Once a "me-too" phenomenon, a growing number of brands' AR initiatives have a solid reason for being or are exceptionally well-suited to the target audience.
Indeed, though it's often mistakenly called "virtual reality" (sorry folks, AR and VR are still two different things), the former is expected to eventually eclipse the latter because of an endless number of possible applications.
With AR viewers now available in the checkout line at even the smallest gas-'n-sip, perhaps they'll hit the 3.7 million units projected to be shipped in the next year.
Whatever the case, when brands do AR right, it can be a blast. Here's a look at some of our picks for the year's best (at least so far):
#10: 'Let's Be Evil'
Okay, we're cheating here—there's nothing AR about the experience. Instead, it's a movie featuring a dystopian vision for our AR-infused future. Here, it's all from the POV of "Glassholes." We have not yet seen the movie, but the trailer was too fun to leave off our list.
#9: John Lewis 2017 '#MozTheMonster' Holiday Filter
Longtime readers know John Lewis often makes our annual "Best of Lists." And they almost always involve the British retailer's integrated holiday campaigns, which are always crowd pleasers. This time out, spots featuring Moz the Monster (#MozTheMonster") and are amplified by a soft Moz took, branded mugs, PJs, storybook downloads and a Facebook AR selfie filter (alas, described by at least one pub as a VR filter, which it is not).
It's hard to tell how much of this is just video or actual gameplay, but this promo from THE VOID and Sony Pictures looks like a lot of fun. A couple of key points: THE VOID develops experiences for certain venues. This was not a game you could download and play on your own. It also underscores the difference between AR and VR. Both WIRED and The New York Times referred to this game as being VR. From the promotional video at least, it appears to be AR-based, which helps explain how people move through it without the disorientation that often comes with VR-based experiences. For those new to this, AR layers digital elements on top of the real world, while VR immerses the user in a 100% digital world or experience.
To help promote the launch of M&M's new caramel flavor, the ever-popular Mars candy transformed a dozen billboards into an AR arcade that people could access via mobile phone. According to ADWEEK, it resulted in more than 466 million consumer impressions.
#6: The Forestry Commission: 'Grufallo Spotter' AR App
Pokémon Go's got nothing on England's Forestry Commission. Its "Grufallo Spotter" AR app got kids to get excited about the great outdoors by getting them engaged with fun characters and activities based on the best-selling picture book. Check out a behind-the-scenes look, here and read more, here.
#5: Netflix Season Two 'Stranger Things' AR Experience and Filter
Readers may know that we're big fans of "Stranger Things" (Be sure to check out the latest "Rick & Rick" Podcast's season two recaps here). We're also fans of Snapchat (and more recently, Facebook) AR filters as promotional devices. So we were doubly pleased with Netflix's AR and VR-based filters for Snapchat. On the AR side, the filter applies Eleven's signature nosebleed to your face. Just don't raise your eyebrows—or you're thrown into the Upside Down. In the VR side, you're planted in Joyce Byer's season one living room, complete with creepy message lights.
#4 Snatch: Life's for the Taking AR Treasure Hunt
It's like Pokémon GO—with beer. Earlier this year, Dutch beer brand Amstel teamed up with the mobile AR treasure hunt app known as Snatch to give away 10,000 free pints to people who "snatch" and hold onto their prizes for up to six hours. In addition to the free bear, there were also 20 bikes at stake, as well as three free trips to Amsterdam. But honestly, they had us at "AR" and "beer." But those other prizes work, too.
#3: Beatie Wolfe—World's First AR-Based Live Streaming Music Event
First there were the NFC-enabled album covers you could tap with your mobile phone to bring up a website featuring one of her singles. This year, Beatie Wolfe launched an augmented reality-based live streaming experience to promote her latest album, Raw Space.
You gotta love this campaign, which was awarded the Gold Lion at Cannes this year. As you enter the app, it superimposes elements from the make-believe band's albums onto your real-world surroundings, acting as gateways to an immersive Gorillaz House in celebration of the group's return after a seven-year hiatus. The festivities included more than 500 geo-located "House Parties" that saw 125,000 fans in 146 countries search for AR Gorillaz houses in their markets to stream Gorillaz' new album, Humanz. Let's just say it was a bit of a success. Kudos to all involved.
#1: Honda: 'The Ultimate Get Well Card'
Hats off to Honda and agency RPA for this personalized AR experience for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation at the Children's Hospital of Orange County. The idea: bring an augmented reality surprise to sick kids in hospitals over the holidays. Be proud, people—a touching and truly meaningful application of this technology.
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