AR: its arrival is a bit like mobile

08 May 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
AR: its arrival is a bit like mobile

Advertisers are slowly embracing augmented reality, writes Dominic Mills - and smart media agencies will be ready to offer consultancy, delivery and execution

You remember the way every year from 2007 (or 2006/2008 – take your pick) was ‘the year of mobile’. Except that year always became ‘next year’ ...till one day it was ‘whoosh’. And now look at it: £5.2bn (AA/WARC figures) in 2017, 37% up on 2016 and just under half all online spend.

I wonder if AR doesn’t share some of the same characteristics. It’s been around for a few years, mainly in a non-advertising capacity, but as a Mindshare report from two weeks ago suggests, its time is nigh… or maybe nigh plus a year or two. You can read the full analysis or watch the video here.

Advertiser uptake is slow, but it’s happening. Take mobile operator Three, promoting its data deal with Snapchat via an AR game starring the ‘puggerfly’, a half-pug, half-butterfly AR creation.

It’s wonderfully silly, but a lot of fun, and beneath the surface points to something more significant. That AR is gradually becoming mainstream. We’ve had Pokemon Go, we’ve had Snap’s dancing hotdog, all of which have increased consumer familiarity with AR.

The real drive though is imminent, linked to a number of trends. First, the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook (via ArKit, ARCore and AR Studio respectively) are opening up their systems to AR developers.

Second, image recognition technology – already available via Google Lens on the Pixel 2.0 phone – will soon(ish) be standard on all phones.

Third, the likes of Shazam and Zappar are developing platform apps, a standard way for many brands to connect with consumers, as a way to deliver AR experiences. Some brands - take Ikea Place, which allows you to place furniture in your rooms (i.e. a try-before-you-buy experience) - are going it alone with their own apps.

And let’s not forget second-generation, post Google Glass, eyewear such as Snap spectacles, or the Bose glasses which offer an audio AR experience.

Snap spectacles

But what the hell do advertisers do with AR? Mindshare’s futures director, Jeremy Pounder, reckons the big change will be a move to everyday utility rather than, as now, experiences that are made to entertain. The key, he says, is in making AR an assistance tool to make everyday life as frictionless as possible.

You can certainly see its use for retailers, who need a bit of theatre to keep themselves afloat. Clothing retailers can do an AR catwalk, car makers spec trials, while supermarkets - operating in tandem with FMCG companies, can offer aisle-specific AR experiences highlighting two-for-ones and special offers. DIY stores can provide instruction or assembly content.

Skip to the supermarket scene just over two minutes in in this video by Keiichi Matsuda to see how it could work.

You can also see it working in location-specific environments, sort of like Google maps on steroids. Point your phone along your local high street and café and restaurant offers can be layered on to your view; or duty-free offers in airports.

Similarly, FMCG manufacturers can link it to recipes or serving suggestions, especially if it is integrated with smart packaging.

This is all very well, you say, but where will advertisers find the money? After all, creating a ton of AR content - sometimes on multiple iterations to cope for different environments - doesn’t come cheap.

It’s difficult to say. Some may come from innovation budgets, but that is not a long-term proposition, and new money is not exactly growing on trees. Some may come from search - after all, AR offers up the possibility of visual search - and some will come from trade budgets.

If AR is an enhancement to a bigger campaign, rather than a stand-alone execution, then it is more likely to come from a standard media budget.

For media agencies like Mindshare then, AR is a threat to their standard modus operandi, but they are surely better getting ahead of the curve than catching up. By grabbing AR, they put themselves in a position to offer consultancy, as well as delivery and execution.

At this point it is worth bearing in mind last week’s comments by WPP co-COO Mark Read about the difficulties posed to the likes of WPP by ongoing budget cuts at FMCG clients. Rather than moan about it, as Sir Martin did, he said: “It’s incumbent on us to shift our offer to reflect where packaged goods companies are shifting their investments, and provide the right model to help them connect with consumers.”

Well, that might be AR. Someone from Mindshare should send him its report.

Oi, GroupM: you’ve forgotten OOH

I take my hat off to GroupM for its willingness to devote time and resources to broad-brush media research, whether it’s global ad spend forecasts or, as last week, its compendious look at digital trends in The State of Digital. Other than underlining its authority in the markets, there is no obvious payback.

There is much to chew the fat over in this latest report, whether it is its scepticism over Blockchain, inflation predictions - up 5 to 13% in the USA, depending on the supplier - the duopoly or e-commerce.

And there’s some fascinating ‘time-spent’ analysis, leading to the prediction that time spent online will this year overtake time spent with linear TV, at 221 minutes versus 218.

Of course, some of that time spent online is watching TV, albeit on demand. And of course, as GroupM points out, more time spent online will mean more e-commerce, driving the stake further into the coffin that is the high street.

But there is one obvious gap in the GroupM analysis. Outdoor. Yes, it’s not digital in the comparable sense in the way in which this report sets out its stall (although digital OOH is a rapidly growing part of the OOH landscape).

But, as Route figures show, we spend about 3.1 hours out and about in the so-called ‘third space’ - i.e. neither home nor work - every day. That’s 190 minutes - more than radio and print combined - and only half an hour less than linear TV.

You just have to bump into people in the street to know that some of that third-space time is spent staring at a screen, and nobody sets out to ‘view’ OOH in the way they make a conscious choice with other media, but nonetheless to ignore OOH in any time-spent analysis is to leave a great big hole in the stats.

Over time too, we can expect time exposed to OOH to increase as urbanisation spreads. The more urban a society - and we are among the most here in the UK - the greater the time spent commuting or out and about.

For its part, GroupM says the global nature of the study (45 countries) and the paucity of international OOH data (Route for the UK and a few markets apart) is one reason it doesn't include OOH.

A second is that the study scope is about voluntary shifts in personal media consumption during the day - and this does not relate to OOH.

And then there's good news/not-so-good news: the good is that, globally, OOH share is running at 6.4% - the highest since GroupM started looking at the figures in 1999; the not-so-good is that it predicts a gentle decline in share, mostly due to increased media investment in digital by SMEs.

Excluding SMEs, however, the picture is rosier.

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