Back to Reality: Looking Past AR, VR Hype 

by Samuel Snider-Held, MediaMonks 

There seems to always be a new development in AR or VR, continuing a never-ending cycle that has brands cheering: finally, we’ve found the practical use case! This sequence sustains a sense of hype that makes brands feel obligated to offer some sort of immersive AR or VR experience.

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It’s great that brands are inspired by new storytelling opportunities, but before investing in virtual or augmented reality, it’s time they take a reality check. 

If brands want to appear innovative for supporting AR and VR, they’re already too late—the tech is no longer the shiny, new thing it once was, and brands can’t blame a subpar experience on experimentation, either. This approach stems from taking a myopic view of marketing results—in this case, the appearance of innovation—over how a given touchpoint impacts the broader customer experience.

Once, a client approached us wanting to showcase its candles through social AR, but doing so wouldn’t have provided any real benefit—the product’s differentiator is its scent. The fragile flicker of the digital candle flame shines light on a big issue: brands must do a better job at gauging whether AR or VR actually make sense for their brand, product or audience.

Some industries or product types make a good fit for tech, and some just don’t. With its immersive storytelling capabilities, VR is an ideal platform for brands that rely on customers testing an experience out before they decide on a purchase. Examples include virtual home tours or automakers that offer VR test drives, both of which could allow users to inhabit the virtual scene at different times of day or in different locations.

Short and shoppable moments, meanwhile, are right at home in AR. This includes fashion or shoe brands that let users examine an item before they buy. Furniture retailers like IKEA, which lets users see what furnishings would look like within their homes, also make for a strong use case. And with SparkAR on Facebook or Lens Studio on Snapchat, entertainment brands like Marvel and Game of Thrones have had a lot of success with pulling users into their worlds, as have beauty brands providing makeup filters. 

When it comes to selecting the platform that best accomplishes your goals, ask yourself whether there’s a viable path for users to experience it. For VR, almost no one will get to it organically or through some form of paid media. This is why the most practical branded experiences in VR are found on the showroom floor rather than the living room.

And while most smartphone users can enjoy AR in almost any environment, the best-in-class experiences that fully take advantage of devices’ features require their own app. But when’s the last time you downloaded an app? 51% of users haven’t downloaded any in a month.

Another complicating factor to selecting the right platform is the fragmented landscape for VR and AR. Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore are in an arms race, with each platform offering different features. This results in a need to optimize an experience for either OS, or for brands to choose which one they would like to support.

Thankfully, we can anticipate a solution to these problems with web-based AR and VR. Mozilla’s Firefox Reality might make it easier for consumers to look beyond Steam and the Oculus Store—which both require approval before publishing—allowing for a more open environment.

Meanwhile, web-based AR would allow users to enjoy standardized, fully featured experiences directly through their browsers, no download needed. But browser developers aren’t in a hurry to agree upon a WebAR standard, which means we’ll have to wait a bit longer for a scalable, no-download AR platform. For now, Apple AR Quick Look and Google SceneView offer stopgap solutions by allowing users to drop an animated virtual object into their surroundings through a mobile browser. The tradeoff? These objects aren’t interactive. No one’s perfect!

AR and VR have rapidly iterated into new, sometimes fragmented, platforms. While each new development spurs a sense of hype and cool-factor, they also introduce new caveats: what works on one platform—or product—doesn’t always work for another. The possibilities for brands are vast, requiring them to pinpoint exactly where their investment can best suit their goals.

Samuel Snider-Held, MediaMonks

Samuel Snider-Held, MediaMonks

About the Author: Samuel Snider-Held is a Senior Creative Technologist at MediaMonks, a creative and production partner, where he focuses on the intersection of AR, VR, AI and creativity. As a Creative Technologist working with global, award-winning brands, Samuel works day in and day out to bridge sales, creative and development, bringing the world's most creative and futuristic projects to life.