Augmented reality (AR) aims to wipe out the difference between what is real and what is digital. When used most effectively it offers businesses the opportunity to shatter marketing clutter and to enhance perceptions of reality.
But just as AR blurs what we know to be physical and what we suspect is virtual, so too the reality of AR’s current use versus its future marketing potential is unclear. But new tools and widely available technologies are changing the prospects for AR quickly.
“AR is heading towards becoming mainstream,” said Chris Bell, regional director for APAC of Blippar. “We’re hitting a tipping point moment, where consumer demand, higher-quality devices, integrated AR software layers and market conditions have all aligned to make AR the next major leap forward in how we communicate, discover information and shop.”
The beauty of AR use for brands
In Asia, significant strides have already been made by brands including L'Oreal, Amazon, Baidu, Microsoft, Apple, Target, Google, and Aprilia to leverage the technology for commercial objectives.
“Imagine car brands showing how their latest model will look on your driveway, how a whitening skincare product when virtually applied makes your skin look," said Alan Cerutti, co-founder, and CEO of creative agency Happiness Saigon. "These solutions will become mainstream soon.”
Cerutti believes that not only are investments in AR imminent but the key players will force the medium into the planning stages of marketing campaigns. His agency recently invested in AR through a partnership with SevenEdge, a renowned European specialist, for clients in Southeast Asia, such as Nivea Men in Vietnam to help them amplify the launch campaign behind the Men Mud Shampoo.
Another beauty company, L'Oreal wanted to bring the beauty of augmented reality technology to its website to help visitors find the products that suit their needs. "By plugging in augmented-reality beauty app into our website, we expand our website role from information hub to a platform that will make product selection and purchase easier," said Fabian Wijaya, digital manager for L'Oreal Indonesia Consumer Product Division.
The future of shopping
“My favorite thing about AR is that you can start to build more experience-based marketing engagements with the consumers that are interactive in nature,” shares Stephen Tompkins, head of media activation for APAC at Essence. “Some of the great apps being developed by folks like Google and IKEA show that AR can be a useful tool as well as provide a platform to advertise to existing and new customers.”
Tompkins is referring to the Ikea Place, an app that holds a catalog of over 2,000 products. Users of the app can then hold up their phones and use the camera to place the digital furniture anywhere in a room. The app’s collection of umlauted sofas, armchairs, coffee tables, and storage units offer app users the ability to project a mental image of their dream home, building a wish list of decoration ideas.
Meanwhile, Target recently launched 'digital shoppable rooms' with help from India’s House of Blue Beans, an AR startup. With the aim of creating a better shopping experience, the technology takes in the physical dimensions of a product and can accurately recommend the living spaces it is best suited for. Shoppers on Target can choose from four types of living spaces and are then recommended products listed on the Target site that would best fit that living space. The result is a shopping experience that takes the guesswork (and second-guessing) out of furniture shopping.
Amazon may not be far behind. One of its recently posted patents suggests that the world’s most valuable retailer is on the verge of allowing online shoppers to virtually try on items like watches.
If features like these continue to gain traction, AR will be doing far more than enhancing customer experience. It will have serious implications for brick and mortar retailers who may lose much of their advantage over e-tailers in the trial and consideration phase of the buyer decision journey.
Ready, set, engage
Not all brands are using AR applications to solve problems or improve customer experiences either. Some just want to improve the ‘fun factor’ and engage their audiences.
Inspired by Snapchat’s strides in facial recognition, with selfie filters and lenses, Blippar allows users to create and customize their own AR Face Profile.
Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo are among the early adopter clients that have experimented with the platform in their campaigns.
For Procter & Gamble, Blippar incorporated tracking points in Pantene ads, allowing viewers to turn the ads into interactive pages to access beauty tips to use with the various Pantene products.
For Pepsi, image recognition was built into limited release cans of Pepsi to offer customers information about the recent Pepsi campaigns, such as discount codes, giveaway codes for online gaming, shopping discount, and get some great deals.
Glasses half full
The way to make AR most engaging for audiences is providing better visual hardware. Snap Inc. did this with the introduction of the Spectacle, a pair of smartglasses dedicated to recording video for the Snapchat service. As we found out with the demise of Google Glass, AR is only being held back by adoption. The technology was there, the benefits were real, but the public was not ready yet.
“In some use cases, we’re seeing surgeons being trained via AR, but as soon as you try and scale that to a mainstream device [smartphone/glasses] then the numbers drop off,” posits Tobias Wilson, the CEO of APD Group in Singapore. Wilson believes that to truly augment AR into our reality, the ecosystem needs to develop beyond prohibitive novelty equipment.
“Google Glass was where we need to be,” Wilson says, adding “Lucyd is closer.”
An upcoming initial coin offering (ICO) built on the Ethereum blockchain, Lucyd claims to be the first ergonomic, prescription-ready smart glasses with 13 patents around AR.
Search, tools and mobile advances
Prohibitive equipment may be an obstacle for AR to go mainstream, but new advances in search, toolkits and mobile technology are three advances spurring it forward.
Earlier this year, Chinese tech giant Baidu unveiled its AR Lab to build smartphone-based AR applications. A spin-off from its Institute for Deep Learning, Baidu plans to use to create AR applications by bringing together the technology from its AI research with the image recognition and object detection aspects of AR.
The goal is AR-enabled search, which allows location-based marketing to become visual. Consumers voice a search query, and their glasses or headset provide a Heads Up Display (HUD) of the recommended options nearest to them.
The creations would be latched onto DuSee, the AR platform Baidu launched in August of 2016.
As Baidu’s former chief scientist has pointed out, AR is moving ahead much faster in China, led by mobile AR applications, which is how most will continue to experience AR in the short term.
Meanwhile, new tools from Apple and Google are making AR mobile applications much easier. Cerutti at Happiness Saigon posits that the Apple ARKit, a new framework that allows developers to create unparalleled augmented reality experiences for Apple devices, will change the speed to market for AR.
With the introduction of ARKit and Google’s ARCore, Blippar’s Chris Bell predicts that over one billion smartphones will have AR capabilities by 2020, turning AR into a mass media channel. He predicts that mobile will be the platform that scales AR in the near-term.
“Verticals such as education, entertainment, and retail will witness faster growth and greater consumer acceptance with augmented reality,” says Jae Lee, the VP of engineering at RingMD. The Google video below shows how AR could very quickly become part of classroom learning.
“Particularly in the APAC region, over the foreseeable future growth will be led by app developers utilizing tools like the Apple ARKit and marketplaces such as Google Poly to create and promote their work,” Lee says.
He expects the playing field to reach mass application and growth, similar to when Apple opened up its AppStore for submission from developers.
As AR blossoms, it’s likely that customers will not only appreciate deeper engagement and more immersive content, says Bell but that they’ll place more value AR apps or services which prove to save them time. That reality, it seems, is less elusive and more a matter of time.