Augmented Reality Can Bring ‘Incredible Joy’ to Advertising

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Facebook wants its advertisers to lean into the augmented reality craze.

Following the rollout of a suite of interactive ads this past September, the social giant announced today the addition of its augmented reality engine, Spark AR, to its ad manager. With this capability, advertisers worldwide can now create an AR effect within the free-to-use engine, integrate it into an ad campaign, and target their creation with the ease that comes with any other Facebook ad format.

“At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is taking something that up until this point had been based on verbal language: You’re on your phone, you’re reading, and you’re writing,” explained Nada Stirratt, the company’s VP of global marketing solutions.

But recently, Facebook has been steady-stepping into a “more visual experience,” she continued. “What we’re doing now is that we’re figuring out—and helping our marketers figure out—how to tap into that experience.”

Augmented reality might sound more sci-fi than sellable, but adoption has been steadily ticking up among consumers worldwide thanks to platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok that offer easy-to-use AR filters. An eMarketer survey from this past March counted more than 68 million people coming into contact with AR content at least once monthly. In 2020, this number is expected to spike to more than 77 million, and in 2021, it’s expected to top out at 85 million.

How augmented reality can work for brands

Though Spark AR has been available to developers across Facebook and Instagram since late 2018, Facebook has only allowed a few select brands to try their hands at the augmented tech until now.

This past October, for example, saw four different brands pilot an augmented reality shopping experience directly within Instagram’s app using the Spark engine. Via their phones’ camera, shoppers could virtually try on eyewear and makeup courtesy of Warby Parker, Ray-Ban, and Mac and Nars Cosmetics, before checking out directly within the Instagram app. Shoppers could also share their new look in Stories and recommend the products to their friends.

“When you have a brand that lends itself to being physically used by consumers, other people want to try to do something exciting with that,” Stirratt said.

But she was quick to add that AR possibilities for advertising extend beyond trying on products.

“These are all the examples where you’re used to seeing AR,” she added, pointing to the Instagram shopping experiences. “But [AR] isn’t about just trying something on; it’s suddenly making [this brand] stand for bringing this incredible joy and connectivity.”

Take, for example, the Steve Madden-owned DTC luxury sneaker brand Greats, which was one of the brands—along with Old Navy, Verizon, Conde Nast and others—with access to Spark before its global rollout. Rather than using the augmented reality engine to flash any of its sneakers across the screen, the creative agency behind the ad—New York-based outfit Agency Within—wanted to connect consumers with “the overarching story” behind the brand.

“AR is this space where you can literally, in real time, co-create with your audience,” said Zane Comer, Agency Within’s executive creative director. “It’s about trying to be exploratory with how you can tell stories in this new, radically different medium.”

Comer saw AR as an opportunity to expand on Greats’ preexisting campaigns, short 30-second spots featuring the brand’s shoes and the factories where they’re built, with slogans like “This is a factory,” and “This is a shoe.” With the Spark platform, he was able to create an AR filter where someone viewing the ad could be emblazoned with the slogan “You are an ad.”

“It’s literally turning the audience into the ad itself,” he said. “And that’s what AR is at its core—it’s creating a two-way dialogue between a brand and an audience, but it hasn’t really been tapped in a way that emphasizes its storytelling aspect.”

He went on to say that every brand could, theoretically, tap into this type of AR-based storytelling, as long as they keep in mind that the medium is inherently collaborative, rather than delivering a premade piece of creative; brands and agencies need to feel comfortable with giving up that control over the end user’s experience.

“It’s not up to us in terms of what’s going to work,” Comer went on. “And I think that’s where the industry kind of has to step back and notice the shift here—ultimately, it’s a matter of adapting to what’s actually working, and what’s actually resonating with your audience.”

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