The concept of apps that combine digitally generated images and real-life visuals has piqued marketers’ curiosity for years, however augmented reality (AR) has only recently broken into the mainstream mobile market. July 2016’s record-breaking release of Pokemon Go–a mobile game in which players track, capture and train digital creatures by traveling to real-world locations–was seen by many as the first major step toward an AR-infused mobile era.
As AR gains momentum, the fundamental question advertisers must ask is whether brands can harness AR to generate similar levels of consumer engagement. Doubts were quieted this year, when marketers across a variety of industries began adapting AR to suit the demands of a tech-savvy generation. Fueled by industry confidence, AR is expected to grow into an $83 billion market by 2021, according to tech consulting firm Digi-Capital.
Danny Lopez, COO of tech-infused business tool developer Blippar, believes AR’s growth so far constitutes a small fraction of the coming surge. “The AR craze is just beginning to really take off, and what we’re seeing now are just glimpses of what AR will bring and what it can do,” said Lopez.
A prime example of mobile AR’s marketing value is Place, an app developed by furniture retailer IKEA, which allows users to envision how IKEA’s offerings might look in their home by projecting images of furnishings over a smartphone’s camera feed. According to Bill Magnuson, CEO of tech marketing group Braze, the key to success in mobile AR marketing is to work forward from a user perspective, as doing so will center product development around providing real value. “If you start thinking about your goal as a marketer first and then try to turn that into a great user experience, you’re usually going to false fire,” Magnuson said.
IKEA is one of numerous brands offering mutual value through mobile AR software. To draw traffic to its Paris store debut, high-end fashion brand Kate Spade New York designed an AR-equipped digital tour guide. The app escorted users on a physical trip through Paris’s iconic locations, displaying digitized “surprises”–such as flamingos on the Seine–via smartphone along the way. Kate Spade’s “Joy Walk” doubled as an effective form of out-of-house marketing, since its end destination was the boutique’s new brick-and-mortar shop.
The efforts of social media and tech giants has driven AR further into the mainstream; now, household names such as Facebook and Snapchat have developed camera filters and other digital effects. These initiatives, coupled with the September release of Apple’s ARkit–a toolkit for developing AR apps for iOS–have led marketers and consumers alike to adopt the same mindset concerning AR as Apple’s CEO Tim Cook: that it will “change the way we use technology forever.”