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.


Reaction GIFs are no longer cool? A.I. has already taken over; Snapchat AR Glasses are here

You are reading Greg’s weekly email about creative, digital, social, and cultural signals worth noting, and sometimes a dumb viral video worth sharing with your friends. Today’s email was written to Greg’s 7-hour “Get to Work” playlist on random. Follow @gregswan on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.


I have bad news, friends. Apparently, reaction GIFs are no longer cool (or maybe were never cool), and I truly love reaction GIFs. It’s going to be hard to quit them..

I asked my 10-year-old, and she said this isn’t a thing. Reaction GIFs are neither cool nor lame. They are ambivalent. So maybe there’s hope for me and my social habits. Time will tell.


There’s a pretty common notion (joke? saying? trope?) about the robots taking over that is so realistic it’s not even a funny or unique Hollywood film plot anymore. Specifically, right this minute artificial intelligence (A.I.) is powering the stock market, traffic flows, manufacturing, shipping, healthcare, and the vacuum in my living room.  But there’s also a problem there, which is human error, bias, and our lack of understanding of the long-term implications to our short-term coding decisions.

In an interview published by The Guardian, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman shared his expert take on the battle of man and machine quite succinctly, “Clearly AI is going to win [against human intelligence]. It’s not even close… How people are going to adjust to this is a fascinating problem.”

Kahneman’s new book is actually focused on human bias and the impact of noise that impacts our decisions, but I really appreciated his comments about humanity’s widespread inability to grasp the basic idea of exponential growth and understand the future of our decisions as it directly relates to A.I. (and the machines taking over before the masses truly understand what’s happening): “Exponential phenomena are almost impossible for us to grasp. We are very experienced in a more or less linear world. And if things are accelerating, they’re usually accelerating within reason. Exponential change [as with the spread of the virus] is really something else. We’re not equipped for it. It takes a long time to educate intuition.”

What do we do about it? 1) Insist on ethical A.I. 2) Educate ourselves and our kids. 3) Educate our parents. 4) Look to Hollywood for the worst-case scenarios and try to avoid them. 5) Try to learn from how human’s reacted to the exponential change of the pandemic — good, bad, and forever changed.

ICYMI: I had some news at work last week.

This week I also learned Substack has a Reader view similar to Google Reader, which is good because my newsletter subscriptions are growing out of control in my email inbox. With that said, if you have a favorite right now, leave a comment, and share a reco!

Here’s what else I’m tracking this week…

Microsoft Teams for the Whole Family: If you didn’t already spend enough time on MS Teams each day, now you can spend your nights and weekends using the team platform for friends and family connections (finally!). It features free 24-hour video calls for up to 300 people, so you can even use it for your summer family reunion. 

older man posting for photos wearing cool clothes
Source: @jaadiee

Boomer Digital Migration: According to a Pew Research Center 2021 study, those aged 50-64 use Facebook more than the age groups just above or below them. Baby Boomers feel that social media has had a positive effect on their lives, and—perhaps surprisingly—are influencing and gaming with a fervor approaching that of their younger counterparts. Our friends at JWT have further analysis (including my new favorite account, Grampstagram) here.https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/lu_tsHcA33E?rel=0&autoplay=0&showinfo=0&enablejsapi=0

Snapchat = Shopping! AR Glasses, and Organic Content? This week’s Snapchat Partnership Summit brought big news including the introduction of Snap’s AR Glasses, the addition of Gifting to let Snapchat users pay creators, and the news that business profiles are moving out of beta for brands with Shopify accounts. Last summer, the beta prompted a lot of conversations about brands starting to post organic content on Snapchat, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this.  

a woman holding her hand up and viewing it through her phone
Source: Google

Google I/O Recap: This week’s big announcements at the Google I/O keynote include: Google’s Project Starline, which features a magic mirror-style video call system that increases the sense of place and presence beyond a Zoom window. A camera that’s more inclusive of skin tone and natural hair styles. Google Photos making animated photos from stills and creating password-protected locked photo folders. New ways to change your password. Google Maps updates to Liveview AR and new use of A.I. to identify “situations that cause you to slam on the brakes, such as confusing lane changes or freeway exits.” Digital car keys so you can unlock your car with your phone. A new health tool that lets you use your phone’s camera to detect and diagnose skin conditions. And a lot more! Here’s a 16 min video recap worth watching.

Photo of linoleum floor pattern
Source: Reddit

The Most Popular Flooring Product on the Internet This Week: Armstrong Flooring model 5352 is the single most popular linoleum pattern installed in midcentury America. There’s a 100% chance you’ve been in a house with this design if you lived between 1930 and 2000. Maybe you even played with toys using the pattern as a kid. 5352 was designed by Hazel Dell-Brown, who also is credited with introducing the first color advertisements. And this week #ZillowSocial was buzzing about the nostalgia of the design and its reintroduction that is capitalizing on the mid-century modern craze.  

Google Workspace (aka G Suite) is Getting a Massive Overhaul: After years of stagnation, look for some big changes coming to Google Workspace intended to help the search giant better compete with Microsoft Office. You’ll be able to start a Meet video chat directly within Docs or share your Doc directly into a Meet call with a button in the doc. There will be assisted writing to help you sound your smartest. Emoji reactions in Docs in addition to traditional comments. A new timeline view in Google Sheets for improved project management, and a new “pageless” view in Google Docs that does away with the assumption that your document is meant for an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. More here.

Reads of the Week: 1) The Next Steps For The Quantified Self Are Context and Coaching; 2) How ‘Shrek’ Achieved a Strange, Perverted Online Afterlife; 3) The Gentle Guy Internet is Real and The Best of the Gentle Guy Internet; 4) Why Roblox is fast becoming one of the most important media businesses of the future; 5) Rich people are heading to space and they’re changing what it means to be an astronaut; 6) A Divided Nation Flocks to Partisan Brands

Quick Hits:

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