1ST MOBILE AR APP:
EST. MARKET VALUE:
$83B by 2021
While augmented reality (AR) has been on brands' radar for a few years now, it wasn't until July 2016 with the smash hit Pokémon Go that AR catapulted into the mainstream. The game was dubbed a major turning point for mobile by some, but the question quickly became: how can marketers leverage the technology to bring the same excitement and consumer engagement to brands?
Things took off this year as AR became an increasingly critical part of the marketing mix, and now, companies from home décor and sports to beauty and fashion have tapped the tech to bridge gaps between the online and offline worlds.
"The AR craze is just beginning to really take off, and what we're seeing now are just glimpses of what AR will bring and what it can do," said Danny Lopez, COO of Blippar.
One shining star in the space, according to marketing tech company Braze's CEO Bill Magnuson, is Swedish home furniture retailer Ikea, with its Place mobile app that helps shoppers visualize how items would look in their home by virtually layering a digital image atop the real world through a smartphone camera.
"That ability to picture a new piece of furniture directly in your living room or order straight from the application — I think that that really moves the needle because it manages to deliver a great product experience and great marketing experience both at the same time," he said.
The key for marketers looking to integrate an AR feature into their mobile strategy is to focus on the end user, Magnuson said. "If you start thinking about your goal as a marketer first and then try to turn that into a great user experience, you're usually going to false fire."
If you start thinking about your goal as a marketer first and then try to turn that into a great user experience, you're usually going to false fire.— Bill Magnuson, CEO of Braze
While Ikea's Place app points to AR's ability to enhance in-store shopping experiences, a number of brands have used the tech to drive foot traffic to stores and add a digital element to out-of-home (OOH) activations.
Luxury fashion brand Kate Spade New York launched an AR app in September to generate buzz around the opening of its first brick-and-mortar store in Paris. The app guided users around the French capital on a stroll where they could explore three fashion influencers' favorite Parisian locations in real life with "virtual surprises" overlaid on a smartphone screen. The final location was the new boutique on Rue Saint-Honoré, as the retailer smartly aimed to drive foot traffic — and sales — by tying its OOH effort with a fun AR experience.
Spirits brands Patrón and Macallan leveraged the tech for similar OOH activations, including an interactive art gallery for consumers to explore the backstory of Macallan's whiskies through richer, more immersive storytelling made possible with a smartphone. These creative methods underscore how AR is quickly reshaping the ways in which marketers can engage with tech-savvy consumers.
Meanwhile, social media platforms Snapchat and Facebook have helped to drive major growth in the adoption of AR among brands with the development of playful filters and camera effects that add a fun digital tie-in, such as Ben & Jerry's Facebook game that lets users virtually catch marshmallows in their mouths to boost buzz on social around its s'mores-flavored ice cream launch.
The conversation around AR's marketing potential evolved considerably this year when Apple unveiled ARKit, the mobile app framework for AR features on iPhones. The tool opened the door for the tech and made AR more accessible to brands small and large. Though Apple CEO Tim Cook declared AR "mainstream" in a Nov. 2 earnings call with investors, he also noted that we've just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of AR, stating that it will "change the way we use technology forever."
With Apple making the tech more accessible to mobile developers, and the fact that the latest devices are coming with AR capabilities already installed, many marketers are betting the future of the tech will be on smartphones.