Augmented reality marketing: how brands can beat competitors with it

By Cristina Ferrandez

From influencer marketing and SEO-enriched content to podcasting and live streaming, there are a ton of methods proactive marketers could use to promote their brand. However, if there is one tactic that should be in every forward-thinking marketer’s strategy, it is augmented reality marketing (AR marketing). An interactive experience that lets users superimpose visual elements, sound, and other stimuli onto their real-world environment, AR has become far more than just a niche promotional tool. 

In 2020, 83.1 million people in the US used AR monthly. That’s 15% of the population, and if expert predictions are to be believed, this number will only keep growing. According to GlobalData, within the next 10 years, AR will go from a $7bn to $152bn industry, seeing 22-fold revenue growth in the process. Marketers that want to stay ahead of the newest marketing trends should see this as a golden opportunity to stand out in a crowded marketplace. 

Why augmented reality marketing?

AR and other immersive forms of marketing are great ways to attract and engage with new and existing customers. Studies show that brand awareness can go up by as much as 70% with the use of AR. Moreover, further research indicates that the average dwell time of an AR experience is 75 seconds, 4 times longer than video. The reason for that is that AR experiences have a unique ability to pique people’s curiosity. 

However, it’s not just that customers are more attracted to AR campaigns. They’re also more likely to buy your products after engaging with AR content. In fact, conversion rates for AR ads fall within the 20% to 80% rate.  

As attracting new customers becomes more difficult in an oversaturated market, we can expect to see more marketers turn to AR. Already, about two-thirds of media planners and buyers are preparing to incorporate AR into their digital marketing campaigns. 

How to leverage augmented reality marketing 

Want to get started with augmented reality marketing but not sure how? Here are just some of the ways you can add augmented reality to your marketing strategy. 

1. Social campaigns

augmented reality marketing
Taco Bell’s Snapchat filter that turned people into giant tacos proved to be an incredibly popular social campaign

About 90% of people buy from brands they follow on social media. For companies, then, being on social platforms their customers are on is non-negotiable. However, with most users fed up with poor social media content, what brands share online is now more important than ever. 

To really engage with their audience, brands should stop cross-posting boring content and spending their marketing budget on ads no one cares about. Instead, they should shift their focus to AR, especially considering that the number of social network AR users is growing at a steady rate. 

With AR becoming more common on social media, brands can now create and share interactive, branded filters on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Popular filters and AR effects include:

  • Face filters: Let users add virtual objects to their face and background, for example, by turning themselves into a taco or a doughnut or virtually trying on makeup
  • Mini-games: Give users the option of participating in short, interactive games that they can control and interact with by tapping their devices or using facial gestures. 
  • World effects: Augment a user’s environment with 3D objects and characters that users can interact with.
  • Portals: Allow users to place an augmented doorway, window, or portal in their real-world surroundings through which they can step into an entirely different environment.

How users discover the above filters will depend on the platform you share them on as well as whether you put any media spend behind the campaign or not. 

For example, on Facebook users can boost their AR ads on the News Feed to ensure that the right people see them. Similarly, on Snapchat, brands can either post Community Lenses, AR filters that are free to share but may not reach your target audience, or Sponsored Lenses, AR filters that are paid but show up in the carousels of users who fit your target audience criteria. 

On the other hand, Instagram still doesn’t allow brands to sponsor AR effects. The only way for users to see your filter is to find it on a brand’s Instagram profile or their Stories carousel. That being said, anytime a user creates and shares a Story with your effect, other users will be able to tap on the effect to make their own.

2. Competitions on social media

augmented reality marketing
Aladdin the Musical in London got social media users to take a selfie with an AR genie, rewarding the most creative selfie taker with free tickets to the show

For marketers, social media competitions are an easy way to encourage users to share branded AR effects with their followers, reach new customers, and generate impressive audience engagement. 

For instance, brands that run Instagram competitions have been proven to grow 70% faster. One reason for that is that Instagram posts related to contests receive 3.5 more likes and 64 times more comments than normal posts.

