Augmented Reality Is Having a Moment. Don’t Miss Out

How to get involved in this exciting technology

a phone screen showing an ocean with animals swimming on the left and a screen on the right of someone with an uncle sam filter on their face
Brands can use AR as an extension for emotional impact and engagement. Adidas, Budweiser
Headshot of Joachim Scholz

Augmented reality has received much attention over the last few months as stores closed their doors and consumers sheltered in place.

AR brings the in-store buying experience into consumers’ homes. Shoppers can see how a new pair of glasses, cute summer dresses or freshly dropped sneakers look like on their own faces, bodies and feet, thereby increasing confidence when buying online. And even as physical stores reopen around the world, AR is a good solution for customers who worry about trying on items that have been touched by countless hands before them.

Augmented reality is clearly having a moment.

However, thinking about AR only in terms of an ecommerce play can badly backfire for brands. Helping customers gauge the dimensions and looks of products is important, but this is merely a very narrow slice of AR’s potential for marketing. As marketers, we not only want to reassure customers, we wish to excite them.

Creating experiences that excite customers is more important than ever. A recent survey showed that 84% of customers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.

The potential of augmented reality to create engaging experiences at scale is too often overlooked when AR’s use for marketing is confined to an ecommerce perspective. And that’s a shame because AR solves several problems that are inherent in experiential marketing. Experiential campaigns are often very limited in scope and reach, but brands can try to extend the reach by upping the stakes.

Thinking about AR only in terms of an ecommerce play can badly backfire for brands.

With over 1 billion highly capable AR devices already in consumers’ hands today, augmented reality can provide active and engaging experiences at scale. In each of the examples below, AR shines not because it helped consumers imagine how a product would look like but because it transported them into an experience.

Tim Hortons virtual fireworks

Even though Canada has done a great job in containing the novel coronavirus crisis—or maybe because they are doing such a great job—Canada Day parades and public fireworks displays were canceled for July 1.

Quintessential Canadian brand Tim Hortons sponsored virtual fireworks that were visible at 10 p.m. It utilized web AR to display traditional-looking fireworks into the night skies—with a twist. Some of the explosions took more complex forms, such as a beaver, hockey sticks and a maple leaf.

The Canada Day experience adopted the same format of actual fireworks to resonate with people. But it also used AR to do things fireworks’ displays could not do in the real world, such as adding Canadian symbols and a longer timeframe to witness the event.

Budweiser’s Fourth of July lens

For many years, Budweiser has positioned itself as an all-American brand. In 2016, Budweiser’s digital counterpart to an Independence Day campaign was a Snapchat lens that enabled consumers to transform themselves into Uncle Sam.

The Fourth of July AR lens is a self-serve experience that places each individual customer at the center of a cultural event. And since the lens was provided through a social platform, word of mouth was only one tab away.

Adidas’ For the Oceans

Adidas’ goal is to replace all virgin polyester with recycled marine waste by 2024. To this end, it has partnered with Parley for the Oceans, an activist group that raises awareness for the fragility of our oceans and takes actions to end their destruction.

An in-store AR experience on a custom-built mobile app transformed the store into an ocean. Consumers were able to get up close with whales but also saw a lot of plastic floating around these majestic creatures. It was an interactive experience that encouraged participation where consumers picked up the plastic to progress the experience and learn how a threat turns into thread (Adidas will use the marine plastic to create yarn for 11 million pairs of shoes this year).

@joscholz Joachim Scholz is a marketing professor at Brock University and a member of our Adweek Academic Council.