Augmented Reality Gets Democratized

Marketers have been inspired by the potential that augmented reality (AR) promises in engaging audiences in a more immersive experience than traditional video ads. The most provocative campaigns by brands such as Pepsi have employed interactive out-of-home to get the attention of passersby in public spaces.

Even when a large video screen on a bus shelter is used in tandem with a camera to insert a person in an augmented scene – the same city street, but with a flying saucer overhead – the full reach of the campaign extends in the digital sphere when consumers share pictures of the experience online, or the advertising and tech trades write about it.

Ever since the wildly popular Pokemon Go AR game launched, mobile as been the key channel for AR. A phone’s camera opens up two-way communications so that a user and her immediate environment can be augmented. The same can be said for audio augmentation, when users listen to GPS directions on how to reach their destination, or they use voice search to ask a question about a store or other object they encounter on the street.

Moving forward, augmented reality will open up new highly-personalized experiences enabled by location-specific data and camera interactivity. But with high personalization, consumers must feel that they are in control of the experience and not being spied on. The jury is out on whether new privacy legislation in the US (the California Consumer Privacy Act, effective this year) will make consumers more wary about the use of their data for marketing purposes, once awareness of the laws spreads, or if consumers will feel more empowered, and therefore more willing, to welcome the highly relevant messaging marketers can deliver.

Walgreens is taking their “smart cooler” concept (developed by Cooler Screens Inc.) to up to 2,500 stores, following a test last year in 50 locations, allowing cold drinks shoppers to be shown targeted ads in close proximity to the point of purchase. But these ads assume that customers will look up from their phones and look at the screens on the refrigerator door long enough to reconsider what they came to buy, or to be nudged by an attractive two-for-one offer.

With the advent of dependable mobile payment options, augmented reality on the phone takes the message a mere one click away from purchase. This form of augmented reality, used by retailers for smaller items like clothing, or even bigger sales like furniture, can reach customers anywhere and puts them in the driver’s seat.

In 2015, L’Oreal Paris teamed up with Image Metrics to bring virtual try-on to cosmetics customers. Image Metrics, founded in 2000, has its roots in entertainment and CGI for feature films. Some of the most talked about effects in recent filmmaking center around the face – the “de-aging” of the stars in Netflix’s The Irishman, for instance – and Image Metrics made its contribution to the industry by bringing to life the reverse-aging of actor Brad Pitt, in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Facial feature tracking by Image Metrics, along with other technologies that react to environmental light and rendering lifelike simulation, have delivered virtual try-on for L’Oreal, as well as Australian eyewear startup SPEQS.

Digital creative design offers compelling images that are fun to share. A classic example now is the virtual face paint or mask that can be applied using face-mapping technology. It basically uses retail virtual try-on and separates it from the shoppers’ experience, to make it a fun and expressive activity for “fans.” Such an app can also be sponsored, as Nissan did in its collaboration with Image Metrics. 

For data-driven marketing, AR technology will be more useful to marketers when it’s taken beyond individual cases and made accessible and fully integrated across channels. And that’s the vision Image Metrics is executing now with LUNAR, its new scalable AR platform.

CEO Ron Ryder told me, “LUNAR makes AR easy for brands to access and connect followers of the brand to an immersive experience.”

The platform hooks up as a marketing platform with the data layer, CMS, analytics and web services on the back end.

“The brand gets massively expanded creativity,” Ryder said, adding that even two years ago, AR experiences all had to be put together in a bespoke way.

Ryder also states that in addition to face-based AR that uses Image Metrics’ 20 years of experience in film and videogames, the company “will be adding additional experiences within the LUNAR roadmap.”

In this way, Image Metrics positions itself to work directly with brands, and also with creative agencies.

No doubt, the democratization of AR through a scalable platform raises the bar for brands in any industry. And the increased accessibility to marketers will result in unexpected new ways to augment their engagement with consumers.

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