Augmented Reality: From Gimmick to Game-Changer

painting VR

APAC's Andreas Moellman on the role that Augmented Reality played  in the 2019 WARC Prize for Asian Strategy.

Augmented Reality (AR) played a much larger role in the 2019 WARC Prize for Asian Strategy, with three winning submissions putting the technology at the core of their initiatives:

  • Coca-Cola let its fans in China explore their local cities and connect the brand with local cultures through AR. 
  • Nike transformed a new sneaker launch popular with sneaker heads into an interactive, gamified experience, achieving 500% ROI on sales through AR. 
  • IKEA created a virtual bus tour through its product catalogue to launch its new store, creating an average daily footfall of 28,000 visitors with the help of AR.

During the judging process, these papers suggested that AR/VR has evolved from being a gimmick into a strategic weapon in the marketing armoury. And posed the question: should marketers be using it more? 

How the real and the virtual work together To answer these questions, let’s clarify the differences between Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality. 

  • All of them simulate part or all of our environment. The difference lies in the balance between computer-generated and real-world environments. 
  • AR projects digital information and objects onto a physical environment. An example is Pokémon GO, projecting virtual monsters onto the live-camera image. 
  • MR takes AR one step further, linking computer-generated objects to real-world objects and enabling the interaction with these objects. Think Star Wars’ Holochess, moving digital figures on the real-world chess field. 
  • VR creates a fully computer- generated environment, independent of the real world. The experience feels like The Matrix (albeit not as real yet).

Immersive experiences that play tricks on the mind

These experiences are made possible by projecting a simulation onto our senses and tricking them into believing that the simulation is real. How real AR/VR feels depends on how well a simulation matches the expectations of a sense. This is where AR/VR has advanced most dramatically in recent years, thanks to increased computing power and high-resolution screens. 

Current systems allow the user to physically move within an artificial environment (called ‘6 Degrees of Freedom’ instead of a static point of view) providing the sensation of ‘being there’. Spatial audio, haptic feedback and other sensory stimulations enhance that sensation – the more senses are manipulated, the more real the experience feels. It makes a dramatic difference: imagine standing in front of a rollercoaster looking at it versus sitting in a cabin and riding it. 

AR/VR is not limited to goggles. Digital mirrors project objects over our own reflection, holographic tools or interactive projections also augment the real world. 5G, an upcoming ultra-fast mobile data transfer technology, will make such experiences accessible everywhere. 

The future of AR/VR looks bright 

While the global AR/VR market was estimated at US$27bn in 2018, it’s forecast to grow to US$209bn in the next four years, according to Thousands of applications across platforms are already available within the consumer space alone. New devices will be released by Microsoft, Google, Apple, Oculus, HTC and others in the coming months. 

Marketers dream of engaging people with their brands and products – and of making them come back
for more. AR/VR makes this dream come true: creating experiences without limits. Here are some of the advantages for marketers: 

1. Bring your brand’s reality to life 

In AR/VR you can create without limits: scale the universe, zoom into atomic level, time travel. It’s the ultimate canvas to bring your brand alive – without any real- world restrictions. Make your brand vision a (virtual) reality. 

2. Talk to the senses 

The more senses one engages, the more immersive AR/
VR becomes. It deepens the engagement and excitement. Let people see, hear, feel, taste and smell your brand’s reality and make them feel part of it. 

3. Reach out at scale 

Once an AR/VR application is created, it’s applicable on global scale. Every modern smartphone can run AR/VR applications, so every smartphone owner (currently one third of the global population, according to Statista) can be a potential user. 

4. It’s cheaper than the real thing 

AR/VR applications often outlive physical experiences – and can create them at smaller costs (example: Lego Fashion’s virtual store in a physical location in London). And given the possibilities of AR/VR, it might leave a much stronger impression (and return on investment) than the physical experience. 

5. Try before you buy 

AR/VR enables users to experience products and services before purchasing ‘the real thing’. It lets customers explore the options at their leisure and gives them confidence in their choice, increasing conversion and reducing returns. 

6. Vast application potential 

Whether B2C, B2B or internal communications, AR/VR can help in any situation where a first-hand experience would be beneficial, from education and product demonstrations to sales pitches and presentations. 

AR/VR is here to stay

AR/VR is quickly becoming mainstream, with the hardware becoming cheaper and better and major platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and WeChat supporting it. Mainstream adaptation and its enormous potential should make AR/VR very appealing to the marketer. Here are some recommendations for marketers:

1. New medium, new rules 

AR/VR is a new and powerful medium with new rules of engagement. Besides practical considerations (how do you get someone to turn their head without 

2. Explore and learn 

There are several ways that AR/ VR can support your marketing efforts. Now is a good time to start exploring. The question is not if, but when. The earlier you start, the earlier you will find an answer. 

3. Integrate AR/VR 

AR/VR should be part of your digital marketing strategy, to maximise each contact’s value and create continuous interactions. It requires different departments (digital, social, event, IT, data, etc.) to collaborate. 

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