When any new industry flourishes, job roles pop into existence as well. Careers which did not exist several years ago – developers, immersive producers – are created to fulfil purposes. One that has come out of nowhere is the rise of AR for marketing, and the creators who help. 

The topic is massive, covering everything in movies, retail, packaging, and much more. We can talk all day on the campaigns and launches which appear all the time. But behind every campaign and tool are the people who make the tools themselves, and the way they develop for their clients. 

Why now? Why has AR face filters risen in use over the last couple of years, and how are brands capitalising on the new trend? The answer connects to Stories on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, and the influence they have on friends and family. Other innovations, such as WebAR, dramatically increase the potential audience of a product. Together, over the last few years, some budding entrepreneurs who capitalise on the trend and, over time, soared to massive popularity. 

Broader uses of AR in marketing

AR is a wide-open area, which covers everything from retail to packaging. Marketing is no different; as a creative industry, there are all sorts of ways which companies use the technology. 

For example, when PUMA launched its flagship New York store in 2019, Alternative Genuis used Zappar’s tool ZapWorks to create a WebAR experience. By scanning tags with their cameras, shoppers can then interact with the basketball line of trainers in the store. 

Example of AR with PUMA. Credit: Zappar.
Example of AR with PUMA. Credit: Zappar.

The most exciting innovation in this area is WebAR, which lets anyone with a mobile device scan a code and launch an AR experience hosted on a webpage. The change vastly expands the number of people who can use AR without needing to download an app – so much so that I would not be surprised if I see more brands use the technology this year. The potential is more extensive when it includes packaging as well. Imagine picking up a drink and scanning with a phone to find out more information. The process can be seamless. 

Tools like ZapWorks are easy to get to grips with. When I learned how to use the platform, it took me an hour to have Bulbasaur appear in the middle of the room and slowly twist and turn – a bit like a moment from the Exorcist. While creepy, I was surprised how straightforward the process was, and can see how creating more sophisticated experiences can be straightforward. It was also fantastic fun to use. The same goes for learning Spark AR; after a short evening, I made a face filter where it selects a random quidditch team. That ease meant that many AR creators could hop in and get their hands dirty. And for that reason, more and more people are having a go. 

Social media marketing with Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook

One exploding area is the use of face filters. In 2019 and early 2020, users witnessed a deluge of face filters in all sorts of styles. Some cycled through ‘which Simpsons character are you’, while others were trippy experiences that littered heads with eyes and mouths. Like a germ the filters spread quickly, as each user shared their result with hundreds or thousands of their followers. The network effect takes hold, and a filter could be seen millions of times – even tens of millions, in the case of some leading AR creators. 

One leading creative is Ommy Akhe. After following the Spark AR community group on Facebook, Akhe wanted to have a go at making experiences herself. The result is some profound and beautiful experiences shared widely, which led to clients approaching her for her expertise. 

Part of the growth is linked to the network appeal of Instagram. ‘Instagram has such a unique and huge user base that people can’t help but engage with filters,’ Akhe told the Verge in 2019. ‘I think being able to add filters to Stories has been a massive shift and change in Instagram culture.’

AR creators using face filters

Another great example is Liam O’Neill, a freelance AR creator with a stellar client list, including Adidas, North Face, Michael Kors, Amazon, Urban Outfitters, and many more. O’Neill receives client briefs and creates the filters for brands as part of their campaigns. His recent work with Adidas led to tens of millions of people seeing his work. 

Gareth Leedling, Executive Creative Director at We Are Social, calls the current trend the face filter phenomenon. He is right. Few trends before have shown the breadth and depth of a face filter campaign, complemented with analytics to show its impact. O’Neill is a creative who has worked with the agency, and makes the experiences come to life. 

As Instagram grows in popularity (and Facebook dwindles), Stories are a great way to get a message out there. But it is also one example, not the sole one. AR is powerful beyond the big tech giants, which must be kept in mind as marketers follow the tech. 

It is why I believe WebAR is a big deal. Not everyone uses the same applications globally; Instagram is prominent in Europe, but Snapchat is more significant in the US. While texting is still the go-to means of communicating in many US states, India uses WhatsApp. Not all platforms are equal in all countries. But absolutely everyone has a mobile device and access to a web browser. That ease of access cannot be underestimated and has been used by several companies to significant effect. 

How AR creators advise brands on marketing

The first step to decide is the platform. Brands can deliver their content via WebAR, Instagram, Snapchat, and many others. The first step is to get to the heart of the project, and pin down the best approach. For example, if a drinks company wants to maximise its packaging as a marketing channel, then WebAR would be the most suitable. If it is a branded campaign to target teenagers, then an Instagram face filter would be powerful as well. 

Like all platforms, Instagram has some curation. The company banned filters relating to plastic surgery, to make sure harmful ideals do not spread far. Instagram is also cutting down on other dangerous forms of content like self-harming. Individual creatives navigate these issues cleanly, advising their clients on the right ways of using the platform.

Stuart Cupit, Creative Technology Officer at Solarflare Studio, believes we should shift away from base experiences as well. ‘We should try to get away from the gimmick and go towards something useful. We have seen so many gimmicks over the last few years, and we want to move from that to gain more traction.’ 

Approval times have lengthened as well. In the early days, it took a few hours for a filter to be approved. Now it can take up to a month – something which budding brands need to keep in mind when planning their campaigns. 

Both agencies and freelancers have deep expertise needed to run successful campaigns. Like any campaign, it takes collaboration and tenacity for success. 

A continuing trend

Ultimately, AR will not go away as a marketing medium. It provides a powerful and smart way for people to communicate their messages, allowing people to engage with their work like nothing else. Alongside the trend, AR creators are learning new skills and having a go themselves. 

At a recent meet-up in Digital Catapult, several creatives noted that the number of people developing AR experiences is surging rapidly. As tools become more comfortable to use, more people are jumping on with bright ideas and a can-do attitude. All the AR creators welcomed the rise in competition and the corresponding increase in quality. Similarly, Blend Media is opening a marketplace for companies to be connected to professionals so that people can be connected to new work. 

Through the 2020s, more freelancers and agencies will be working with companies to market their brands in several new ways. While platforms may change, the heart stays the same: AR is an engaging and immersive way to interact with users and practical as well. It’s a new and significant career-path to watch out for. 

Editor’s note: Tom Ffiske is a freelance PR and Communications Manager at Zappar, an augmented reality platform and creative studio. The topic of AR creators has interested Tom for some time, and he wanted to analyse the industry after talking to a few creatives. Zappar plays a role in the topic, and Tom used every possibility to provide a fair and balanced overview. 


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Tom Ffiske

Editor, Virtual Perceptions

Tom Ffiske specialises in writing about VR, AR, and MR across the immersive reality industry. Tom is based in London. 

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