How AR has gone from a buzzword to an effective communications tool

How AR has gone from a buzzword to an effective communications tool
Adam Cox is head of digital development at the global creative communications agency DRPG. He heads up the award winning digital development team providing digital solutions for the internal and external communications needs of a wide range of clients. He has over 15 years of experience working with top level tech from AR and VR to AI and beyond as part of DRPG’s ever growing digital team.

Augmented reality is not a new phenomenon, the concept has been bandied about for the past five years as ‘the next big thing in marketing’ with varying degrees of promise. What is now changing, that could be the difference between buzzword and buzzkill, is the advances in technology that are making AR more user friendly, accessible and realistic as a legitimate marketing and communications tool for brands.

2020 will be the proving ground for AR tech and its ability to provide elevated communications experiences. We finally have the makings of a burgeoning AR landscape which will touch everything from workplaces, to events to the way in which we interact with audiences across the globe.

The past

While AR’s dramatic surge in 2016, with the release of apps like Pokémon Go and Snapchat, brought AR into the day to day consumer experience, many still doubted its legitimacy as a marketing tool, bringing in to question issues such as its maturity, relevance and accessibility, labelling it a brand gimmick.

In 2017 the introduction of Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore software development kits (SDKs) almost tripled the amount of AR users, while it doubled the number of AR-enabled devices by standardising the development tools and opening up AR app creation to “the masses”.

While AR does boast loyal users and has come a long way since its first big splash almost four years ago, widespread adoption is only just beginning now. The next wave of technical innovation could help change that.

The future

We’re currently at a tipping point where both our employees’ and customers’ tolerance for lacklustre digital interactions is wearing thin. With so much potential at our fingertips it is high time that we start to harness the power of experiential tech for both internal and external consumers.

With some serious investment from Apple, Google and Facebook, tech has finally caught up with AR aspirations and 2020 could be the year that we start to see AR integrated into our everyday workspaces and our brand comms.

Here are just some of the recent developments bringing AR to the fore of consumer branding:

  • The launch of Spark AR Studio by Facebook: Using basic software skills, it’s now easy to create custom AR effects such as masks, filters and try before you buy shopping experiences. Spark AR Studio is free to use and accessible to anyone with a computer. These AR experiences are accessible through social channels meaning users no longer have to download a separate app, and can share with their network
  • The widespread adoption of 5G: The nationwide rollout of 5G will dramatically change the way people use their devices every day. Faster loading times, hyper-capacity, new viewing experiences like 8K resolution streaming, and 360-degree video will allow for bigger and better AR implementations without impinging on quality, data usage or download speeds
  • Web AR: Chrome AR, the highly anticipated product of 2019 that allows AR capabilities to be integrated directly into existing websites, is changing the way devices themselves access AR content. This technology negates the need for native AR apps, allowing users to simply log-on to AR-enabled websites to access the same level of functionality, thereby tackling the increasing challenge that brands face to get consumers to download specialised apps
  • Apple AR glasses: Although there is confusion around price point, exact release date and what exactly their capabilities will include, it is certainly a highly anticipated piece of tech that will no doubt be a game changer in the AR sphere. These sure to be fashionable glasses may not be out in 2020 but they are certainly worth bearing in mind when looking at AR’s bright future

All these together make AR a more accessible and realistic tool for brands to start incorporating in to their communications strategies.

Examples of AR being used effectively in comms campaigns this season

While the tech itself may not be ground-breaking, the way in which AR is being used for marketing purposes is making waves.

Ikea Place allows you to virtually place furnishings in your home and now to fuel the festive fun you can even find the best spot for your Christmas tree.

Starbucks Cup promotes sustainability this Christmas through their AR festive filters activated via their limited edition reusable cups.

While we at DRPG are engaging with clients and employees through AR game Reindeer Racer, sending a self-build reindeer stable that becomes a trigger to play the reindeer training game.

Tips on how brands can effectively use AR to support and solve needs at a company level or reach out to consumers

It is important that brands use AR exclusively to align with defined business needs whether this is consumer facing like Starbucks or Coca Cola or for internal engagement like DRPG. Businesses must determine how AR could support and solve needs at a company level or reach out to consumers and engage. Organisations who jump on the band wagon and gratuitously use AR technology will see their (expensive) campaigns fall flat.

AR offerings should offer the solution to a problem. Try before you buy and experience enhancing AR apps are a great example of this.

Keep it simple and keep it fun. At its core, AR is the gamification of the consumer experience. It allows brands to have a bit of fun, engaging their audiences in a more interactive way so it is important not to overcomplicate the experience but to execute it well.


Through these examples of effective AR use combined with the maturation of so many digital engagement technologies, we are already seeing a slew of organisations getting the experiences right. This in turn will set a new benchmark for tolerance amongst consumer audiences and force the hand of many large organisations to investigate and then invest in a suite of digital offerings fit for the next 10 years if they are to keep up with competitors and be heard above the noise.

VR – and of course AI – will need to become part of the mix as well and those companies which embrace the changing trends and throw off the shackles of risk now will be the real winners in the long run.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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