January 26, 2021 • 7 min read
Brands face three pertinent questions about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR): What is the technology capable of? Where is it going? And how fast will it spread?
Consumers already recognize its potential: worldwide consumer spending on AR and VR products and services is expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2018, representing the single largest source of spending. To some, AR and VR products represent a “shiny new toy” – a must-have accessory. To others, AR and VR represent the future, the foundation upon which new and existing brands can thrive.
Leading companies realize that time waits for no one, and as a result, have used AR and VR technology to create exciting products and unforgettable customer experiences.
Here are four prime examples.
As part of its sponsorship of the 2015 US Open, Amex announced a host of onsite events and immersive experiences for attendees. The highlight of Amex’s onsite Fan Experience was ‘You vs. Sharapova,’ a VR-based game which let fans go head-to-head in a virtual tennis match with tennis star Maria Sharapova, using live action and computer-generated imagery of the athlete.
Behind-the-scenes footage from Amex highlighted the detailed creative process for their VR customer experience.
Amex returned with new VR customer experiences for the 2017 US Open, this time partnering with Venus Williams to launch ‘Air Tennis.’ This live gaming installation used a combination of custom-built and responsive technologies, including air haptics and motion capture systems, to create an immersive gaming experience.
Facing off against an AI opponent, players used their hands and body movements to return as many virtual tennis balls as possible.
Amex integrated a shoppable augmented reality feature in the official smartphone app for Coachella, the annual music and arts festival in California. This AR experience let cardholders buy select merchandise using the Coachella app’s AR camera anywhere on the festival grounds.
Being a finance brand without a tangible product, Amex uses experiential marketing events to engage consumers and keep its brand top-of-mind. These memorable AR and VR experiences would also encourage social media users to share pictures online, bringing the brand some earned media.
Coinciding with Apple’s iOS 11 and ARkit unveiling, Swedish furniture giant IKEA announced the launch of IKEA Place, an app allowing customers to virtually place furniture inside (or outside) their home. Built in collaboration with Apple, IKEA Place automatically scales products in real-world settings with 98% accuracy, according to the company.
By virtually placing potential buys around their home before purchase, customers make sure the items they want actually look good before they venture to their local IKEA store. In a future version of the app, users will even be able to tap on a virtual sofa to see how big it is when expanded as a sofa bed.
The company is optimistic that IKEA Place and other AR tools will boost its bottom line over the next two years. According to Digiday, IKEA is projecting online sales to reach $5.9 billion by 2020. Indeed, it could alter the way people buy furniture from now into the future.
“Augmented reality and virtual reality will be a total game changer for retail in the same way as the internet,” says Michael Valdsgaard, Leader of Digital Transformation at Inter IKEA Systems. “Only this time, much faster.”
Much has been written about the Moneyball effect on baseball: does statistical analysis complement the game of baseball or does it lead to a data deluge?
During Apple’s inaugural event at the Steve Jobs Theater in September 2017, Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple, showcased how new AR features on the iPhone 8 could contextualize data during a baseball game.
The following month, MLB announced that its ‘At Bat’ app would add AR functionality, allowing fans to learn more about players in real-time. Through the app, fans in the stadium can use their mobile devices to instantly obtain a detailed picture of each player’s statistics. This data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool.
By launching the app and pointing their mobile devices toward the field, users can access individual player profiles, including arm strength and catch probability in addition to key stats like on-base percentage and batting average.
For those fans determined to assess every on-field play, the app also allows them to follow the speed and trajectory of any hit. Essentially, ‘At Bat’ empowers baseball fans to serve as their own sports analysts.
For developers, the trick is to tell “data stories”; They don’t want to overwhelm casual fans, but they also don’t want to bore stats freaks. Creating the right information at the right time is critical to AR’s success in baseball.
Virtual reality has already changed how collegiate and professional athletes practice. And with MLB recently rolling out a Home Run Derby VR video game for fans, it’s clear that the future of baseball ain’t what it used to be.
Using AR and VR, The New York Times has been able to create a sense of place for readers by integrating the technology into its reporting. This enhances stories where time and place is key, putting the reader alongside journalists at the front lines.
In 2015, the Times launched the NYT VR app in conjunction with The Displaced – a VR film about three children displaced by war. Through VR, viewers could experience what it’s like to be inside a refugee camp, from the viewpoint of those affected.
Since The Displaced, the Times has published more than 20 VR films, covering topics such as the Antarctic and space exploration. More recently, it launched The Daily 360 – a series of VR or 360-degree video filmed from a different location in the world every day. However, it is the Times’ most recent foray into AR that has proved especially eye-catching.
In February 2018, the outlet launched its first AR-enabled article, offering a preview of the Winter Olympics. The article focused on top Olympic athletes such as figure skater Nathan Chen and snowboarder Anna Gasser. In the app, Times readers could view the athletes in the room beside them, zoom in and out, and walk around in 360 degrees to view them from every side.
The following month, the Times switched its attention to the world of pop music, showcasing the eclectic style of late music legend David Bowie.
In keeping with the readers’ preference for visual journalism, the Times has opened up a world of AR and VR customer experience possibilities. It remains to be seen whether the required investment is sustainable long-term, but the potential for new immersive experiences is clear.
AR and VR have entered the stream of public consciousness, and it does not appear they will be leaving any time soon. Recent figures suggest that the global AR market, valued at $11.1 billion in 2018, could reach $60.6 billion by 2023. Meanwhile, the global VR market, valued at $7.9 billion in 2018, could reach $34 billion by 2023.
Leading brands like Amex, IKEA, MLB and the Times are creating value for consumers by harnessing the immense potential of AR and VR, creating new products and newer experiences. Many more brands will follow suit, proving what was once far-fetched is now reality.
The future is here.
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