What Happens When AR Is Safer and Better Than IRL

A timely engine for engaging brand experiences

America today is entirely different than America last week. Or better yet, than last night. With social distancing, elbow handshakes and toilet paper purchases increasing in importance by the minute, the future of consumer behavior is once again in flux.

COVID-19 represents a realization of a break in our day-to-day habits, as Americans are asked to change their lifestyles drastically in response. It's a sample of just how different things could be, and it's driving new thinking for brands and agencies.

For creatives who are looking for a challenge, it's as good a time as any. Collectively, we are now met with a unique task. Many are sprinting to refresh brand strategies every 12 to 24 hours to meet shifting consumer mindsets. The fact is, there's no corner of the world not impacted, but as it happens, necessity is the mother of invention—or in today's world, innovation. 

Emerging out of America's Great Shutdown is a rise in new ways to connect with consumers. The possibilities are endless for the remainder of 2020 and beyond, but what we can expect for certain is a focus on advancing digital offerings like never before.

Enter augmented reality.

What's right at our fingertips is an opportunity to invest deeply in engaging brand experiences through the channels we already know and love, reaching people where they are right now—in their living rooms.

AR experiences are the new gateway drug for brands. AR is now available at scale and can be launched on mobile devices via linear or streaming TV, mobile display, social media and print or direct mail marketing materials. As major ad budgets inevitably shift to these channels, the industry questions how to enhance the experiences to create something impactful for audiences everywhere.

Consider automakers. No doubt a long lead purchase for many consumers and a perfect example of the universe of brand marketers who are gearing up for life after coronavirus. Most purchases are done in person and typically end in a handshake. That's out. In its place, AR can simulate many of the same aspects of car shopping on the lot. It's as simple as a mailer with a scannable QR code that can ignite an AR experience, placing a new Ford in your driveway. "Until you can drive it, see how it looks parked in your driveway."

It's a matter of meeting consumers where they are. And for brands, the importance of stabilizing sales in this new world order is becoming increasingly important. An added bonus, of course, is when consumers share their AR car in the driveway on social, something the industry is learning in real time how to measure and track in real time as amplified reach.

AR can provide the bridge for today's new reality. Faced with canceled travel, postponed weddings, graduation ceremonies shifting to online livestreams, Americans will continue to seek out one-to-one connection and arguably at a higher rate than before.

AR, and specifically webAR, which is now enabled on more than 2.5 billion devices worldwide, is a puzzle piece that drops seamlessly and executes frictionlessly into the channels that are surging right now and provides a solution for consumers to connect in new ways.

As for the film industry, grounded in box office sales and going out to the movies, AR breakthroughs right now have the opportunity to enhance the viewing experience for major releases dropping straight to home. Armed with a social media campaign that encourages sharing, the future of film premieres in our living rooms has greater potential reach and illustrates a new way of bringing movies to life.

For retail giants that are coping with stagnant in-store traffic and shipping woes, investing further in webAR-based ads could bring deeper and wider product experiences to social or online shopping—right now for necessities, and later again for luxury purchases.

AR has the capacity to drive consumer experiences and purchases that otherwise have halted during the shutdown, which is expected to continue in the coming months. While we brace for impact with coronavirus at the wheel, there is an increased energy stemming from marketers. To find new ways to engage with consumers as the next few months unfold is one bright shining light for a creative. It is, after all, an unbelievable time to be an advertiser, to say the least.

The future of AR's increased role in advertising is shaping before our eyes. And while we wish for a return to normalcy at an expedited rate, we all know the ride has just started and the opportunity is now for brands to mold how the marketplace will bounce back from America's Great Shutdown.

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Mike Molnar
Mike Molnar is managing partner at Glow, with more than 18 years leading award-winning digital creative efforts across display media, site development, trans-media experiences, games, AR and social and mobile content.

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