A new kind of storytelling: harnessing immersive AR in the Metaverse

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There are multiple factors behind any paradigm shift, but consumer behaviour is arguably one of the biggest for marketing. When audience habits and mindsets change, so too must the way marketers consider and approach their communications. As demand for online interactivity keeps growing, a different kind of immersive storytelling will become the focus.

Whether we call it the Metaverse or Web 3.0, the next phase of the internet is here. Amplified by the pandemic-driven need for digital connection, technologies such as virtual and augmented reality have reached new levels of mass adoption: three-fifths of UK shoppers used VR and AR to test products before buying in 2020 and Snapchat estimates that 75% of all smartphone users will also be frequent AR users by 2025.

With the move from 2D to 3D experiences in full swing among consumers, brands face the necessity and opportunity to adapt accordingly. And with technology now available to quickly and efficiently produce 3D renderings of products used in AR creative, the development process is even easier for brands.

So, how can marketers harness AR to enhance marketing success in the dawning Metaverse era, and how can they use it throughout the funnel for new types of engagement?

Following the social curve


The huge increase in consumer interaction with AR is largely due to social media. Native integrations used on social platforms — such as lenses and filters — have worked to remove previous psychological barriers by showing interactions can be accessible, fun and easy, as opposed to the early days of having to download dedicated apps for each AR activation.

Practical barriers, such as restrictive connectivity speeds, have also been reduced - with increased 5G accessibility a huge driver in lowering load times for AR on mobile devices and increasing the performance of AR content and progressing the overall user experience.

Coupled with the recent boom in online-first connection, this change in perception has fostered the ideal conditions for social platforms to act as Metaverse spaces where consumers are open to AR and brands can use the technology to offer more immersive interaction and purchasing experiences. 

Snapchat has been at the forefront of integrated AR opportunities for some time, and now its shopping tools allow users to virtually try on items of clothing through the app, boosting product engagement and enhancing the online shopping experience.

Other social platforms have followed suit, with Instagram similarly enabling makeup try-ons. TikTok has also strengthened its e-commerce capabilities through a partnership with Shopify, allowing users to make purchases directly from videos and in-app shops. 

However, while the chance to increase engagement bodes well for conversion rates and long-term consumer relationships, it also brings the need for more sophisticated AR creative. Many creators and brands may have become masters in producing popular basic filters, but there is a capability gap when it comes to generating captivating virtual content that stands out from the crowd and drives brand connection. 

Although there are some standout examples from big brands, such as Nike’s Snapchat experience that allows users to customise and try on its Air Force 1 trainers digitally, getting commercial content right will be a steep learning curve for many.

Maximising platform suitability


An obvious starting point is ensuring greater understanding of what’s possible on each social platform. After all, just because each app has similar AR capabilities, it doesn’t mean they don’t also have fundamental differences that need to be taken into account. 

For example, Meta, Snap, Pinterest and TikTok all leverage Facial Detection that enables users to place animations on their faces, and the former three also let audiences place virtual, 3D products in their surroundings via Horizontal Plane Trackers.

However, marketers must ensure each element of AR creative is perfectly adapted for its intended audience, destination and key marketing objectives — all of which will differ subtly across platforms. Indeed, the recent backlash against Instagram for mimicking TikTok shows that users appreciate each social platform’s unique features and formats.  

At the design level, brands will need to have the right creative controls at their disposal. This includes the ability to build and render different experiences depending on which products they want to showcase — such as using overlays for virtually placing furniture in a user’s home.

Ensuring greater creative range


Every marketer wants the best return on their creative investment, which often means maximising the mileage of their ads. Although simply running AR creative across the board isn’t likely to hit the right chord with highly discerning social media users, there is room to use well-designed ads as a base to build and tweak from.

For example, ads in which a call-to-action (CTA) appears early on may produce a higher uplift within TikTok’s rapid, short-video format than it does on other social platforms; users on Instagram’s aspirational, lifestyle-focused pages may prefer a late-appearing CTA which gives them more time to try on products via AR features. 

Once they have an ad that hits its desired mark for a specific platform and user group, marketers can tap intelligent creative assessment tools that pinpoint which adjustments are needed for cross-platform success. They can then continually optimise ads for specific social platforms by frequently testing and measuring the effectiveness of the ad’s features over time. 

As the Metaverse forms another digital layer on top of our world, there become even more ways for brands to cater for online-centric consumer tastes through AR. Adapting to a new kind of immersive storytelling, however, isn’t without its challenges. Quirky filters won’t be enough to outshine the competition and secure audience eyeballs as efficiently as on-platform spend.

The best route to marketing success still lies where it always has — with prioritising quality content and user relevance. For any brands hoping to achieve effective engagement, that means ensuring they’re well-equipped with the smart creative development and measurement tools needed to build optimal AR experiences.

By Jeremiah Zinger, Senior Partner Manager at VidMob 


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