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Digital overlays on printed media and product packaging is a subset of AR that continues to represent large opportunities. AR’s inherent abilities are a natural fit for the goal of turning these otherwise static media into dynamic channels that come to life through the smartphone camera.

Not only does this create new digital “inventory” on erstwhile-static surfaces, it can be a physical prompt to nudge or remind users that AR is there. While adoption stalls for advanced and world-immersive AR, simpler marker-based activations like this can engage users with less friction.

This is where Zappar hangs its hat. As co-founder and CEO Caspar Thykier discusses with Jason McDowall on the AR Show, the company has developed a playbook for working with consumer brands like 7-11 and Tillys on AR campaigns, including the “5 C’s” of effective AR marketing.

Before diving into the 5 C’s, we’ll start at the beginning. Thykier’s advertising background brought him through several tech milestones such as mobile, social, and gaming. That combination led to areas like virtual avatars (pre-Fortnite), and other precursors to work with AR.

Serendipitous collaborations with cross-disciplinary friends and colleagues then led to the launch of Zappar in 2011. Though a lifetime in internet years, early founding principles exist to this day: to bring more immersion and dimension to static media and “make the world scannable.”

Another thing that persists to this day — especially in AR — is the tech and media worlds’ penchant for getting drawn into hype cycles. This involves “tech for tech’s” sake, which Zappar deliberately avoids in favor of end-user utility as North star for product planning and design.

“First and foremost AR is a camera function. It provides a new lens for digital discovery. And that can be for moments of surprise and delight in marketing activation, and to inform and instruct users […] But the big revelation and market opportunity is about turning passive products and packaging and print into your most valuable always-on media channel. If you think of it through that lens and try and break it down — rather than getting too carried away with the technology — it’s incredible what it can achieve.”

As an enabling platform for all of the above, one of Zappar’s challenges is education. Because AR is so early, many brands don’t know how to be successful with it. Unsuccessful efforts are usually those that just want to check a box, and don’t have defined goals nor long-term interest.

“Think about AR more holistically within a business and break the cycle [of] wonderful and amazing campaigns that many people have done but they are just one-off campaigns. It’s a missed opportunity […] I think the real benefits and amortization of cost comes through continuing that relationship and understanding what’s working well. Whereas, if it’s just all siloed activity, it doesn’t necessarily scale as well.”

A company that’s done this right according to Thykier is 7-11. It won the 2019 Auggie Award for best AR campaign, which flowed from its holistic and goal-oriented approach. That includes treating AR as an ongoing effort to engage customers and build loyalty, rather than a siloed one.

Thykier also credits internal champions at 7-11, which can be a powerful force in brand adoption of new technologies. Such champions need dedication to the cause, a firm idea of what AR can bring to marketing efforts, and clear-cut goals for what the technology is hoped to accomplish.

That brings us to the 5C’s. They include context (when and how you reach users), control (environmental conditions like lighting), call to action (getting them to scan), content (AR graphics themselves) and communication (educating users on AR through other channels).

These steps mirror the sequence of the user experience and require firm tactics. A call to action (CTA) for example is the enticement to get users to pull out their phone. Zappar has learned that the CTA should be in immediate proximity of the scannable item, such as product packaging.

“If you don’t tell people super clearly what it is they’re meant to do, and what they’re going to get for bothering, your numbers are going to suffer because most people aren’t familiar with this stuff. And you do need to walk them through it clearly. What we’ve discovered is if you put that call to action any distance from the thing that you’re asking them to scan, your numbers will suffer. So that’s to say, putting it on point of sale when you’re asking people to scan a product: that distance alone will already have a negative impact on engagement.”

Panning back to the macro environment, Thykier believes a convergence of emerging tech will better enable AR to be more effective for brand marketing. That includes 5G for low-latency experiences, precise area mapping and permission-based standard for digital rights.

Thykier, like us, is also bullish on AR “picks & shovels” which are enabling technologies that democratize advanced capability. These will unlock AR for less tech-savvy brands and agencies who will come later but represent a larger addressable market of B2B2C AR adopters.

Speaking of democratization, there’s the continued evolution of web AR. This is relevant to consumer packaged goods (CPG) that aren’t sexy enough to have their own apps (think: detergent), but may want to activate AR as an informational utility in retail contexts.

“Native apps absolutely have a place for the right brands with the right audience in the right context — very true of sports […] Web AR for CPG partners suddenly blows the doors open […] They can actually use the browser as a distribution channel to everyone who’s got access to a browser, which is a lot of people. So it fundamentally shifts the way brands can have a conversation with people, or in a way that doesn’t have that friction of having to download an app.”

Lastly, coming full circle to simpler AR activations, sometimes it’s that simplicity with just the right amount of “magic” that can captivate users. And sometimes magic is found in decidedly lower-tech approaches. That’s easier said than done, but can be a good target for AR design.

“That really simple, almost Harry Potter-like video coming to life on a page makes people’s faces light up. That sounds crazy because that’s been something that everyone can do literally for the last 10 years, but it still has that magical effect on people. So I don’t think you have to be pushing the envelope too hard on the technology to create experiences that are meaningful to people.”

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