We sat down with Oya Demirli, our futurist extraordinaire, to find out how Augmented reality (AR) is changing advertising, social media, and how consumers interact with brands and their products.
Oya drops some knowledge on how AR is disrupting the way we conduct business moving forward into a post-COVID-19 world.
Read our interview below to learn how COVID-19 has increased the need for AR, and how companies can prepare to take advantage of the many benefits that result from improving the consumer’s experience with AR.
OTTO: What is AR, and what kind of impact will it have on advertising?
Oya Demirli: Augmented reality is the ability to superimpose spatially-registered digital content on the real world surrounding the user. That is to say, AR adds an overlay to what you see with your naked eyes, rather than replacing it.
AR doesn’t block out the real world or replace it entirely with a digital one. It adds to the physical world reality that you would ordinarily see, rather than replace it. It lets the real world location you are in show through, only with digital objects or information superimposed on top of the physical world. Pokemon Go is well-known example of AR.
I think this is important to differentiate between AR, virtual reality (VR), and extended reality (XR). VR entails computer graphic rendering of entirely synthetic worlds like Second Life.
Extended reality is an umbrella term for an emerging category of applications which describe the fusion of AR and VR to create far more immersive experiences that seamlessly merge the physical and the virtual. XR simulations promise to be more like the Holodeck than Pokemon Go, but first we will need better headsets, better batteries, better more pervasive broadband like 5G, and low power GPUs on our handheld and wearable devices.
The phones and the tablets we rely on today will be replaced by XR enabled devices. A new generation of smart glasses, digital contact lenses, and wearable sensors and haptic devices will become available in the not too distant future.
The goal of AR is to create a convenient and natural way to enhance our view of the physical location we are in to increase engagement and foster a sense of immersion. The ultimate goal of XR is to enable total immersion.
OTTO: How is AR going to be important for advertising?
Oya Demirli: The primary way AR will be important to advertising is by increasing revenue for brands by fostering emotional connections and enhanced hyperlocal advertising.
Let’s talk about the emotional connection first. AR ads help marketers and brands connect with a consumer through engagement with brand content superimposed on the physical locations.
AR can be used to gamify a specific location and foster deeper emotional connections with the user. AR enables interactive hyperlocal advertising tuned to particular points in time and space along a consumer’s journey.
There have been some experiments with AR advertising ads. Snapchat lens campaigns are an example, but they have been limited due to available technology.
They’ll become more popular when consumer-grade AR glasses are available, coupled with 5G infrastructure and edge computing. These things are necessary because the file sizes and data flow requirements associated AR are huge. Even when we are passively watching video, lag, latency, glitching, and drop-outs spoil the experience. The effects of latency and other artifacts when you’re immersed in an interactive environment are far more significant. They can actually make you feel ill, so we will need the right infrastructure to be available and affordable for consumers before AR and XR will become mainstream for advertisers.
AR will enable consumers to immerse themselves in every detail of the product or the service. Prior to purchase, they could be presented with extended product information or even demonstrations of the product in use. The ability to extend content and support interactivity with content can help to build emotional connections with consumers. And as you know, many purchases are based on emotional impluses. That’s why people often have more pairs of sneakers than they actually need.
In terms of its value for hyper-local advertising and location-based services, AR’s reliance on spatial computing is key. Spatial computing makes it possible for hyper-local ads to be truly immersive. They enable touchless interaction with products and services before entering an establishment or using the service. This is incredibly valuable, especially in the post-COVID environment.
OTTO: How will AR change the user experience on social media?
Oya Demirli: AR has already enhanced social media experiences beyond still and moving images or text. With Snapchat, it’s primarily for selfies and provided proof of concept, albeit limited.
The Pokémon Go application showed that AR wasn’t limited to selfies.
Snapchat also has a Web Builder that provides consumer brands with a library of 3D objects and animations to help build custom branded AR lens ads within minutes.
OTTO: Has the outbreak of COVID-19 increased the demand for AR?
Oya Demirli: COVID-19 has given AR a significant boost. Some really cool things are happening.
With the shift to working from home people, brands like IKEA and Wayfair are using AR in online e-commerce to help consumers visualize products like desks and chairs for their home office in the context of the consumer’s home environment. In addition to personalizing the shopping experience, this is improving customer satisfaction and reducing returns—that’s really important!
Also, AR is being used by retailers to provide self-service store navigation that provide a better shopping experience, and can reduce indoor exposure risks for consumers and employees.
There are a couple of really interesting things happening in the case of restaurants and bars. Interactive AR menus let customers point their devices, cameras at a menu, and then show them 3D renderings or photos of the dishes and drinks superimposed on their view of the table in front of them so everything is touchless.
Even more is being done with AR by enterprise users. That’s where the bigger markets are for now. AR and VR are really significant in enterprise solutions.
In London, doctors have been using mixed reality with headsets to treat COVID-19 patients, reducing the need for PPE. I thought that was really cool. At the Imperial College London, they’re using mixed reality headsets to help reduce the number of persons necessary at the bedside. And at the same time, they’re enhancing communication and ultimately reducing the usage of PPE, which there was a huge shortage for.
