4 augmented reality Christmas effects to win Christmas 2021

By Daniel Bowen

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how people celebrated Christmas last year, and although the world has made enormous progress since 2020, the festive period this year will also be very different from what we’re used to. However, while things like Christmas parties and markets may be cancelled, gift-giving is alive and well. In fact, almost a third of consumers say they’ll be spending more on presents in 2021. 

For brands, knowing how people will shop for their friends and family (and themselves — last year, almost 80% of Americans said they were going to self-gift, even though 43% don’t usually do so) is crucial. 

In 2020, Google saw an 80% increase in searches for “online gift” compared to 2019, and this trend isn’t going away this year, either. Almost a third of UK consumers plan on buying all their presents online this holiday season. Crucially, many people will be seeking gift inspiration from social media, with 87% of Gen Z shoppers saying they’ll browse Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube for their holiday shopping. 

Strong sales are likely to continue into the post-Christmas period, but that doesn’t mean that every brand will do well this holiday season. With a saturated online retail market, brands that want to stand out need to go beyond traditional ecommerce and/or marketing Christmas campaigns. The good news is that doing so doesn’t have to be difficult. With augmented reality, brands can create immersive Christmas experiences that will not only entertain and engage customers but also make them more likely to make a purchase. 

Here are four AR options available for brands looking to do something a little different this year.

1. Face filters & Christmas gift virtual try-on

Face filters are an excellent way for marketers to cut through the noise. These could allow users try on holiday makeup “looks” on their face or body, or to transform themselves into Christmas-themed characters (like Santa Claus, an elf, or even a Christmas tree), 

The London-based theatre The Old Vic, for example, launched a face filter that turned users into Mr Scrooge both to promote and celebrate their production of the Christmas classic, ‘A Christmas Carol’.

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Our Christmas effect for The Old Vic’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

Similarly, this Snapchat Christmas effect we created transformed users into Harry Lime of The Wet Bandits from the iconic scene in the Home Alone movie.

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Our Snapchat Christmas filter for ‘Home Alone’

On the other hand, NYX Professional Makeup worked with us on AR face filters that allowed users to test five different spooky makeup looks, which they could then recreate at home by buying NYX Professional Makeup products. However, rather than just a simple makeup filter, the experience had users first exploring a 3D model of a haunted house, where they came “face to face” with five haunted dolls wearing the makeup looks. In the US, the effect was opened more than 2 million times, and in Spain, the user engagement rate was a whopping 99.8%. 

Our AR experience for NYX Professional Makeup

Although this particular AR effect was Halloween-themed, something similar could be easily created for the Yuletide season. For example, by replacing the haunted house with a 3D model of a gingerbread house. 

It’s not just makeup that users can try out with face filters, either. Clothing and accessories companies can use virtual try-on filters to provide customers with Christmas party outfits and gift ideas and then link directly to their ecommerce website, where users can make a purchase. With the COVID-19 pandemic still far from over, this can be a nice alternative for customers who may be wary of visiting physical stores and trying on products. 

An ecommerce Christmas campaign by the outdoor brand The North Face involved offering users an Instagram Christmas filter that let them “try on” their Futurelight jacket in (virtually) snowy conditions. 

This ecommerce AR campaign from The North Face allowed users to “try on” their Futurelight jacket

Besides the fact that they’re convenient (not to mention fun), Christmas effects are also highly shareable. As a result, they often lead to user-generated content and word-of-mouth marketing. 

2. Festive-themed mini-games

A variation of face filters, festive-themed mini-games are another great option for brands looking to grab customer attention and capture more sales this holiday season. Mini-games are exactly what they sound like: short games that users can participate in by tapping on their screens or by moving their heads and bodies. 

A good example of a mini-game is the “Falling Candies” game we created for Candy Crush Saga on Snapchat. The game has a user opening and closing their mouth as well as moving their eyebrows to “catch” the falling sweets. 

Our Snapchat Lens for Candy Crush Saga

For a more festive version, marketers should consider swapping out the sweets for candy canes, gingerbread men cookies, or mince pies. 

To make a mini-game more competitive, brands can go down the multiplayer route and integrate leaderboards — a wonderful Christmas-time activity for friends who can’t meet up in person. 

While one of the best things about mini-games is that they can be played from anywhere, some retailers may instead opt for location-based games. Last Christmas, the shopping mall The Friary in Guildford, UK, had shoppers going on a Santa-themed AR treasure trail. As part of the immersive Christmas experience, users had to find six of Santa’s elves hiding in the shopping centre by scanning floor stickers. Once they found them all, users could then take a selfie with an AR Santa and have their name entered in the free prize draw to win £250. 

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The Friary in Guildford, UK, had shoppers going on a Santa-themed AR treasure trail

3. Magical portals

Wouldn’t it be amazing if people could visit the North Pole or other magical worlds without actually having to leave their homes? With portals, they can. 

Portals are augmented doors or windows that, when placed in the real world with AR, allow users to “step” into a 360º world. Through portals, brands can immerse users into their own unique worlds or festive scenes, like an elf’s hut or Santa’s cabin, and have them interacting with fun 3D Christmas effects. 

In 2019, we partnered with Aladdin the Musical to create a portal that allowed users to go inside the “Cave of Wonders” via their smartphones, rub a magical lamp, and then take a selfie with the Genie himself. 

Our AR portal for Aladdin the Musical

Similarly, in 2019, a Snapchat portal created by Toys “R” Us Canada saw Geoffrey the Giraffe “bringing” users in through a maple leaf portal into a virtual version of the Toys “R” Us store where they could see some of the store’s top toys for the holiday season. 

Also in 2019, Gucci released a Snapchat getaway portal that transported users to a beach full of AR Christmas effects, such as a Christmas tree with presents, a snowman made out of sand, and palm trees “raining” candy canes. Of course, there were plenty of AR Gucci objects for users to interact with, as well. 

4. Augmented world Christmas effects

Instead of transporting users into a completely virtual environment through portals, augmented world effects enhance a user’s actual surroundings with AR effects. During the Christmas period, brands can use this capability to give customers the option of placing virtual festive objects, like a Christmas tree, in their living room, or a wreath on their front door. 

In 2020, we collaborated with the Great Ormond Street Hospital and Children’s Charity to create an immersive Christmas experience. At the time, COVID-19 restrictions were in full swing, which meant that children at the hospital could not have an actual Christmas tree in their bedrooms. Determined to add some Christmas cheer to the wards nonetheless, the hospital worked with us on an AR Christmas tree accessible through a web browser (rather than an app, which you’d have to download). 

The tree came with lights and decorations, which were personalised to reflect the different animal-themed wards in the hospital, and could be placed anywhere within a user’s real-world environment. After users found the perfect spot for the tree in their room, they could interact with it (for example, plug it in to see it light up or make it snow) as well as take a picture of themselves or their family and friends beside the tree. 

Brands can also use world effects to let customers visualise realistically-rendered 3D products that they can interact with, thus creating excitement and anticipation around upcoming festive promotions. 

In 2018, the footwear retailer Foot Locker launched an “Unbox before they drop” Snapchat campaign that let sneaker fans virtually unbox and play around with the long-awaited Gatorade Air Jordan 1’s during Christmas time, before they went on sale. 

‘Tis the season to get creative with Christmas effects 

Whether you have a clear idea of what you want your immersive Christmas experience to look like, or want to discuss all the different Christmas effects available to see which one would suit your business best, we can help.

Here at Poplar Studio, we provide Christmas effects starting from £2,000. Get in touch with our team of AR professionals today to ace Christmas marketing this year.

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