Augmented Reality. It’s the stuff of science fiction, yet its use is increasingly prevalent in digital society – in fact, the AR market is currently estimated to be worth US$16.6 billion, growing to US$198 billion by 2025. Additionally, customers seem to prefer it: 71 percent of consumers would shop at a retail store more if it offered AR experiences.
For marketers, AR has an enormous power, showing a brand’s point of difference and engaging consumers in a more modern way.
But AR (and its sibling VR) has been promised for at least a decade, leading some to believe it is just a fad technology. So why has AR picked up so much pace recently, and what could it mean for marketing in 2020?
Why is AR suddenly exploding?
AR is inching closer and closer to the mainstream, and that’s largely thanks to improvements in technology.
For example, AR is now widely available on mainstream apps such as SnapChat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Indeed, anyone making an AR experience for Facebook Messenger alone can reach as many as 1.3 billion people worldwide. It used to be the case that AR required standalone apps to use, though now it can reach users in their native streams.
Additionally, it’s now easier to develop AR experiences. Software such as Facebook’s Spark AR Studio, Google’s ARCore or Adobe Aero has made it simpler for developers to build engaging AR programs without the same custom development requirements as once before. Spark AR and Adobe Aero in particular are designed so that even inexperienced users can build an AR experience using drag-and-drop functionality.
What can modern AR do?
Current mainstream AR is capable of a wide range of functions. For example:
- Tracking: It can track people’s faces, hands, bodies, or points in a space, to place virtual objects into a scene that move and rotate as if they were real. Think of a person wearing a mask, or a UFO appearing to hover above the ground.
- Segmentation: Some AR software can separate a background and foreground element (e.g. a person and a wall behind them) and replace the background element with something else (e.g. replacing the wall with a dance floor and disco ball).
- Interactivity: AR can be used to create simple interactive games, where users interact with virtual objects to achieve some type of goal.
- Shopping: With AR shopping functions, users can try on items of virtual clothing or make-up, place furniture into their home, examine cars they would like to purchase as though they were parked in the driveway, and so on.
Examples of AR in use by marketers
Ready Player One
When the film “Ready Player One” was released, Warner Brothers commissioned an AR experience where users could hold their phone camera up to any “Ready Player One” movie poster (using Facebook) and a magical portal would suddenly appear. That portal would replace the poster, and users were able to view through this ‘window’ into a 3D virtual space, featuring characters such as the Iron Giant. This immersive experience was much more powerful than a passive poster, keeping users engaged with the “Ready Player One” brand for longer.
YouTube’s venture into the AR space – AR Beauty Try-On – enables viewers to ‘try on’ beauty products as they view their favourite video content. International make-up line MAC was quick to try out the software, running a campaign where users could virtually try out MAC products as beauty vloggers did the same thing in their videos. When users found a product they liked, they could tap a button to shop online for that product.
AR Beauty Try-On is currently in alpha testing, and is available via FameBit, Google’s branded content platform.