March 12, 2020
Over the last couple of years, social product releases like “Swipe up to buy” have garnered attention, but from a technology perspective, seen relatively little innovation since daily stories became a dominant product on social platforms. That is until the past few months: These days you’d be hard-pressed to find social stories without some AR component. The medium is starting to take over social platforms.
What started as dog ears have blossomed with complexity and is now captivating audiences across social platforms. In January, you couldn’t go on Instagram without seeing some iteration of the “What Disney Character Are You?” generator. Facebook ads increasingly incorporate AR after the platform rolled out functionality to newsfeed globally. Snapchat announced 75% of its 360 million users interact with AR daily. And as smartphones and cameras become more powerful, this trend is only poised to continue.
But why is this exciting? Because AR ushers in an entirely new type of user experience and virality. For brands, this means a completely new way to reach and interact with users. Here’s why that matters:
“Our selfies aren’t just pictures; they represent our ideas of self.” — Taylor Fang (age 17), MIT Technology Review
At the heart of this change is GenZ, the first generation to grow up through the lens of their smartphones. In stark contrast with previous generations, 56% of Gen Z uses social apps to express themselves creatively.
Recognizing that with an increased emphasis on self-expression comes an increased need for creative tools, platforms have continuously added features to where users start the creation process: the camera. Perhaps no other social platform has understood this better than Snapchat, which has been able to build the most popular social app amongst US teens with the guiding mission statement:
Snap Inc. is a camera company. Our products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together.
Savvy brands are taking notice that the best way to reach consumers is through the camera, and the only way to do that is with branded AR.
AR experiences provide some of the most intimate (and lucrative) engagement possible on social today and represent a paradigm shift for brand marketers. Rather than push content to users at the point of consumption, AR allows users to play with a brand’s IP to create shared content. We used to watch cartoons, now we can become the cartoon.
“Wow, My effect went crazy and has reached 1 billion views (355m views in camera and 663m views in stories) in just 2 weeks. Thank you all❤❤❤.” — @Dvoshansky, creator of the “Flying Face” AR filter
Tools that enable easy outlets for self-expression drive virality today and the most impactful tool for that is AR. Case in point, in the first week of 2020, @Arnopartissimo released the “What Disney Character Are You?” AR effect and watched as his Instagram followers grew from ~6k to 600k and generated tens of millions of views after countless users and celebrities shared (and continue to share) his AR effect not just on Instagram, but on virtually every social platform (even those that don’t support AR — like Twitter). In the following weeks, countless brands jumped on the bandwagon and grew their engagement in a similar format.
If you’re browsing AR effects, you’re already in the camera creating shareable content. That content is first shared to stories (where 1.4b daily active sit) to be discovered by followers who can then engage with the AR experience themselves, creating a viral loop. Additionally, however, AR content can be repurposed for posts on profiles across multiple platforms, further compounding its virality.
AR itself provides an experience that naturally generates curiosity and encourages interaction. Everybody wants to see what they look like when they’re 90-years-old, or what they look like as the opposite gender, or what Disney princess they are. With a few taps, you’re transported into a different world where you get to be the star.
With over 2.3 billion people on some social platform or another, there is increasing pressure on young generations to express themselves in some manner. But creating good content is hard. Unlike pictures or videos, AR enables everyone to share a unique take on the same experience. Furthermore, it’s an experience that has already been evangelized. As a result, sharing AR content becomes more akin to participating in an ongoing social conversation versus standard social sharing. The rules for engagement have already been defined, all the user has to do is press record.
If a brand hits the right trend, a few followers can result in millions of impressions, and turning the brand’s audience into their number one growth channel.
When branded AR first became available, brands were understandably skittish. Their options were to pay $50k (and many weeks) for a filter or two from a specialized agency or invest resources in developing internal staff to learn specialized AR software. Furthermore, little information was available on the effectiveness of branded AR. That’s all changed.
With companies like AVO, CameraIQ, and Zappar brands can now create and deploy AR experiences in minutes using existing assets and software (ex. Photoshop), effectively eliminating the barriers to entry.
Studies continuously demonstrate the efficacy of branded AR. From a virality perspective, Superdata (a Nielson company), reports a staggering 74% of consumers who are exposed to AR Ads share them on social media. Additionally, brands see an average of 10x engagement rates on AR experiences compared to traditional posts. From a pure cost per engagement perspective, brands see as high as a 50% reduction in cost per engagement with AR experiences.
In many ways, the rise and widespread adoption of AR is no surprise, it’s simply a natural progression of what you get when you combine 10+ years of rapid smartphone advancements with a generation growing up through their screens and desperate for tools to express themselves. Yet, there is a degree of awe associated with it — the ability to augment our perception of reality — available to me and you.
AR will continue to become increasingly ingrained in everyday life. AR billboards, menus, teachers. In many ways, we’re already there (i.e. all of those things already exist). The technology will get better, the experience more impressive. Like most innovations that get started online, the brands that are early adopters stand to benefit the most. Just remember, there was a time when having a landing page to represent your business online (i.e. the OG version of digital expression) was considered laughable. The wave we are entering is no different.
This post was originally published by Adam Lurie on Medium.
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