Woof: The Future of Social AR is More Than Face Filters

The following was published in SHOTS in May 2021…. sign up for Greg’s weekly email for stuff like this every week HERE.

We’re at a fascinating crossroads of digital and social marketing, creative technology, and changing consumer habits.

TVs are getting smarter. Mobile ad tracking is being disrupted. Social platforms are all adding audio stories. TikTok is transforming how news spreads. Creators are monetizing like never before. Email is actually popular again.  

And meanwhile, there is a digital and social layer on the physical world all around us, just waiting to be unlocked by our phones—and soon eyeglasses, mirrors, windshields, and more.

source: Hyper-Reality by Keiichi Matsuda

The term “augmented reality” is a boring and unimaginative term for a transformative technology that can detect your face and turn you into a frog. Or learn your room’s layout and transform it into a palace. Or unlock hidden brand content behind a product logo, from a billboard, in a grocery store aisle, or on a pedestrian mall.

Originally popularized by Snapchat filters and Pokemon Go, augmented reality (AR) reached the mainstream without consumers realizing the tremendous nerdy science of machine learning, visual recognition, and 3D modeling required to bring these experiences to life. They just work. By 2025, nearly 75% of the global population, and almost all smartphone users, will be frequent AR users. (Snap, 2021) In other words, everyday consumers have elevated expectations for branded AR, which means marketers need to learn the technology, best practices, and begin to prepare for AR’s future today.

AR experiences create an emotional connection and reason to engage with a brand that is more playful and memorable than traditional ads. Interacting with products that have AR experiences leads to a 94% higher conversion rate. (Snap) It doesn’t matter whether the story is entertaining, social, educational, gamified, or utilitarian because AR experiences are immersive and highly personal, they have a greater likelihood of increasing brand relevance and recall.

AR In Your Pocket, In Your Feeds, In Your Browsers

Microsoft’s $3500 Hololens is a powerful AR visor for jaw-dropping mixed-reality experiences, but most smartphones support AR via the operating system, app, and mobile browser. Nowadays, everybody has a device in their pocket they can use to overlay the digital layer on top of the physical world! 

And since the hardware is so ubiquitous, almost every major platform has introduced these magical AR features—including branded filters and environmental effects on Facebook Camera, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. Amazon’s AR feature lets you view thousands of products in your home before you buy them. Pinterest and YouTube have “try on” features.

source: eMarketer

Facebook Newsfeed now has AR ads where you can demo a product in your home or automobile in your driveway. Apple’s Measure app turns your phone’s LiDAR camera into a stunning accurate tape measure. Google Maps now offers a heads-up AR street view, and Google’s mobile browser results will literally project a 3D object in your space, no app required (e.g., try Googling “horse” on mobile and select “View in 3D”).  

Moving Beyond Face Filters in Social AR

Social AR is going to become even more collaborative and well, social, in the coming year. Apple Clips make scanning your face and space and sharing with friends as easy as pressing a button. Spark AR Studio makes building AR experiences as easy as drop-and-drop on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook’s Oculus is incorporating AR into their social VR products. The creators of Pokemon Go are preparing a new walking-style AR game with Nintendo’s Pikmin, and they just released an augmented reality developer kit that has extraordinary multiplayer abilities – intersecting and your real-world friends with digital and AR world content. 

Gamified brand experiences have always been popular with consumers, but social AR will create an opportunity for interplay between a brand and its consumer that will make a social comment or retweet seem trite. 

Apple’s new AirTag smart trackers will be used for more than just finding your lost keys. They feature an ultra-wideband chip that uses AR tech for precise location finding, which means developers will be able to use this chip to identify and map physical objects in independent AR experiences. Imagine embedding that chip in your product so consumers can interact with it both in the real world and in the augmented world. Launched just this month, Snapchat’s new Spectacles feature AR, and are currently only available to developers and creators interested in experimenting on the platform.

Although Snapchat was the first to leverage the iPhone 12 Pro’s upgraded LiDAR Scanner for AR, the iPhone 13 is rumored to feature LiDAR scanners for all models. LiDAR is the same technology self-driving cars use to “see” the road and identify objects. That technology coming to mainstream phones will create even more opportunities for marketers to build magical experiences in the years to come. 

The future of AR is Smart Glasses

Almost every major tech company is working on smart eyeglasses – Apple, Snap, Google, Facebook, Microsoft –  and all of them include some form of AR. And while you may immediately roll your eyes about the second coming of Google Glass, the patent leaks and use cases are increasing by the month. 

Imagine consumers walking down a busy pedestrian mall and “seeing” customized ads and messages projected on blank walls that they can only see with their AR glasses. Or shopping in a grocery store, where the products on shelves advertise their own coupons. Or a branded pop-up experience that features an AR game played with a brand mascot, or a live band concert “hologram” on an otherwise empty stage.

Of course, there will also be pushback against this type of AR adoption. Concerns about privacy, utility, and not necessarily wanting ads wherever you look with your smart glasses are valid. Some off-the-shelf algorithms have difficulty sensing BIPOC faces or are prone to misgendering, so it’s critical branded experiences are inoculated from discrimination. And you can bet AR graffiti will be a thing. But that’s probably a few years out. 

Although it may be a couple years before we’re living the world of Keiichi Matsuda’s, “Hyper-Reality,” there is a high likelihood that every brand will need to have an AR playbook sooner than later. Now is the time to plan ahead. “See” what I mean?

6 Steps to Prepare Your Brand for AR’s Immersive Future:

  1. What products or services do you need 3D mapped today (and tomorrow)? Establish a process for capturing, labeling, and ensuring proper usage of 3D assets the same way you capture 2D and video assets in your content library. You’re going to need them.
  2. Have you ensured your AR experiences are inclusive? Some off-the-shelf algorithms have difficulty sensing BIPOC faces or are prone to mis-gendering. Ensure your branded experience is inoculated from discrimination.
  3. How can you move beyond branded face filters and raffles? Branded face filters and “What _____ Are You?” raffle experiences have become so commonplace on Instagram and Snapchat that they are ignorable. Level it up for 2021!
  4. What AR ad units should you be testing? Explore Facebook and Google’s AR advertising offers and see how they could fit within your marketing mix. Consider a pilot to weigh performance and ROI.
  5. How can you use social media to highlight AR experiences from your website and app? Brands may find that GIFs and short video demos of AR tools perform better than even static images on social.
  6. When does it make sense to bring AR into your experiential footprint? Point of sale displays, at-shelf, and pop-up branded experiences can all benefit from the immersive nature of AR to give a consumer extra information or a reason to stop and engage.