The type of competition you decide to run will, for the most part, depend on the AR effect you’re sharing and may include:

  • Selfies: Users submitting selfies featuring the brand’s AR filter. 
  • Augmented world effects: Users “placing” a 3D version of a product in their space and then sharing a photo of it with the brand.
  • Mini-games: Users competing with one another based on their performance in mini-games. 

For example, a few years ago, Aladdin the Musical in London ran a social media competition where users were encouraged to explore the “Cave of Wonders” and take a picture with the Genie using an AR filter. The user with the most creative selfie was awarded free tickets to the musical. 

3. TikTok

Although not the first to offer AR experiences, TikTok stands out from other social platforms in terms of how brands can use AR to promote themselves there.

The two main features marketers need to be aware of are Branded Effects and Hashtag Challenges. 

  1. Branded Effects: Allow brands to create and share custom effects, including filters, fun games, and other special effects, which users can then superimpose onto their own videos. For example, the L’Oréal Paris Branded Effect we helped create and which promoted the Colorista Permanent Gel hair colour allowed users to see how their hair would look if it were rose gold. 
  2. Hashtag Challenges: These are an amazing way to promote a branded effect because they involve TikTokers recording videos with the effect and sharing them with others. Not only do Hashtag Challenges turn participants into unofficial brand ambassadors, which can lead to billions of impressions, they also provide brands with user-generated content, which serves as excellent social proof. The #GoBoldColorista hashtag created by L’Oréal Paris, for instance, has, as of this writing, seen 3.1 billion views. Putting marketing spend behind Hashtag Challenges (i.e., “sponsoring” them) means that the challenge will appear on a sponsored banner on TikTok’s Discovery page.

4. Google Swirl display ads

It doesn’t matter how good your display ad is. Because it is 2D, a potential customer will never be able to get a good sense of what your product really looks like. Fortunately, Google Swirl display ads help marketers overcome this issue. 

Although similar to traditional display ads online, Swirl is a 3D ad format that allows marketers to use 3D product models in their promotions. What this means is that customers can interact with the product in the ad almost as if it was right in front of them and not behind a screen. 

Customers can zoom in and out of the product to see its details, spin it around to understand what it looks like from different sides, and even expand the ad to engage with it more easily.

A good example of a Swirl display ad is the 3D ad we designed for the British auto brand MG Motor. Promoting their 5-seater SUV MG Hector, the ad rotated as the viewer scrolled down the page. More importantly, the ad gave users the option to see the car up close and from all angles. 

That the Swirl ad was a great investment became clear almost straight away. At the end of the campaign, the ad had seen an 8x higher engagement rate (users had spent a whopping 4,600 hours engaging with the ad) and 70% viewability.

5. Augmented billboards 

Brands that promote their products via billboards, posters, or magazines don’t have to stick to boring, static ads. Instead, they can augment their marketing materials with AR using an image tracker effect.  

When an ad is enhanced with an image tracker, users can scan a particular image to launch an AR experience which they can then take part in. For example, in 2019, Burger King in Brazil launched a “Burn That Ad” campaign where users could point their smartphones at Burger King’s rivals’ ads to see them burn in AR and be replaced with a Burger King coupon for a free Whopper. 

Alternatively, brands can include a QR code in their billboards which users can scan to launch an AR experience. Earlier this year, we partnered with Doritos to create an AR campaign that would encourage music fans to return to live events. The campaign involved posters with QR codes that, when scanned, unlocked a portal featuring 3D objects and music. Those who activated the AR experience were also in for a chance to win a pair of day tickets to a live music event.

Getting started with augmented reality marketing 

While AR has been around for a while, it is only recently that we have seen an explosion in augmented reality marketing. Industries like food, beauty, and automotive have proven that this trend is worth pursuing, and you don’t have to have a massive budget to jump on the bandwagon, either. 

As evidenced by the five examples above, there are numerous ways you can include augmented reality into your brand’s marketing strategy today. Whichever option (or options) you decide to pursue, be sure to get in touch with the expert team at Poplar Studio. With years of experience in AR, we’ll help you make the most out of your augmented reality marketing efforts.

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