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Augmented reality gives Anheuser-Busch a competitive edge in driving sales

Anheuser-Busch is one of the few marketers today that is not only experimenting with augmented reality at scale, but is also banking on the technology as instrumental to driving retail sales.

Beer brands are at the forefront of digital innovation with new technologies such as augmented reality driving engagement with their consumers. One of the more interesting growth opportunities for augmented reality and Anheuser-Busch is around the emerging smart device area with tools such as Google Glass.

?The biggest opportunity with leveraging augmented reality is to drive retail sales,? said Lucas Herscovici, vice president of digital marketing at Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis.

?The opportunities exist in how to link the AR experiences with things that have to do with sales,? he said.

?Brand-building will continue to be important, but will also drive incremental sales.?

Building buzz
Anheuser-Busch, Heineken and Bulmer?s are all examples of brewers that have leveraged augmented reality to spur engagement, particularly around their packaging and point-of-sale materials. 

Since the focus for brewers is on entertainment, some of these brands have more wiggle room to experiment with up-and-coming technologies such as augmented reality.

As smart devices increasingly come onto the scene, the Anheuser-Busch executive believes that the company?s augmented reality initiatives will give it a leg-up on its competitors.

Take Google Glass, for example.

According to Mr. Herscovici, as consumers get used to these types of experiences, adoption will grow, and Anheuser-Busch will have an advantage because the company already knows what works and what does not work with augmented reality.

Additionally, the executive sees retail as being the next phase to incorporate augmented reality.

In particular, Budweiser has made a big push into augmented reality this year.

The beer brand rallied its philanthropic efforts earlier this year around mobile, which uses on-pack calls-to-action to encourage consumers to scan the beer box with their mobile devices and choose which states in the United States will receive a portion of Budweiser?s $1.5 million donation to Folds of Honor (see story).

Budweiser is also using augmented reality to activate its Major League Baseball sponsorship this summer. Earlier this summer, consumers were able to put their picture on a jumbotron at baseball stadiums, and a deeper augmented reality experience with the MLB is lined up for later this season.

Anheuser-Busch broke into augmented reality in 2009 with its Stella Artois brand and an augmented reality app that helps consumers find nearby bars where the beer is available.

According to Mr. Herscovici, the initiative garnered a lot of industry buzz because it was a new technology, but the consumer adoption was not there at the time.

Then in August 2012, Anheuser-Busch began ramping up its augmented reality efforts with a pilot involving NASCAR and Walmart to create point-of-sale materials around the brand?s sponsorship of NASCAR with driver Kevin Harvick.

The campaign let consumers overlay a picture of themselves standing next to Mr. Harvick and helped the build brand awareness for Anheuser-Busch.

People spent more than five minutes with the content and interacted with it a few times as well, per Mr. Herscovici.

Anheuser-Busch has also run similar augmented reality components for its Bud Light, Landshark and Shocktop brands.

What is interesting about Anheuser-Busch?s use of augmented reality is that all of the activations take place via third-party app Blippar to help the brand?s mobile efforts scale.

?It drives adoption so we have more consumers using the app, and helps with future brands and campaigns,? Mr. Herscovici said.

?The biggest learning is that consumers love simple games, taking pictures and sharing via social media,? he said.

As adoption continues to grow, Anheuser-Busch plans to incorporate augmented reality into more campaigns.

Plugging into augmented reality
Beer brands are also experimenting with building augmented reality straight into their mobile apps.

Heineken is one of the brands that has been most active in this area.

The brand has rolled out a number of different apps that all aimed at getting consumers engaged with packaging and its brand on a deeper level.

For instance, Heineken rolled out a mobile app earlier this year to celebrate the limited edition launch of a new 16-ounce bottle. Consumers could use the app to scan the logo on the bottle to unlock prizes and content from around the world (see story).

The brand was not able to comment directly for this story, but cited augmented reality as important in enabling the bottle to unlock content and prizes for its male-heavy audience.

Given that entertainment is one of beer brands? biggest goals in marketing, mobile and emerging technologies give brands a chance to try out new mediums that also incorporate more traditional assets such as television, print and packaging.

Beck's, another Anheuser-Busch brand, has taken a slightly different approach to augmented reality.

In 2011, the brand wanted to develop an out-of-home project to get consumers talking about its brand.

The Green Box Project encouraged consumers to download an app and interact with installation boxes found in New York, Rome, London, Los Angeles and Milan. Once consumers found a piece of art, they could unlock an additional piece of 3D creative (see story).

Beck?s also has plans to unwrap an additional augmented reality experience this summer, but did not comment on any specifics behind the program.

The key is to keep a mobile and augmented reality experience easy and fun for the consumer is key.

?Make the experience simple, surprising and engaging,? said Chris Curtis, brand manager at Beck?s Beer, St. Louis.

?If you remove one of those attributes, the program will have a hard time being successful,? he said.

Only a gimmick?
Despite the increase of augmented reality in campaigns, the technology has a long history of coming off as a gimmick to consumers.

According to Julia Hammond, vice president and director of integration at Calvary, Chicago, creative content ? including augmented reality ? has to serve a purpose to consumers.

Calvary handles the creative and digital work for MillerCoors? portfolio of brands, including Coors Light and Coors Banquet.

For a piece of augmented reality creative to work, there has to be an upfront value proposition for consumers, per Ms. Hammond.

Additionally, augmented reality cannot be treated as a one-off by brands.

?Too often we take advantage of the technology without thinking ?just because I can, doesn't mean I should,?? Ms. Hammond said.

?An AR-capable print ad that provides low-level, product information-like flavor variety assumes the consumer is just waiting to learn more about you,? she said. ?They're not ? this is a gimmick.

?[Beer brands] can win with a thoughtful augmented execution as long as the content helps progress the consumer journey. There has to be something bigger. Augmented reality can be part of equation when it adds to the journey, but augmented reality alone can't be the sum.? 

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York