Boeing is using AR technology to help engineers determine where the wiring needs to go within an aircraft. This particular use of a new AR workflow has improved in wiring installation by 30%, reducing the number of errors made by staff by 90%.
A company called Wannaby is using it to allow users to try on a pair of AR shoes before they make a purchase using foot tracking technology.
ModiFace is a beauty try-on simulation using AR with live video. It tracks the face and facial features in precise detail. It lets you do a makeup simulation with dynamic highlighting, photo-realistic hair color, and style simulation. They also provide a wide range of services for beauty brands and tech partners.
There’s a boom of startups developing specialized services with AR. Whether it is makeup, whether it is foot tracking, they’re all producing a version of enabling technologies for AR marketing and advertising.
Eventually, there is likely to be consolidation in the market. Still, it’s attracting a lot of investment, and its the wild wild west.
OTTO: How can brands utilize AR to improve the consumer experience?
Oya Demirli: Seeing a product in a third dimension through AR is just as effective as a sales technique if it is a garden hose or a Mercedes C series. Keeping a viewer’s interest longer with greater intensity is something that Madison Avenue’s Mad Men of yore only dreamed about.
AR allows a brand to activate an audience and sell on the spot if the content is presented to engage the consumer and address their specific needs in context.
The emotional connection is also an excellent tool for increasing brand awareness. People have a better recall of brands that they have a positive association with. AR ads would be perfect not only for promoting sales but for building that particular brand’s reputation. I was in a seminar by this youth marketing agency. Based on the research that they have done, they discovered that Gen Z is adamant about the brand, living the brand message story. And I’m quoting him, and he’s quoting the Gen Z. “they don’t care about—don’t worry about your brand’s fonts. This isn’t your grandfather’s audience or your parent’s audience. Don’t worry about the font. Don’t worry about the color. Don’t worry about anything. Those are secondary. We want the brand to live the brand promise, to live whatever that brand message is. We want the brand to live up to it and prove itself to us.”
Gen Z is looking for other kinds of connections, and they want to live the story. If a brand promotes sustainability, Gen Z wants to see how the brand conducts itself. A brand’s mission and vision statements are not enough. They want to see how the brand produces the products and the services it delivers, as well as how the brand supports the communities that it serves. With AR brands can bring these things to light in the consumer experience. It is especially important for the younger audiences, that the brand lives the message itself rather than just delivers the message.
OTTO: How are you going to boost sales using AR?
Oya Demirli: AR offers different ways for marketers and advertisers to increase volumes by, let’s say, virtual try-ons, right? This kind of application is actually significant in home furnishings, apparel, and jewelry, as well as for services like virtual workouts. For example just the other days I purchased something that I saw on Amazon. It’s stepper home exercise product, because I just can’t go to my yoga and Pilates studios due to COVID. I needed some sort of gym equipment to fit in my living room, which, as you may imagine, can be a challenge in a NYC apartment.
Amazon’s AR app lets you see a 3D rendering of the product in your living room, so you know whether it actually fits or not. So these are the things that are being done today. This kind of application is now available on many other platforms.
There’s also a company called Zeekit. It’s an Israeli company that’s being used by a lot of retailers. It’s AI-based, AI-powered, and it actually maps your body to the entire catalog of Bloomingdale’s inventory. Instead of seeing models or avatars, you even see yourself based on your body measurements. It’s pretty accurate in terms of capturing body measurements. It’s called the first dynamic virtual fitting room. It gives every person the chance to see themselves in any item of clothing found online.
Initially, there was a big push in this for the tourism industry, but I don’t know how it will be viable post-COVID. But mainly, I think, that’s going to be feasible for city-based or mall-based hyper-local advertising. 5G-enabled phones will make this possible.
NexTech AR solutions is a Canadian company that went public recently. They have a full end-to-end CRM and commerce platform where they actually do 3D holograms, 3D imagery and 3D modeling. They integrate it through an ad platform and their ad servers, and they have all kinds of metrics. Like how much they increase sales and conversion rates, etc.
Another cool company is Vertebrae. They’ve been around for a while. They’re a Facebook partner right now. They have an AR platform that lets the shoppers make informed buying decisions. The buyers make decisions with interactive product experiences. They rely on a unified—the creators. The brands rely on a unified platform to create, deploy, and measure a 3D shopping strategy. They also make 3D assets. That’s one of the things that a lot of companies are doing.
Years ago, these production companies created assets for gaming, like you create 20,000 gun types, whatever, through CAD models. There are actually many companies that are creating a lot of assets right now, so you could use it in your advertising.
AR is one thing, but the real experience is going to be extended reality, when we get to it, because then it’s going to utilize other sensory inputs that will hopefully allow us to actually feel our experience. We could have a fuller experience, rather than just an overlay as is the case with AR. Manufacturing, supply chain, enterprise training, and healthcare are the key areas where XR is going to be very valuable.
Stay tuned for more insights from our futurist, Oya Demirli, and be sure to subscribe below to never miss out on new content that’s always popping up.
Oya Demirli is an innovator and inventor with patents in spatial computing, immersive reality, and secure collaborative communication, including Real-time immersive mediated reality experiences, Systems and methods for previewing content, System and methods for secure collaborative communication, Communication with component-based privacy.