How marketers are leveraging augmented reality

How marketers are leveraging augmented reality

Furniture retailers Ikea have been quick to capitalise on the potential of augmented reality as a marketing tool. We explore how marketers are using this technology across different sectors to engage consumers and heighten the customer experience.

A recent report by global software company Episerver suggested that only 8% of UK marketers have so far incorporated augmented reality into their commerce campaigns. But since Apple released ARKit, its augmented reality framework, last year, the door has been thrown open to developers and brands. This might explain why the tech giant’s CEO, Tim Cook, said recently he was so excited about the possibilities of augmented reality he wanted to ‘yell out and scream’. 

Ikea Place app: solving a customer problem

Swedish furniture giant Ikea has produced arguably the most successful AR application to date, in order to market its products. With its Place app, customers can see how furniture looks in their homes before they buy it, thanks to a digital overlay system. Furniture can be a costly investment, so marketers at Ikea are building consumer confidence in the purchases they make by allowing them to preview products before they buy, increasing consumer satisfaction and reducing the likelihood of returns. It also positions Ikea as a forward-thinking, technology-savvy company that is solving the customer’s problems.

Kitchen worktop company, Cambria, and paint brand Dulux, are just two more business to have deployed an AR solution to help customers visualise new products in situ. Following suit, Amazon has developed a similar feature for certain products, now available on some Android smartphones.

Snapchat: augmented social networking

Snapchat has integrated AR into its offering almost from the beginning, by allowing users to add filters and lenses to images of the real world, as seen through their video cameras. Recently, it took another step by introducing an AR game set called Snappables. This collection lets users catch digital eggs in their mouths, fight aliens, start a rock band and play basketball – all with their friends. Snapchat is clearly aiming to lead the way in augmented social networking, and has apparently figured out how to monetise it; just last week, it announced plans to create and sell branded versions of Snappable games to businesses, with Bud Light and Dunkin’ Donuts already signed up. Mobile network Three is the UK launch partner, with customers able to play a World Cup AR game in Snapchat involving a character from a recent advertising campaign.    

MAC Mirror: In-store AR

MAC cosmetics has grasped the potential of AR to enhance traditional shopping experiences. Last year it launched an in-store ‘mirror’, created by ModiFace, that would show a customer their face, allowing them to virtually apply almost 30 types of eye make-up. Using facial-tracking technology, a camera maps the user’s face and aims to mimic a professional make-up artist. Here, MAC has found a clever synthesis between digital technology and a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ environment, deploying the technology in a place where consumers are already browsing for the product in question.


ExxonMobil: Educating engineers

Engine oil is not the easiest product to demonstrate, which is why Exxon Mobil 1 commissioned developer Milklab to create an AR marketing toolkit for its salespeople, to help explain the benefits to customers. The solution was to build a visualisation that could be overlaid on a portable 3D-printed engine. By combining the model with an iPad-based AR execution, the reps found it easier to hold the attention of engineers, who gained a better understanding of how Mobil 1 oil interacted with the engine. The interactive element of this campaign made the demo more memorable, contributing to a sales increase of 59 per cent, according to the company. This innovative marketing technique demonstrates how the B2B sector is using AR as a combined sales and education tool appropriate for an informed, specialist audience group.

The future: Augmented sports

One exciting future application of AR yet to be available to brands was recently unveiled by researchers at the University of Washington. The team has developed an algorithm that will allow users to watch sports matches in 3D augmented reality on, for example, a tabletop. For now, this will only be available to a few users of AR headsets, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens. But it promises to herald a revolution in the way people watch sport. As sport broadcasting is a multibillion-dollar industry, it’s a safe bet that brands will soon be clamouring to advertise and sponsor these visualisations.

It’s clear that brands are beginning to realise the marketing possibilities of AR. Unlike its cousin, virtual reality, AR has the advantage of being able to mesh seamlessly with other physical media, without being intrusive or too isolating. Time will tell whether marketers are able to bring about the all-important conversion from AR executions. For now, however, there is no doubt that AR is building new engagement opportunities for customers, and providing eye-catching, fun, informative and extremely adaptable solutions for marketers across the industry.

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James Richards
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