AR is on the launching pad, but are marketers ready?
Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Ryan Griffin, senior vice president of strategy at AdColony.
There's a good chance that we'll look back on the Apple event in September not as the launch of the iPhone X, as Apple would probably want us to, but as the moment when augmented reality (AR) became more than just a gleam in marketers' eyes.
Before ARKit was demoed on hardware actually optimized for it, AR didn't make much sense for many brands. It required heavy lifting on their part to build, and no one really knew how it would render on existing devices, if at all.
Increasingly, many of those obstacles are disappearing. With ARKit, any developer can create apps in the interactive format that will work on the new iPhones, but also on some previous versions (6s and onward) with iOS 11 — which, if last year was any indication, more than two-thirds of iPhone users will have installed within the next month. These hundreds of millions of users, plus the 100 million Android devices now using Google's ARCore SDK, mean that we've hit the tipping point on mass-market adoption of AR technology. Even Microsoft and Facebook are investing in the immersive experiences.
This is a space that can be viewed as sitting on a proverbial launching pad.
And, any time a market space takes off and consumer behaviors begin to change, everyone wants to know: "What does this mean for brands? How can marketers leverage this no-longer-brand-new but now-more-interesting technology to capture consumer attention?" The progressive, lean-in brands are sitting — no, probably standing — in their strategy meetings thinking, the opportunity is now. But what do we do?
Sit up and observe
Remember when 3D Touch came out? Many developers thought that it would introduce a whole new level of mobile app navigation and that "deep press" would become as common as "swipe right." Creative teams began incorporating it as an engagement action. But have consumers started using it regularly? Have you? I've had access to that feature for over two years now, and I just found out there are three different intensities on the base iOS Flashlight, accessible only through a deep press on the icon in your settings. Now I use the "low light" level all the time — but two years is certainly not fast adoption.
Same goes for AR. All the predictions about consumers adopting AR into their everyday routines will fall short if there's not a compelling reason for them to do so. Sure, "The Machines" demo looked cool, but is that compelling enough for regular game play, every day? In order for AR to become truly embedded in consumer behavior, it will have to create value beyond sheer entertainment.
The Major League Baseball demo was far more interesting because player details and game info at a live baseball game is valuable information that users want and need. The travel and tourism space is also poised for an AR boom: Apps that overlay directions and signposts on the real world, provide translation, feed tidbits of local history and advice on the best places to eat and shop — those are differentiated, enhanced experiences. What few realize is that before Niantic made Pokémon Go, they created Field Trip for Google Glass, which did all of these.
Determine an owner, or at least primary stakeholders
Agencies will be anxious to create cutting-edge, never-done-before AR campaigns for clients, but who internally does it really fall on to make these decisions? Who owns AR at your company? Is it creative? Product strategy? App development? Of course, it depends upon how you interpret its capabilities and how your brand would ideally leverage and activate it. Whomever becomes the owner should continue to check in with other departments and stakeholders throughout the remaining two steps below, as the learnings and best practices must be applied beyond just the core team.
Start small — then learn, adapt and refocus
We have this massive opportunity, but all it takes is one terrible ad concept or poor execution to negatively impact it. Sure, we need to try different approaches and experiment to get it right, but I recommend starting small. Put AR experiences out into the world that are less about your brand and more about your industry and audience. A quick-service restaurant could turn an empty plate into one that holds a delicious, juicy-looking hamburger — but not with their logo stamped on the bun or with a 2-for-1 deal as a floating graphic above it. Gather data on how consumers use the AR functionality and how they react to it.
You have this opportunity to turn an empty space into a captivating experience that can increase brand engagement, affinity, shareability and motivate purchasing decisions. Find out if what you put out there is doing that, and if not, introduce those branded elements and see how they impact your KPIs.
Establish processes and best practices
As you learn, adapt and iterate, share the wealth. Right now, the only ones establishing standards and controls around AR design and delivery are the companies in using AR technology. In July 2017, the IAB started an AR working group with companies like Lucid Sight,Tremor, Hulu, Vevo and Liquid Sky all advising — it's early in the process, so there is plenty of time join these initial conversations.
As you learn, too, from working with your creative agency on AR initiatives and discovering how they need to flex differently to meet your needs, share those findings. Everyone will benefit.
Finally, think about your own behavior as a consumer. How is AR positively impacting our day-to-day life, and what use cases feel most natural? While AR is still fairly lumped into the "shiny new object" category, it's one that's worth investing time and energy into, and if we can really understand how it's used, we can work with peers to set standards and build it into a new medium for advertising.