Tricia Clarke-Stone had a problem. BET had asked her company, WP Narrative_, to create an augmented reality campaign for its TV show The Quad, along with a series of live events, that would generate buzz for the premiere of the second season. The problem? The premiere was only three weeks away. And Clarke-Stone and her company wanted to do something with AR that no one had tried before.
The target audience for the show, which stars Anika Noni Rose as the president of a fictional historically black university, is black women. “This woman,” said Clarke-Stone, “goes to the salon at least once a week. When she goes, she has a lot of idle time. And me, being an African-American woman, I hate sitting under the hair dryer, because you’re under there for 40 to 50 minutes. It’s super hot. Your phone is running out of battery life. So we said, could we reimagine the beauty salon experience, and could we turn the hairdryers into an entertainment moment?”
Not a smartphone, not a computer screen, not a virtual reality headset, but a hair dryer. AR, blended with television, in the context of everyday life and sociability. It’s another way that AR is moving beyond gaming and education and creating new contexts for different kinds of brand engagement and entertainment.
BET and WP Narrative_ debuted the AR dryer at a pop-up salon in New York on Jan. 22 with star stylist Ursula Stephen. It’s a modified version of an existing hair dryer, a 3D-printed hood with BET/The Quad branding, and a visor that holds an iPhone X. (Using the iPhone let the designers leverage previous work the company had done using ARKit, but the phones had to be continually swapped out since there was no way to recharge them inside the dryer hood.)
Under the dryer, the client can select one of three experiences: a full viewing of the second season premiere, a recap of the first season, or an overview of the second, each timed to match typical times a client might spend under a hair dryer. The phone’s camera generates a real-time view of the rest of the salon. A pair of scissors cuts out an imaginary screen from this camera view that plays the clip from the show, creating a picture-in-picture viewing experience.
This way, the experience manages to be immersive without blinding the client to what’s happening around them. It allows them to continue to have conversations with their stylists and other customers. And importantly, unlike a headset or glasses, it doesn’t interfere with the client’s face, scalp or hair.
On the first day of the pop-up salon, about 20 people went through the full experience of having their hair washed, dried and styled using the AR dryers. Another 150 were able to use the dryers to have an AR experience. Clarke-Stone estimates hundreds more will be able to try the dryers next week at partner salons in Chicago and Atlanta.
“‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’ was the overwhelming response,” said Clarke-Stone. Several said they would be more willing to visit the salon more often and stay longer if they had access to similar entertainment. And the guest stylist, Ursula Stephen, added that she thought she could increase her revenue if she had full-time access to the entertainment-equipped hair dryers.
For Clarke-Stone, the key was delivering an experience that made sense in its context, both physically and socially. For future projects, she wants to create a more interactive experience, experiment with content designed for that device and scenario as well as existing content, without sacrificing any of the client’s comfort or the ritual of her daily routine. But she also wants to wow them.
“When people walked into that salon, it was like a kid walking into Great Adventure, or Disneyland,” said Clarke-Stone. “When you deliver that level of novelty and utility, you’re actually making your target feel something and creating this memorable touch point with the brand.”