Getting Real with Reality Tech: AR vs. VR

The terms augmented reality and virtual reality marketing might conjure images of Pokemon Go or immersive video game experiences, but AR and VR are more than tools for the gaming industry – they are fast becoming powerful marketing tools for forward-thinking brands. In the future, as AR and VR adoption continues to grow, they will likely become essential to a comprehensive digital marketing strategy.

In this article we’re looking at ways companies can use AR and VR to their advantage, and exploring examples of brands that have launched successful, creative campaigns using the technology.

What are AR and VR?

Before we delve into the details of the use cases for AR and VR in a marketing strategy, it’s helpful to remind ourselves what these technologies are and how they’re most commonly utilized.

Augmented reality is “an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real-world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information.” AR uses a real-world landscape or situation and augments it with digital information. Most often this information is visual in nature, but it can also include, for example, auditory or haptic information.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, is “an experience taking place within simulated and immersive environments that can be similar to or completely different from the real world.” People often think of VR in the context of video games, which use the technology to immerse gamers in a particular landscape or experience. VR experiences necessitate specific equipment, typically in the form of a VR headset. This has been something of a limiting factor in VR adoption so far, but as device availability and accessibility improve, we expect to see VR experiences proliferate.

Marketing use cases for AR and VR

AR and VR have endless practical use cases from a marketing and advertising perspective, and companies are beginning to test different ways to use these technologies to meet key marketing objectives.

  • Enhance the customer experience — Perhaps the most exciting possibility that AR presents is the ability to enhance the customer experience. AR can be deployed both online and in-store to provide experiences that are personalized to the user’s distinct circumstances or needs. Smart mirrors, for example, allow shoppers to try clothes on in different light settings, and order different sizes or styles directly to their dressing room. 
  • Make ecommerce even more accessible — Since the early days of ecommerce consumers have become much more comfortable ordering products online sight-unseen. But there are still barriers to purchase when buying something you’ve only seen from a handful of photos. AR apps can reduce this friction by allowing consumers to do virtual try-ons or in-situ product placement that help them visualize products in the appropriate context.
  • Create engaging social media experiences — Many of us first encountered AR through Snapchat filters that allowed users to face swap with friends, or visualize themselves as a variety of woodland creatures. Social media, unsurprisingly, is a natural place for AR to flourish. We’ve seen this as more brands are investing in 360° video to tell engaging stories, launching AR ads to stand out from the competition, and rolling out location and experience-based AR filters.

Examples of branded AR and VR execution

In 2017 Apple rolled out ARKit, a framework that allowed developers to more easily create AR apps for iPhone and iPad. Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA, was quick on the uptake with the launch of IKEA Place. The app allows users to select from a huge inventory of IKEA products and, by accessing the camera on the user’s iPhone, virtually place those articles in their homes.

Where IKEA uses a digital experience to bring the physical store home to its consumers, Sephora uses digital experience to further enhance brick-and-mortar shopping. Their in-store smart mirrors allow users to test out different shades of makeup without so much as picking up a compact. 

Sephora isn’t the only beauty retailer getting in on the AR game either. AR is a natural fit for beauty brands, as helping consumers choose products and shades to suit their skin type and complexion is an ever-present challenge. Virtual try-on apps and apps that can assess skin, hair, and beauty needs are cropping up from a variety of beauty brands.

In closing

As retailers search for ways to bring users back to brick-and-mortar stores through immersive store experiences, and brands everywhere try to close the gap between their offline and online experiences, we are seeing AR and VR emerge as powerful tools. Though the technology and its applications are still nascent (in relative terms), brands should be considering ways to incorporate them as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy.