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5 Innovative Ways to Use AR in Holiday Marketing

by Stephanie Miles

Retailers are going high-tech this holiday season, leaning heavily into interactive experiences on mobile platforms in a bid to win market share over the competition. While we’re still in the early weeks of the 2019 holiday shopping season, it’s already become clear that more retailers plan to use augmented reality in their marketing efforts this year than ever before.

A technology that was once considered to be on the fringes of digital marketing has moved into the mainstream, as retailers around the country find new ways to use AR in their 2019 holiday campaigns. From virtual try-ons to camera filters designed to drive people into physical store locations, there’s no limit to the number of ways creative marketers can use AR. Enterprising retailers are capitalizing on the momentum as they come up with smarter ways to help shoppers contextually visualize what products will look like on their bodies and in their homes.

Let’s take a look at how five major companies are using AR for holiday marketing this year.

1. Walmart: AR-Integrated Holiday Catalogs
Walmart has been using augmented reality for years. What’s new this season involves how the retailer is integrating AR into its printed holiday catalogs. Beginning this year, shoppers who have downloaded Walmart’s mobile app will be able to scan pages from the retailer’s holiday toy catalog and make purchases through the app. Walmart is also introducing app-based maps, which guide shoppers to specific shelves where they can find the items they saw online or in printed catalogs. An online gift finder is also being launched to help shoppers find online items inside physical Walmart stores. Walmart’s push into the AR space, and technology during the holidays more generally, stems from the company’s interest in using tech-enabled solutions to make shopping in physical stores as seamless as shopping online.

2. Coca-Cola: AR-Activated Soda Cans
Coca-Cola is putting a modern spin on its annual holiday campaign blitz with a large-scale AR experience this year. Consumers who scan specially-marked Coca-Cola cans and bottles using the Coca-Cola mobile app will see an “immersive computer-generated view” of the famous Coke polar bears. Consumers can actually unlock multiple polar bear “experiences,” with different scenes inspired by the company’s previous holiday ad campaigns. Scanning two Coke cans together brings up additional interactive experiences. Coca-Cola’s campaign was designed to go viral, and adding bonus experiences exclusively for people who share Coke products with their friends takes that strategy even one step further.

3. Starbucks: Custom AR Effects on Instagram
Starbucks is always making headlines in the holiday marketing space. The company’s annual holiday cup designs are meant to grab attention, but it’s the added bonus of an augmented reality component that has people talking this year. Starbucks has partnered with Instagram on a strategy that encourages social sharing with the use of AR. Consumers who visit the Starbucks profile on Instagram and click on the effect gallery can choose from a number of AR effects. When they point their camera at a holiday cup, they’ll see a special AR-fueled experience. That experience can then be recorded and shared on the social network. It’s a bid that all but ensures the campaign goes viral. Starbucks’ new holiday-themed AR effects were built using Facebook’s Spark AR platform.

4. Centennial: Interactive Holiday Entertainment Experiences
Meet-and-greets with Santa Claus are big business for shopping mall operators this time of year. Centennial, a national owner of major shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations, is launching a new guest engagement strategy for the holiday season that replaces traditional Santa Claus sets with interactive “family entertainment experiences.” These experiences combine AR encounters with elements of storytelling, to engage shoppers while they wait in line to meet Santa Claus in person. Centennial has partnered with the creative agency Parker 3D on the project.

5. Target: Virtual ‘Tree Finder’ Features
Responding to consumer demand, Target is using AR in an innovative way this season. The national retail giant is including a special Christmas tree finder feature for mobile phone users. Target shoppers can take pictures of artificial fir trees in various sizes and see how those trees would look inside their own homes with augmented reality technology. This seasonal campaign comes on the heels of a successful Halloween AR campaign that Target ran via Snapchat last month. In that campaign, shoppers were able to access several Halloween-themed AR experiences using the camera carousel in Snapchat.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight. A version of this article previously appeared in Street Fight, reproduced here under an editorial partnership.

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Disclosure: AR Insider has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.