How to Create an Incredible AR Advertising Experience

By Craig Peasley


Advertisers are eager to impress people with incredible experiences on augmented reality (AR.) The real magic of digital channels, from display banners to video to mobile ads, is in the new ways brands can tell a story to connect with an audience. AR is no different and, because it's billed as an immersive experience, the stakes are particularly high to get AR creative right.

At the forefront of every creative's mind as they design AR experiences is how to engage users – from virtual product try-ons of make-up or shoes to interacting with a 3D product in their own personal physical space, for example their home. AR has unlocked new and immersive ways for brands to captivate audiences.

The inherent challenge with any media innovation is that it can be difficult to understand how to create those new experiences and to get started. Audiences use different social platforms differently. Each social AR platform has their own proprietary AR creation and publishing tool.

Even though AR experiences and interactive features are mostly the same across social platforms, there are also some very distinct and important differences, such as Snap's ability to recognize physical landmarks and knowing that TikTok doesn't yet have a horizontal plane tracker in their toolkit.

There are completely new design requirements and other elements to consider with AR. Sometimes the creative is anchored to a person's face, hand, or body while other AR experiences enable the audience to display and interact with 3D products in the real world. This means there are unique attributes that need customized approaches and the need for assets to be created and rendered differently.

Goals for this new medium need to be determined too. Should a brand expect someone to "tap" on something to convert? A brand needs to get their strategies in place to let their creative vision soar.

Create Animations to Drive The Best Experience

An immersive car ad that allows the audience to unlock and place a life-sized 3D car replica on their driveway requires a 3D model of that car. And it needs to be optimized for use on social media. The same is true for any AR commercial. For someone to try on a watch, place a 3D chair in their living room to test for fit or walk through a portal and into another 360-degree world, 3D product replicas and/or environments are required.

Clearly, a brand that has planned well ahead and created these 3D assets are in a good position. However, creative teams can still deliver quality AR experiences without them. It's not all about 3D – sometimes a simple 2D AR randomizer experience can be the right choice. For example, the NBA's "All-Time Starting Five" AR experience on Instagram is a rather simple build from a technical perspective, but it has been hugely successful on the platform, having been used and shared millions of times across social media.

That said, when the social AR experience requires 3D, the creative needs to keep in mind that the entire AR experience, including the 3D, needs to be under 4MB to work. This requires a balancing act between super accurate 3D product replicas and their actual asset size.

Get Started on a Single Platform

Like most ad campaigns, AR needs to be designed to fit the experience of a specific platform to work at its best. The best AR experiences aren't designed first and sent to the platform second. Instead, there's a collaboration between the brand creatives, the AR creators, and the platform team.

Perhaps a QSR brand wants to highlight some new sandwiches on the menu, or an athletic brand has a new sneaker line with a basketball star. The AR creators and the AR teams at each social platform, such as Meta's Spark AR, Snap's Lens Studio, or TikTok Effect House, will have overall best practices as well as specific ideas that can take advantage of their unique platform and their unique AR capabilities.

Such a deep level of creative development for a specific platform can limit scalability and cross platform optimization. However, getting it right on a single platform first is better than creating a generic concept that doesn't work well on any platform. Once one concept works well on one platform, a brand can take the same concept to another platform and see if it's possible to adapt it.

Currently there is some feature parity across social platforms and their AR tools. For example, Meta, Snap, TikTok, and Pinterest all leverage facial detection, so audiences can place animations and products on their faces. Meta, Snap, and Pinterest have horizontal plane trackers which enable audiences to place 3D products and interactive experiences in their personal physical space. This trend of AR feature tech parity will open the possibility for more efficiencies for cross-platform optimization and usage.

Learn Along the Way

The iterative AR creative process can provide insights that brand teams can use to learn what works across different platforms versus which elements are unique to individual platforms. Brands can gain intelligence that will make the process easier and more successful over time.

To really know what "works," brands need to have measurable goals that can be tied to KPIs. Metrics like performance and impact are both elements that can be measured, helping understand comparable lift driven by an AR experience. It's good to collaborate directly with the platform team to get measurement right. One soft drink brand may be launching a new flavor soda and care about having as many people as possible attend a virtual concert to maximize reach and brand awareness. A fashion retailer may care about the number of people who purchase an article of clothing after they've tried it on virtually.

These different goals will not only drive how a campaign is designed, it will also drive which metrics a brand should pay attention to in order to know if a campaign "works." The interactive and other creative elements in a virtual try-on that drive purchase are likely much different than the elements that make someone remember a logo or product name.

Like any new opportunity, brands want to jump in and try AR, but a bit of planning and collaboration will set them up for earlier wins and a faster ramp through the experimentation phase.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Craig Peasley is the VP of product marketing at VidMob.