Last year’s Pokémon Go phenomenon brought augmented reality (AR) to the masses. I remember spending the summer running around outside with my friends, trying to catch digital critters on my smartphone. Although the app’s novelty quickly wore off, it gave businesses a taste of AR’s massive marketing power.
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While some argue that AR is simply another fleeting gimmick, others recognize the ways it’s changing the consumer experience. Read on to learn more about the technology and what it means for marketers today.
What Is Augmented Reality?
If you’re not too tech savvy, you may think AR is the same as VR, or virtual reality. That isn’t quite the case. Both use similar technology and aim to alter the way you interact with the world. But instead of immersing you in a virtual world, as VR does, AR augments, or enhances, the real world around you.
Using a smartphone’s camera or wearables, like smart glasses, AR overlays computer-generated graphics on top of real-time, real-world objects and environments. Most AR software relies on visual tracking technology to work.
For example, Nintendo’s AR Games cards use fiducial markers to put its characters in your environment. The 3DS camera picks up specific patterns printed on the cards. Then, matching the patterns with an internal database, the software generates a corresponding image on the 3DS screen. This card put Samus on my bookshelf.
Markerless AR, the more popular form, doesn’t need predetermined visual patterns, like cards or codes, to display virtual graphics. Instead, this type of AR takes visual and spatial info from your device’s camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, and/or GPS hardware to decide where and how to overlay graphics on your screen.
Source: [Miku AR Camera] Mikuture
This cute app brings Hatsune Miku, a famous Japanese mascot, to life using markerless AR tech. Depending on how I tilted my phone and aimed the camera, Miku’s pose and placement changed.
How Are Marketers Using AR?
Brand Awareness. A lot of companies, especially ones targeting younger consumers, are turning to platforms like Snapchat to beef up their ad campaigns. Snapchat sells many ad products, including sponsored lenses and geofilters, that leverage the app’s signature AR features.
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Sponsored lenses usually don’t directly promote a product or service. Instead, they offer an interactive experience. Some add beauty filters and special effects makeup, while others make good use of Snapchat’s face-morphing capabilities. Last November, Hollister’s sponsored lens turned you and a friend into an ear of corn and a gravy-laden turkey leg, just in time for Thanksgiving.
The more creative the lens, the better the response. An especially funny or eye-catching lens may result in more shares among users, and in turn, more people seeing your brand.
Content Marketing. For people like me who are too introverted to ask people for beauty tips, there’s an app for us. Sephora built an AR-based video tutorial library into its mobile shopping app, showing makeup enthusiasts the proper way to shape brows, pull off a smoky eye, and correctly contour.
Here, Sephora takes content marketing to the next level. Through facial recognition software, each tutorial layers guidelines on your face, customizing the tutorial based on your unique features. As you swipe left, new instructions and guidelines appear on screen. Swiping up gives you a list of recommended products that you can purchase, and even “try on,” in the app.
Channel Merging. IKEA knows how much consumers love their annual catalog. The publication is by far their strongest marketing asset, with over 200 million copies printed each year. With everyone talking about digital media killing print, however, IKEA knew they needed to make some changes to their strategy.
Back in 2013, IKEA released its own smartphone app, IKEA Catalog, in conjunction with its print piece. Using AR technology, the app lets you see how pieces of furniture would look in your own home without going to the store.
Source: IKEA Catalog
The app works in two ways. Using the print catalog as a marker, the app generates virtual furniture in your room to scale, making it easier to gauge the furniture’s real measurements. If you choose not to use the catalog, you can freely move, rotate, and scale the furniture, placing it wherever you want. Tapping the digital furniture brings up product information and shopping options.
What the Future Holds
Right now, the global AR/VR market is worth about $13.9 billion and is expected to grow to $143.3 billion by 2020. While that’s promising news, don’t expect to jump right into AR marketing unless you have a big budget. Developing a low-end AR app can cost $50,000 at minimum. More complex ones start around $200,000.
Platforms charge a pretty penny for AR ad space, too. For instance, getting a sponsored lens on Snapchat can cost up to a whopping $700,000 -- for a single day.
Money isn’t the only issue. To have a successful AR marketing campaign, you need to strategize carefully. The goal is to enhance the consumer experience and add value through AR, not just make meaningless digital content. It’s like shooting a 3D movie: are you using 3D effects to drive the story, or simply because they look cool?
If you’re looking to enter the AR marketing world, don’t rush into it. Take time to thoroughly plan your campaign from start to finish. The success of apps like Snapchat and Pokémon Go prove that AR is here to stay, at least until the next big thing comes along.