- Panda Express, the American Chinese fast food chain, is celebrating the Lunar New Year with mobile augmented reality (AR) experiences on social media. The brand's "Celebration of Good Fortune" AR filters are available on Facebook and Instagram until Feb. 8, according to a company announcement.
- Each of Panda Express' five AR filters highlights a cultural tradition celebrating the Lunar New Year, the foremost holiday period in China and other Asian countries. The filters, which overlay digital images on a view of the real world, include games to catch virtual food falling from the top of the screen or to throw firecrackers that ward off evil spirits. Mobile users also can decorate selfies with lion masks and virtual lanterns, or swipe up to unlock surprises in red envelopes, an AR version of the gift-giving tradition in several Asian cultures.
- Panda Express also is running a sweepstakes until Feb. 8 that gives customers a chance to win a three-day trip to Universal Studios Hollywood to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2021. During the celebration, Panda Express is offering a limited-time menu item called "firecracker shrimp." The chain will hand out more than 1 million red envelopes with a coupon for a free firecracker shrimp entrée, Coca-Cola product and tangram puzzle for kids.
Panda Express's AR experience for the Lunar New Year aims to engage customers with virtual, interactive mobile content that's themed around an important holiday. More brands are deploying mobile-oriented campaigns to tap into these types of cultural moments, particularly as the spending power of the Chinese consumer base continues to surge.
Two years ago, Coca-Cola teamed up with Alipay, Alibaba Group's mobile payments app, to design QR codes that scan and unlock AR folk art dolls tied to the soft drink brand's broader Chinese New Year campaign. Coke CEO James Quincey has said that previous efforts timed around the Chinese New Year helped to drive strong sales for the marketer.
Panda Express is looking to translate that type of success to the U.S., where it operates more than 2,200 restaurants. AR filters are meant to be shared on social media, helping brands broaden the reach of their mobile campaigns with viral content. Panda Express' activation shows another application for Spark AR Studio, the latest incarnation of Facebook's AR development tools that were first introduced in 2017.
Facebook is prioritizing the development of artificial reality tech, as seen in the significant jump in its patent awards last year. Many of Facebook's patents were in the category of "heads-up displays" that likely were related to virtual reality headsets, Bloomberg reported.
Panda Express is among the brands that added AR gaming content to their campaigns to appeal to the growing number of people who use their smartphones to play video games. Sandwich chain Jimmy John's last fall had a similar game in Snapchat that challenged mobile users to catch as many falling sandwiches as they could in their mouths, and share the results on social media. Uber Eats India last month created an AR game for Instagram Stories that saw more than 1 million players vying for a chance to win a year of free food. The food delivery app's "Eats in a Blink" contest challenged mobile users to blink every time they saw a green building to complete delivery and score a point.