You see augmented reality (AR) in action with every yellow marker in a live NFL game. You play around with AR each time you try out a new Snapchat lens. You used AR to catch that rare Poliwag Pokemon last year in Pokemon Go.
Augmented reality is no new trend. In fact, the term “augmented reality” was coined in the early 1990s, and the concept of placing digital objects in the real world has been around since the 1950s.
If AR has been around for some time, why are we hearing about it so much lately?
Marketing with AR is changing. As accessibility is increasing, augmented reality is moving from flashy, entertainment-based executions to more useful, utilitarian concepts that make consumers’ lives easier.
The Past: AR as an Entertainment Marketing Tool
In the past few years, marketers have largely used augmented reality as a tool to entertain and inform an audience. Entertainment-based marketing concepts have historically worked best with AR because the technology lacked widespread adoption. Marketers employed flashy and creative executions to grab attention and instigate people to play around with the technology.
Consider some of the most lauded AR executions of the past few years:
In 2016, Pokemon Go got the nation off the couch and onto the streets with a game that encouraged physical activity in communities across the nation.
Snapchat Sponsored Lenses
Since the first branded lens in 2015 with 20th Century Fox, Snapchat has run hundreds of sponsored Snapchat lenses for brands. Some of the most notable lenses include Taco Bell’s Cinco de Mayo lens, which turned a user’s face into a giant taco shell, or Starbucks’ holiday lens, which turned a user into multiple holiday carolers.
Star Wars AR
In 2017, Disney and Star Wars deployed several AR apps, including an AR lightsaber game and AR First Order Star Destroyers flying over famous landmarks.
These executions gamify an experience or entertain the user while creating awareness of a brand, but they are in stark juxtaposition to futurists’ predictions of AR being a fundamental change in human-computer interaction. As The Verge writer Adi Robertson put it, “augmented reality’s silly present sits uneasily with lofty rhetoric about its future.”
The Future: AR as a Utilitarian Marketing Tool
When Apple released its ARKit in June of 2017 and the subsequent iOS 11 update in September, it was clear that things were changing. While AR has been limited in the past by accessibility, with the release of the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, Apple now offers the best hardware and software for AR app development.
“We’ve never had the vehicle or platform to make AR really good. This is what ARKit does.”
– Michael Valdsgaard, IKEA’s head of digital transformation
Google, Microsoft, and Facebook all have AR developer platforms as well, most notably Google with ARCore for Android. All of this recent hardware and software development means more advanced technology than ever to power our augmented realities.
Widespread AR adoption means more people have the opportunity to use augmented reality in their daily lives. Because of this, marketers will move away from flash-in-the-pan, moment-based executions that reach a smaller group of people toward more useful, widespread tools to make life easier. Entertaining AR applications certainly won’t go away, but in 2018, we’ll see more AR apps that feel more practical.
Augmented reality is ripe with opportunity for utility because, unlike virtual reality (VR), AR is grounded in reality. And for something to be useful, it has to have relevance to our own realities, our daily lives. As The Economist wrote in 2017, “Replacing the real world with a virtual one is a neat trick. Combining the two could be more useful.”
In an examination of some of the newest AR tools, it’s clear more and more developers are keeping utility in mind as they’re exploring the technology:
AR as a Measuring Tape
Air Measure, one of several measuring tape apps released in fall of 2017, turns your iPhone into a digital measuring tape.
AR as Your Interior Designer
Released on iOS in the fall of 2017, IKEA Place is an AR app that allows consumers to virtually test-drive furniture and home goods with 98 percent accuracy, perhaps the most precise AR home improvement app yet.
AR as a Navigational Tool
Continental is a leader in augmented reality vehicle heads-up display (HUD) that gives you a 3D rendering of real-time traffic information through your front windshield.
AR as Your Virtual Business Assistant
Source: @azamsharp, Twitter
In June of 2017, developers experimented with a new way of sharing data with life-sized bar charts for business meetings. In late 2017, Prezi released a demo for AR presentations.
AR as Your Realtor
Source: Justin Miller @incanus77, Twitter
In 2017, developers also experimented with overlaying housing information, a tool that could be useful for potential real estate buyers to make smarter decisions about what properties to pursue.
AR as a Teacher
Complete Anatomy 2018, developed with ARKit, allows users to explore body parts like a human leg overlaid with anatomical information to virtually “dissect” it.
Night Sky updated its app for iOS 11 to take advantage of software advancements to provide a powerfully accurate augmentation of night-sky constellations.
We also can’t ignore the recent developments in AR headsets and glasses that allow augmented reality to become more like a 3D experience (vs. viewing a 2D augmentation through a phone). RideOn, for instance, is a company that recently developed a pair of AR ski goggles for the slopes. The goggles incorporate a display overlay, a high-definition camera, and Facebook Live integration.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is a self-contained AR headset where users wear a pair of thick transparent glasses. While initial demonstrations were purely entertaining in nature, now industries like healthcare, utility, architecture, and engineering are taking advantage of the utilitarian benefits of the HoloLens for education and improvement. While the technology still has a long way to go, it’s clear that industries are beginning to see the usefulness of AR in their trade.
How Can Your Brand Use AR to Be More Useful?
In 2018, AR technologies will be more advanced than ever. But even more importantly, they’ll be more widespread. More people than ever before will have access to this technology in their daily lives. So now is the time for marketers to find ways to use augmented reality to provide value in the lives of their consumers. We’ll never fully move away from the flashy, moment-in-time executions we’ve all grown to love, but in 2018, brands will increasingly consider tools that help consumers live better lives. And, ultimately, that means your brand is experienced in a way that is valuable in everyday life. That type of relevance is what many marketers dream of.
When evaluating how your brand could use augmented reality, first think about where the pain points are for your customers. What are their obstacles to purchase, visitation, or use? Design your solutions around helping make the lives of your customers easier.
Think about how home improvement brands like The Home Depot could integrate AR tape-measuring technology into its app to help its customers gain the confidence to take on any home improvement project.
Source: Laan Labs
Retailers can help their customers easily find their brick-and-mortar locations via augmented directions.
Source: Andrew Hart, @AndrewProjDent, Twitter
Consider how a restaurant brand could use augmented reality to help its guests get a better sense of what it could be like to eat certain menu items.
Furniture companies could use new AR technology advancements to help their customers envision new products in their spaces.
A car manufacturer or dealer can help potential buyers envision how a car could look (and even move).
Source: Jelmer Verhoog, @JelmerVerhoog, Twitter
In 2018, augmented reality will be available on more than a billion devices running iOS. This is a huge turning point for the technology. By 2020, AR revenue is predicted to reach $90 billion.
AR will always harbor entertainment and gaming-related executions, and for good reason. But the true sign of augmented reality becoming an integral technology in the lives of consumers is its usefulness. And in 2018, more brands will embrace AR to provide utility to their customers and help people envision a future with their brand.