Niantic, Adidas, IKEA, The New York Times and Patrón Tequila are among the best early adopters of AR technology
To properly understand how AR can help consumers feel attached to brands, Snehaal Dhruv, CEO at Cameraah, examines several examples of organisations that are doing it right
When it comes to the interface of the future, everyone talks about virtual reality (VR), the ability to plug into a system and experience a digital world as if it were real.
But while VR is just now finding its footing as a consumer product, another type of digitally altered consciousness has already emerged and seen great success, one that changes the world we live in rather than creating a world from the whole cloth of zeroes and ones.
Augmented reality (AR) is becoming more and more common as a way to change consumers’ experiences, not only of their day-to-day routines, but of the brands and IPs that occupy their imaginations and win their loyalty.
As with any rising technology, businesses are eager to explore the potential of AR to raise their bottom line and engage in new ways with consumers. Designers and other creative professionals have only just begun to explore the novelty, creativity, and immersion available through AR.
This new innovation can turn the world where we live and the places we visit into surreal wonderlands, populate destinations with unique creatures, let people fight secret battles and discover hidden treasures, or just navigate more easily through their day.
There seems to be no limit to what is possible even through smartphones and watches, let alone the potential hardware upgrades of tomorrow, such as when someone finally makes AR glasses happen.
Because AR is so new and unexplored, not every attempt to use it has been a success. Some organisations have failed to properly understand the technology and its implementation, either overcommitting to an experience that is too complex and demanding, or sneaking an ad here or there for uninspired engagement.
Some brands are flighty and either do not update the content of their AR apps, or switch to a new app for every campaign, forgetting that AR is all about changing the customer’s world in a memorable, consistent way.
And for every clever and well-integrated AR experience, there’s another with content to just stuff big, obtrusive 3D assets into the image without any meaningful interaction except perhaps as an addition to selfies. While posing with a mascot can be fun once or twice, it does not create useful long-term engagement and loyalty.
Many companies have avoided these pitfalls and understood the advantages inherent in an experience that draws users into an enhanced virtual space in their daily lives. AR is a versatile tool that uses the power of immersion and fantasy to tell users stories that are equal parts engrossing and empowering. And these feelings often follow through into purchases and brand loyalty.
To properly understand how AR can help consumers feel attached to brands, it is vital to go through some examples of organisations that are doing it right and discover just what lessons they can teach those who want to try their hand at providing AR experiences.
Some of the best advancements in AR implementation have occurred in the electronic gaming space. Video games are naturally engrossing, and AR offers a way to gamify the mundane business of going about one’s day.
The leader in AR gaming thus far has been Niantic, creator of both the first breakout AR hit, Ingress, and the second and even bigger smash, Pokémon GO. It is hard to overstate the success of this game and its impact on the zeitgeist in a watershed moment for AR.
In many ways, Pokémon GO is the ‘killer app’ through which AR hit the mainstream, with millions of players obsessively hunting cute monsters to battle it out for control of designated locations called gyms.
Pokémon GO is, in many respects, a model for how to do AR right. By inserting a layer of fantasy and adventure into everyday life, the game invites players to submerge themselves in a constant state of passive engagement, on the lookout for ways to interact with the brand.
The monsters themselves create a sense of wonder juxtaposed with the person’s regular activities to make those activities more enjoyable, giving players some real utility in the form of constant escape and fun to be enjoyed at will. And the tagline “gotta catch ’em all!” gives users a pie-in-the-sky goal to work toward as new creatures are released, maintaining constant interest.
Of course, Pokémon GO (and similar games such as Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and The Witcher: Monster Slayer) have the inherent advantage of adapting beloved entertainment IPs.
Non-entertainment brands lend themselves less readily to games and so do not generate the same kind of excited consistent engagement. Brands built on useful products and not cute monsters or smoldering adventurers must provide serious utility to make their AR experience compelling.
Retail companies have many potential uses for AR while the customer is in the store, from pointing out values to plotting an efficient path through the space, but AR can also bring the store to the consumer. Clothing brands such as Adidas are nailing this idea by democratising access to some of its most coveted sneakers with an AR activation.
With the Adidas AR filter, users can find a hidden pair of these shoes, select the size they want and pay through the app without coming in contact with a salesperson to collect their purchase. The filter eliminates hours of travelling and shopping, even gamifying the experience and helping Adidas create a conversion within minutes.
Clothing brands of all sorts are adopting a similar approach, turning selfies into portable changing rooms and creating tangible excitement for products as consumers get a much better idea of how they look in a garment than they would from a picture or a model.
Of course, the reigning champion of retail AR is IKEA. Trying on clothes virtually is one thing, but being able to see how a whole piece of furniture would look in your room is a cut above. The IKEA Place app lets users simply point their camera where they want a piece of furniture to go and see how it looks there for themselves.
Just as AR games create a fantasy that builds brand engagement, apps such as IKEA Place build an aspirational world on top of the real one; except instead of monsters, the user sees what their world would look like if they purchased certain products. And all it takes is a trip to IKEA (or its website) to obtain the item that the app displayed in your home.
But AR need not create a fantasy to stimulate engagement. Education is an excellent use of this new technology that draws curious people back to apps over time.
The New York Times, for example, used AR to augment its coverage of the Olympic Games, with athletes appearing on the app as people watched, to explain the rules or techniques of their sports. This made the Times one of the key apps for viewers who were already going to be on their smartphones during their viewings to further interact with the events.
Educational AR can also build brand engagement. Patrón Tequila, for example, produced an app that lets users virtually tour their distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, to see how their favourite bottle of tequila is made.
Not only does this appeal to younger, more connected drinkers, who like knowing what goes into their glass, it uses educational AR to tell Patrón’s brand story, creating engagement and connection through sharing information.
Any number of businesses could adopt a similar approach, leveraging how much people love to learn by creating an interactive narrative and letting the consumer become part of the story through AR.
Immersion is the primary benefit of AR. VR arguably creates a more complete experience in a fictional setting (and has plenty of brand potential all its own), but AR superimposes the desired world over the experienced world.
Thus, only AR projects what the consumer desires right into their lives in a way that immediately creates aspirational brand identification and fires the imagination.
AR can create an engrossing fantasy or bring the user deeper into a brand’s identity through sharing information. By creating an AR experience that synergises with a product’s key strengths, companies can draw consumers in like never before, making interaction with a company an enjoyable part of everyday life.