Over the past few years, our team has increasingly been concentrating upon Augmented Reality (AR) as a medium for short-form storytelling. A large contingent of our team initially cut our teeth working as consultants for Microsoft as part of an external prototyping and innovation group, where we worked with early versions of the Microsoft Kinect, and with the product team that helped create experiences for what would eventually become the HoloLens HMD.
From this, we had a grounding in the creation and best practices for projects that involved a diverse set of skills and toolsets: on the engineering side, using game engines and computer vision algorithms; coupled with expertise in feature film and broadcast visual effects and animation production.
Early in our tenure as Tactic, we created an Augmented Reality app for Cuervo Tequila, helping McCann NY and their creative team realize an AR version of their television campaign for the product, as part of their integrated campaign. This was early in the days of branded AR, and the phones at the time were somewhat underpowered compared to the flagship phones of today. The screens and processors were not at the state whereby a user would be able to have a premium experience. Additionally, audience awareness of AR at this time was not what it is today. Nonetheless, the app we created was well received, with several tens of thousands of downloads, as well as nominations for the work for a Webby Award, and decent secondary media buzz.
Fast forward to 2017, and we had another opportunity to work in AR, this time working with Treasury Wine Estates and their J.Walter Thompson account team in San Francisco. Initially, we were approached to do a VR/360 piece for the brand, using that format to tell the story of 19 Crimes and the banished settlers of Australia. However, we felt that this might be a great chance to leverage AR in a branded experience, rather than VR. Our team put together a quick test, showing one of the labels “coming to life” via a test app we showed the brand team, and immediately we all saw the promise of the medium as an amazing way to directly tell the 19 Crimes story — with the characters on the bottles themselves coming to life and talking to the user.
This was in March and April of 2017, and by June, Tactic had cast the talent for the voices of three characters, and created the initial “19 Crimes” app for Treasury. After the release, the audience reaction was almost immediate. Admittedly, we weren’t prepared for the positive reception. Parent company Treasury Wine Estates featured the app in a series of product demos held at Kroger’s in nine states, and from there, the media took notice, the app was trending, and the downloads spiked as users found out about the app from media coverage and word of mouth.
Thousands of downloads turned into tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands, and the app was suddenly trending on both iTunes and the Google Play App stores. Treasury saw that this digital campaign was reaching users at an explosive pace, so they immediately asked us to work with them to expand the offering, creating first an expanded series of AR experiences that covered the rest of the products in the “19 Crimes” brand line, and then by autumn, asked us to expand the offering to other brands held by Treasury Wine Estates, including Beringer Bros., Gentleman’s Collection, Chateau St. Jean, and a promotional brand that featured The Walking Dead.
For each of these new brands, we explored new ways of storytelling in AR, each brand offering new characters and scenarios as subject matter. Tactic added interactive features to the library of experiences, and multi-bottle experiences to the AR repertoire, as well as expanded the overall platform, rebranding the app into an entire brand portfolio offering with a cloud-based backend, now calling the app “Living Wine Labels,” which at this point could load and unload new brands and product experiences modularly. We expanded the back-end functionality, which already included social sharing, user analytics and contextual menus, integrating push notifications and email entry, as well as full integration of consumer data into a Salesforce backend for our clients.
This digital AR campaign was a catalyst for the rest of the wine industry, as the app grew to over 2.5 million-plus downloads, and over 450 million-plus impressions. From that consumer groundswell, there were immediate results for the brands that participated, with a corresponding increase in sales for “19 Crimes” (104 percent increase y-o-y), a 2000 percent increase in social media activity, and extensive secondary coverage in TV and print.
Following in this success, Tactic has helped Treasury Wine Estates with their successful launches of new wines, like the aforementioned Walking Dead wine and “emBRAZEN” brand, which have seen some of their most successful sales due to the cross promotion with AR experiences.
Additionally, Tactic is working in the general consumer packaged goods space to provide solutions to a whole host of products, from beverages, wines and spirits, makeup, etc. and seeing similar interest across a broad swath of CPG clients.
TYPES OF AR
There exists in AR a variety typologies. We are seeing in things like Pokemon Go, and Ikea’s AR Furniture experiences the use of what we call “markerless AR,” which uses a process called SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), which in these and similar use cases, recognizes general features within the environment, and maps an AR experience to them. We also see AR examples in Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, whereby the camera tracks facial features in realtime, and can apply effects and imagery. Both of these are seeing general user interest, and are experiences which we also create at Tactic.
In the use case of consumer packaged goods, however, we noticed in our work that this was particularly effective in that the AR experience required the product itself to launch the experience, thus intrinsically linking the product in-hand to the experience. This allowed us to both tell the brand story, and do it in a way that both required the user to have it in their hand, and linked the story to the product itself directly. These are both unique to this medium, and as we’d demonstrated in “19 Crimes” and other projects, directly leads to increased sales.
After having created a variety of these “marker based” AR experiences for CPGs, we discovered by various proven use cases that there are several principles to this type of experience that we recognize as helping lead to a successful AR implementation:
Seamless: The AR experience should, in most cases, look like it’s actually happening in the real world, with the lighting and beginning and end appearing to be resolving from/to the actual packaging.
Segmented: Because users are holding the phone in-hand, as well as the product, the experience should be immediate and brief, although this also can contain several different experience that can be triggered. This allows the story to be told in ‘bite-size’ pieces, that allow for updated segments and continuous engagement down the line.
Interactive: It certainly helps to have some additional user interaction, whether via full gamification of the experience, with user control of elements in the AR scene, or with passive interactions, such as having an AR avatar follow the gaze of the user, or react to user proximity, proximity based-sound cues, etc.
Story Driven: By making sure that there is a narrative, with a unique voice, we increase user engagement and response.
GROWTH IN THE AR MARKETPLACE
Augmented Reality is ever evolving, and although the content may evolve in a linear fashion, the methods of delivery will allow for ever increasing exponential growth, as the outlets and access for AR become more and more commonplace, and audience awareness creates a larger and larger demand. Even now, we see native AR support in social networks like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Shazam. We see upcoming native support directly through web browsers, with beta implementations out for both mobile and desktop, with plans to natively support Apple’s AR Kit via Safari, and Google Chrome’s native support of AR Core. We see AR layers supported natively in the Android Camera, not only for the Google Pixel phones, but a rollout to other Android flagships, with the Android Playground platform.
All of these point to the emergence of AR as a medium, rather than a passing fad, as we see it as more of an added layer on our real world, influencing how we interact with things in our environment, and that ties into our mobile devices and to the web as a whole.
Peter Oberdorfer is the president of Tactic (https://tactic.studio) in San Francisco. The studio specializes in created experiences and experiential content of every stripe, and is focused on immersive digital platforms and installations.