Augmented Reality, or AR, is one of the major buzzwords of the last few years, appearing in keynote speeches and media briefs across the industry. In this blog post, James Corran, Paid Social Planner, and Ian Adams, Paid Social Account Director, looked at what this technology means for social media.
Put simply, AR is any product that superimposes computer-generated assets onto a real-world environment (or usually footage of it from a camera) in real time. Currently, the most prominent application of AR in social media is the lens feature on Snapchat, which allows users to play with fun visual effects that are directly applied to the user’s live camera feed.
We’ve already talked about the brand value of Snapchat lens’ fun factor, but we haven’t yet talked about how AR is being adopted across other platforms, or how we expect the field to develop in the coming years.
Facebook, one of the emerging players in the AR push, are developing a major suite of products that use AR to provide interactive consumer journeys. Over the last year or so, they have gradually been offering the opportunity to advertisers to promote Facebook AR lenses to users.
If users start to adopt Facebook and Instagram AR lenses to the same extent that Snapchat users have, this may become a very formidable placement, offering advertisers the chance to pair the interactivity of AR with Facebook’s unparalleled reach.
Another interesting development is that both Snapchat and Facebook are simultaneously developing creation tools for AR lenses called Snapchat Studio and Facebook AR studio respectively. The aim seems to be to democratise the creation process, empowering brands to take control of the creative process by which AR experiences are made.
This will be a key development, because currently one of the main blockages in brands adopting AR in their marketing plans are the necessity of working closely with media partners in order to create the experiences they want.
An additional example where a company is pushing AR is Apple, who announced its ARKit 2 in June 2018, which is intended to allow brands to easily create 3D objects which can be used for AR experiences. A good example of how this could be applied can be found in IKEA's recent Place App. It allows users to use their phones to superimpose IKEA products into their living space in order to “try out” pieces of furniture before buying or see if a particular chair or table will fit in their flat.
It’s reasonable to assume that social media networks will try to integrate these kinds of brand experiences into their platforms in the coming years, and this has the potential to completely reinvent how retail brands handle e-commerce in the social space.
One thing to note: the Ikea Place app mentioned above already allows you to take pictures of furniture that you like and match it to products from the catalogue. Facebook has also already previewed the ability to take picture of a product. In its example, a wine bottle on a table then pulls up an interface showing the product online along with user reviews.
AR is undoubtedly exciting and impressive technologically, but you’d be right to question whether it is guaranteed to catch on or whether it is a fad that ultimately asks too much of the user. It is certainly true that AR experiences, which require a lot of development work on the part of the advertiser, will be made or broken depending on whether or not the audience understand and start to widely use the technology.
However, if Snapchat’s success is an indicator, it seems that if brands can leverage the “fun” factor of AR, and produce something that the user wants to engage with, an exciting future of AR augmented experiences nested in existing social channels awaits.