Augmented Reality – fading fad, or the future of digital advertising?

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Harry Kew Augmented Reality, Adaptive Digital, Tech...

Augmented Reality is far from new in marketing – but are we now finally witnessing a long-awaited transition from an intriguing gimmick to a sustainable means of creating tangible results for innovative marketers?

Along with other innovation drivers in digital marketing such as voice and AI, augmented reality is among several much-discussed sectors which are frequently claimed to be on the verge of disrupting the way brands and consumers connect.

Momentum building?

Despite all the early excitement, many marketers have been hesitant to fully commit to AR – as our infographic reported recently, nearly two thirds of brands don’t currently use augmented reality in any form. However, 72% stated their intention to integrate some form of AR or VR into marketing activity this year – so the signs are there that marketers are finally ready to move from passive observers to active experimenters.

The resources to explore AR more freely are certainly developing rapidly – Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore both offer developers the tools to create immersive experiences that combine digital data with the surrounding world.

Google’s ‘experiments’ section also highlights multiple creative AR implementations, many of which offer versatile concepts that tech-savvy marketers can expand on to develop brand applications and campaigns.

AR-focused agencies are also thriving, with heavyweight players acquiring capabilities in the space (such as WPP’s purchase of Within Unlimited) and independent boutiques growing rapidly.

AR vs VR

Although Facebook made headlines with their $3bn purchase of VR company Oculus, it seems to be augmented reality that is pulling ahead when it comes to marketing uptake. Chief among reasons is the dependence of most VR applications on bulky headset technology and the absence of user-friendly hardware to enable the experience. With ‘smart’ glasses still facing pricing, durability and battery-life challenges, it’s mobile devices which have taken centre stage and seem set to dominate for now.

AR Marketing Use Cases

Among the many brands that have dabbled with augmented reality features, we have witnessed a wide range of approaches, each using technology in a different way to reach marketing goals:

  1. Iconic shoe company Converse launched an AR app as far back as 2010, allowing consumers to virtually try on different colours and styles of shoes. The app allowed social sharing as well as direct purchase.
  2. Paint manufacturers Dulux built an app to allow shoppers to virtually explore colour options in their homes before deciding on a paint for decoration.
  3. Furniture e-retail giants Wayfair created a way for customers to experience potential product purchases in their homes, ensuring colour and size matches with existing décor and space dimensions. Competitor IKEA also offers a similar tool to consumers.
  4. Cosmetics brand Sephora gave makeup shoppers an AR-powered way to experiment with new styles and colours, via an app that allows the user to virtually test lipsticks, eyeliners and other produces from their makeup range.
  5. Bombay Sapphire gave a new lease of life to their legendary blue glass gin bottles by enhancing labels with interactive AR content, providing customers with access to not only a stunning visual experience but recipe suggestions and more.

Into the future?

With an abundance of trial and error stories to build from and an increasing level of commitment from marketers to take the plunge into AR, there are some clear trends which emerge from the past few years of experimentation which are likely to shape the course of AR deployment in future:

  • Novelty is not enough – unless creating a one-off showpiece campaign like VISA’s augmented reality stunt a few years back, marketers are faced with the challenge of ensuring that AR integrations provide genuine value to the customer, and are not simply over-complicating the delivery of basic product information. Novelty for its own sake may create a buzz, but will not build the long-term loyalty to make AR a sustainable tactic.
  • Product interaction is key – AR experiences which bring the user into closer contact with products and purchase choices predictably deliver superior ROI, which has been a major driver behind the success of augmented experiences in retail. Apps which allow customers to interact with items, compare options or browse accessory purchases have the potential to out-perform those which are based around brand awareness or visual experience alone.
  • AR truly is just getting going – along with the examples listed above, the opportunities for augmented stoytelling, data presentation, e-commerce and consumer interaction remain vast. AR no longer belongs only to mainstream retail, with potential being harnessed by diverse sectors including journalism – as the NY Times demonstrated with their recent attempts to bring their audience closer to the story. As other industries awake to the potential of AR, expect a rise in innovation, investment and a wealth of new ways to enhance the digital consumer experience.

Adaptive Digital is a recruitment agency specialized in digital talent and career opportunities. You can check out Adaptive Digital’s full list of digital marketing job throughout Europe and North America here.