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.


Social Pulse, Week of 5-18

Every week I keep tabs on what’s trending, new technology and consumer habits that impact the social web. These are summed up in a round-up called Social Pulse.

Sign up for these weekly emails here.

SocNet Updates: Facebook issued clarification about music usage across their platforms, acquired Giphy for 400 million, and Facebook Shops was announced –starting this week you can browse and buy products directly from a business’ Facebook Page or Instagram profile. Instagram added new Guides within profiles to help connect with resources and products. TikTok hired Disney’s head of streaming Kevin Mayer as their new CEO and experienced its first widescale user protest. Twitter changed the way embedded Tweets appear outside their platform, removed Twitter Camera features (nobody used anyway), and is now  experimenting with letting you choose who can reply to tweets.

Apple’s FaceID Becomes Mask-Friendly: Apple’s new iOS 13.5 update, released on Wednesday, makes it easier to unlock your phone without FaceID. Users with up-to-date software will now see an opportunity to enter their passcode or password when they swipe up and FaceID doesn’t work that first time.

Be Kind Rewind: Despite that fact that Netflix now has 182 million subscribers, the world’s last remaining Blockbuster is not only still open but thinks it will outlast the pandemic. Key quote: “I had a customer come in and she said, ‘I am so grateful that you reopened, because I couldn’t flip through Netflix one more time.’”

The State of Hype Houses: In early Q1, the trend of influencer-filled mansions called “hype houses” and “collab houses” – where Gen-Z influencers move to LA, live together, and make content together – was just picking up steam as the pandemic and closures hit. But the NYT reports that not only has the trend not died out, it’s on track to become one of the biggest forces in post-COVID social media. Key quote: “The first video I’ll make we’ll probably go down to Melrose or Santa Monica and we’ll just mess around in public… I think the first day out of quarantine will be a video of its own.”

IEEE’s Sobering Guidance on A.I. in VR and AR: This week IEEE released a 29-page report called “Extended Reality in A/IS” (Autonomous & Intelligent Systems)” that is incredibly relevant given so many of us are living in an immersive reality known as Zoom, Skype, Animal Crossing, Fortnite and more. Key themes include: Extended Reality [XR] changes the way we interact with society and can lead to complete disengagement. When geography is eliminated and identity morphs from physical certainty to virtuality, then cultural norms and interactions may transform in ways that supersede, supplement, or replace human interaction. XR creates opportunities for generated experiences and high levels of user control that may lead certain individuals to choose virtual life over the physical world, which has clinical implications. Download the full report here.

Podcast of the Week: You probably recognize the song “Winds of Change” by Scorpions by the iconic whistle that begins the power ballad. It became the soundtrack to the peaceful revolution sweeping Europe in the 1990s — and one of the biggest rock singles ever. According to some fans, it’s the song that ended the Cold War. And the Winds of Change podcast follows the history of the song and the rumor that it was written the CIA. Listen here.

Apple Glasses’ Latest Leak: Would you wear Apple smart glasses? 🤓 After years of patent watching, the leaks are getting more specific. Apple Glasses will be augmented reality compatible but probably won’t contain cameras, which was the biggest privacy issue with Google Glass privacy. They will support prescriptions, run off your iPhone, and the rumored price point of $499 could make them extremely competitive.

Tweet of the Week: Watch this dad doing virtual reality dive face first into his big screen TV.


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