Rishabh Dev, Mapplinks paints a picture of the changing canvas of digital marketing in light of Augmented Reality in 2017.

Back in 1993, when Jurassic Park released, it became a worldwide sensation. Although it wasn’t the first time Hollywood was experimenting with augmented reality (remember The Terminator?), it was a novel experience for the audiences young and old to see the prehistoric creatures on screen. In yet another marketing masterstroke, Universal Studios followed up on the success of the movie with a theme park and a traveling show of full scale working models of the dinosaurs used in the movie. Too bad, Steven Spielberg didn’t have access to some of the technology in real life at that time.

However, technology has advanced enough since the first Jurassic Park movie hit the theaters that augmented reality is no longer limited to science fiction anymore. Had the movie released today, it would probably have been a bigger hit, thanks to augmented reality gear readily available in the market. But is augmented reality limited to science fiction, movies and movie promotions? Not at all. Augmented reality technology has already begun to change the way we interact with our environment. It has found its place in the sun with digital marketing innovation leading the way and many brands have jumped onto the bandwagon. What remains to be seen is, where will it head from here. Let’s take a look at what possibilities lie in the near future of augmented reality.

Time for a change in the digital experience

Google Glass was a commercial failure. But what it did for the augmented reality market is nothing short of a grand success. Many more devices like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR have taken over from where Google Glass left off and trying to reverse the fortunes of the augmented reality market. Moreover, the pace at which AR is being adopted by consumers is encouraging, especially for marketers who want to use it to their advantage.

An excellent example of this change was shown by Snapchat last year when the company introduced AR filters for users. Within no time, some of the most forward-thinking brands like Gatorade had adopted to the trend and released ad campaigns featuring branded filters. One of the biggest reasons for brands to do so is the fact that users are already beginning to feel saturated with online engagement and digital marketing needed a new innovative way to communicate with them effectively without being too intrusive. Not only that, millennials as a target audience prefer to do their research before making a purchase decision. But GenZ, the digital natives of today who grew up with smartphones and ad blockers want a personalized experience. This difference in the two diverse groups within the core target audience of most brands makes it necessary for marketers to deliver content that engages them and results in positive purchase decision making. AR has offered them that opportunity and brands have lapped it up with ease.

The Pokemon effect

Pokemon Go was a turning point for augmented reality. At its peak, the app was downloaded by over 100 million users. Although, its launch had been timed perfectly – during summers, when kids are not in school – branding had a big role to play in the overall success of the game as well. Brand Pokemon has developed itself over a period of more than two decades with games, character design, anime and the tone of the series. But what it also did last year, was to unleash a new avenue for digital marketers with its mass appeal and immense reach.

Digital product placements and advertising found a new hero in augmented reality. Not that it had never been tried before. Remember Second Life? In more than a decade of existence, Second Life has about 1 million active users only, which is far less than what Pokemon could achieve in a much shorter duration. Moreover, Pokemon Go’s active engagement of users in real life gave it a much bigger appeal than Second Life.

However, that is not the limit to which augmented reality can go. Ikea is one company that has already understood the impact augmented reality can have on consumer experience. The company launched an augmented reality app for consumers that allows them to experience their products in a whole different way. Users can now see what a couch will look like inside their homes before they make a purchase decision. So has Ray-Ban. Ray-Ban realized the gap in the online shopping experience for consumers and decided to do something about it. With their ‘virtual mirror’ users can now actually try out their products before buying and make better purchase decisions.

More than marketing

The first instinct of digital marketers with AR as their new toy would be to add product placements wherever they can. But that’s not the only way to do things. Researchers like Ana Javornik believe that companies and most importantly, digital marketers need to stave off the urge to hastily jump onto the augmented reality bandwagon. In her article on HBR, Javornik says, “companies have to resist the urge to hastily create AR apps (that risk appearing gimmicky), and instead focus on better understanding how consumers will interact with the technology.”

While VR creates a new reality, AR is about enhancing the existing physical world for the users. It is about weaving virtual elements missing from the physical reality for a heightened experience. That’s what Snapchat AR does for the users, giving them an opportunity to turn ordinary everyday videos into something extraordinary.

What else can augmented reality do

Some brands in select sectors have already stepped onto the path of augmented reality to enhance the consumer experience manifold. Travel and tourism companies, for example, are using AR to let customers experience destinations from the comfort of their living rooms. Like Ray-Ban, many other brands are already experimenting with adding AR to their online shopping experience for the customers. For example, the Cover Girl app lets users test makeup anytime, anywhere they want.

Apart from its role in consumer experience and its already very traditional role in gaming, a possible role of AR in the field of medicine is also being explored where medical students may get an opportunity to better understand the human body with the use of AR instead of depending on cadavers in education and research. Not only that, doctors can interact with patients in an augmented world for better diagnosis, and help them understand the ailment and treatment better. Medical marketing too, on their part, can use AR to demonstrate the capabilities and services offered by hospitals, especially to medical tourists traveling from another country.

Do all brands need an AR experience for consumers?

In spite of the strides made by technology, building a VR experience is still an expensive proposition for many brands and will continue to be so for some time to come. Moreover, just like incessant flow of content has resulted in a saturation amongst the digital audiences, as pointed out by Dr. Ana Javornik in her research, too much of AR isn’t going to help anyone either. Too much AR content that appears ‘more gimmicky than useful’ is just going to turn the consumers away from a true AR experience.

Also, no one said brands cannot explore opportunities with existing content. Clever and subtle placement will be the key to brand’s success in the augmented reality world. Air New Zealand, KFC, Vodafone and many others tagged along with Pokemon Go last year. AirNZ engaged fliers during layovers with clever positioning of Pokemon characters around the departure lounge, while KFC resorted to what many called a ‘shameless product placement’. Consumers are less likely to be interested in seeing an animated logo or a cartoon character on their screens after scanning a product. But if they get some kind of incentive, however small it may be, like seeing a walk-through video for assembling the product or a detailed product catalog, that would add much more impact to an AR experience for them.

In conclusion

Augmented reality holds promise of innovation in consumer engagement for brands. With the technology getting cheaper, accessible and better integrated with most existing handheld devices, marketing communication strategies can expect a quantum leap brand positioning in the times to come. However, with great power, comes great responsibility. Brands and digital marketers need to keep this in mind at all times, lest they overwhelm their audiences with needless and gimmicky AR content.


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