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Advertising continues to be a bright spot in AR’s otherwise-challenged early days. Brand spending on AR ads is on track reach $1.41 billion this year according to ARtillery Intelligence estimates, making this one of the most high-performing subsectors of the AR universe.

This isn’t a new message, as AR traction among advertisers continues to be a rallying cry for industry proponents. But beyond the “sell-side” it’s rare to get a first-hand account from brands or agencies that have run AR campaigns. What are they doing and learning from the process?

These questions were addressed during a recent interview with M7 Innovations‘ founder Matt Maher on Street Fight’s Heard on the Street Podcast (embedded audio below). Along with Qreal’s photogrammetry work, M7 executed the Panera AR campaign we covered recently.

Creating Craveability

In a nutshell, the campaign ran on Facebook and Snapchat, letting users interact with Panera’s breakfast wraps through AR lenses. Activated through face movement (e.g. yawning), 3D models of the wraps appeared for hungry consumers to visualize and rotate in AR.

After spending $50,000 on Facebook and Snapchat, the campaign got 9.3 million users, 171,000 clicks/swipes, and 47,000 shares. According to Maher, it also achieved a 25 percent store visit rate on Facebook, and a 2.8 percent conversion rate for digital purchases on Snapchat.

“AR is very engaging,” said Maher. “It gets people to click through; it gets people to actually play around with these models. But the second piece is what AR actually does to the brain. […] Qreal just did a study with Oxford and New South Wales University, and we now have scientific data that proves that when a human sees a dish in 3D in full photogrammetry, it increases craveability. It increases them wanting to actually consume that dish rather than just seeing a 2D image.”

This campaign success partly stems from AR’s inherent advantages that Maher cites. But it’s also about execution, such as realistic 3D models and competency with this developing medium. For the latter, Maher sees the most success from brands that are committed to AR.

In other words, ongoing work with AR can not only improve knowledge and execution but also amortize early-stage costs over many campaigns. For example, this was Panera’s third AR campaign, separating it from those that are doing AR to “check a box” or appear innovative.

“It just shows that Panera is investing in AR as a medium, not as the shiny object that so many other brands do […] With this third campaign, we’ve honed down on how we want to actually show the food. We want people to crave it. And then we put this one out on Facebook and Snap. Because we went through that progression, we had this success — we have learnings, and they really take this seriously as a medium.”

Single View of the Customer

Part of that learning curve can also be accelerated in AR with real-time results for consumer engagement. And given the lower-funnel results demonstrated above, actual conversion data and revenue lifts — versus upper funnel impressions — can embolden that feedback loop.

This is further advantaged when operating within walled gardens like Snapchat and Facebook. Usually “walled garden” is a bad word, but in this case it enables a “single view of the customer,” versus common attribution challenges of tracking consumers across several channels.

Another advantage according to Maher is AR’s ability to integrate with physical media. Brands can utilize already-invested signage or packaging for AR calls-to-action. This can bring static and owned media to life with AR triggers that create moments of customer engagement.

It also represents a key trend we’ve been tracking: After the AR-cloud fueled excitement over the concept of “AR everywhere,” the AR industry has come back to realizing and embracing the virtues of more simplistic — but effective —  marker-based AR activations, such as QR codes.

These markers are not only more practical to roll out in retail settings or product packaging, but they serve as prompts for consumer activation, which is needed at this stage of the AR adoption curve. And if we need any more convincing, there are signs that Apple is moving in this direction.

Key Components

As for advice on campaign execution, Maher believes that in addition to commitment and practice, there are a few specific success factors. Just like we recently heard from Zappar’s Caspar Thykier, thoughtful design and strategy around AR calls-to-action are critical.

Realistic 3D asset creation is also a big success factor, Maher says. As noted, M7 works with QReal, knowing that investment in photogrammetry is important to achieve realistic models that evoke the “craveability” mentioned above. This is especially pronounced in food-based AR.

Other areas of development include analytics, AR is stuck in the metrics of its forbears, including clicks and impressions. Those don’t capture the depth of AR’s user engagement levels, and will eventually evolve. But they’re important in early days to compare to established benchmarks.

“With media agencies and creative agencies, it’s hard to reframe your mind in this new medium. So what does anyone generally do… you benchmark it based on the past medium. […] But slowly, we’re seeing the smart marketers come out on the other side and say, ‘Okay, we’ll create new benchmarks. We’ll start to adapt what we know.’ You don’t want this to be a bolted-on innovation. If it’s measured wrong [the client is] never going to do AR again. So you kind of need that balance of both to justify the spend.” 

Looking forward, Maher is excited about AR’s convergence with other technologies like voice. He also believes AR will continue to evolve into product verticals with more complex tracking such as trying on shoes. But the biggest evolution will be cultural in how we interact with our devices.

“My hope for humanity is that we start to look up… we stop looking down at our phones and spending the 3:49 that the average American spends on a smartphone every day. And we look up and get this heads-up world where, through audio or glasses, we’re able to actually experience the world through our eyes and not looking at our little black mirrors.” 

Listen to the entire episode below… 

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