mobile, incorporating all kinds of experience powered by smartphones and the app ecosystem. So, it’s not necessarily about making your stores till-less, but more about leveraging technology to make the experience as convenient as possible in a way that makes sense in your category and for your brand.

You can watch my last two video round-ups here and here. Get on my mailing list here. Read my previous column for The Drum here. And if that’s not enough, sign up for The Drum’s weekly Future of Media briefing here – you’ll see me in there from time to time.

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