2021 – CMOs, It’s Time To Take Augmented Reality (AR) More Seriously Than Ever According To Poplar Studio

The augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) market is forecasted to reach over $72 billion globally by 2024. I recently had the privilege of speaking to David Ripert, CEO and co-founder of Poplar Studio, to understand more on why this is, and what CMOs can do to take advantage of its exciting possibilities.

Poplar Studio is a world-leading AR and 3D platform, designing innovative campaigns for marketers, advertisers, retailers and social media companies. However, for all its success, not every company is embracing the potential of the technology and implementing AR.

“Augmented reality (AR) is a big business and has been for years, reaching consumer consciousness from the first commercial use of AR technology in a 2008 BMW advertisement. Pioneers such as PokemonGo and Snapchat, which has been using AR as part of its social platform for a while, have paved the way for AR to hit the mainstream.”

A lack of new business cases have held AR back, however with many now growing in popularity, this will change in 2021 because of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has been the catalyst for an explosion in the consumption of social media and this – coupled with the popularity of AR filters on social channels – has forced brands to recognize that by commissioning AR filters for advertising purposes, brands can differentiate themselves as innovative, while tapping into a captive audience. There is no doubt that the retail sector has suffered enormously in the past year. However, it has also provided an opportunity to engage with potential customers in a whole new way. The use of AR has been invaluable in making digital shopping a tangible experience, and the customer adoption will be unlikely to decrease when the pandemic is over, with 2021 more likely to see the increased use of AR and other innovations to boost customer engagement, increase sales and provide a new level of personalisation.”

While social media, in-store and smartphone executions from the likes of Apple gain more traction, it is interesting to hear that the use of technology is expanding into new sectors – such as healthcare.

“In healthcare, surgeons – who previously only relied on x-rays and MRIs – can now use AR glasses to project real-time overlays of MRI results onto their patients while operating. This allows for more precise interventions and better patient care. Alongside this, AR is being used to assist those working in factory environments, enabling staff access to real-time and hands-free instructions for machinery, saving them time flicking through instruction guides.”

Of course, with the likes of Tesla and traditional manufacturers wrestling for dominance, the automotive sector is also an area that is embracing innovations such as AR.

“We are seeing positive results from the use of AR in automotive, where people can view a potential purchase without having to see it in person, and information can be presented directly onto a windshield, for example, for navigation; in tourism, providing potential travellers with virtual tours and location-based overlays; and even real estate. Alongside this, we have seen accelerated use of AR in the retail industry, for example, through the use of virtual try-on experiences to allow customers to try on products using their phone camera at home.”

As we all seek to understand how the pandemic will affect us moving forward, and as meeting together in a physical environment unfortunately occurs less frequently, Ripert sees AR supporting the continued growth of ecommerce.

“The closure of physical stores up and down the country has resulted in five years of ecommerce growth compressed into one year, according to a recent IBM report. With millions of consumers adapting to online and hybrid shopping, retailers have had to adapt and expand their use of technology to better engage with customers and boost sales. As part of this, we have started to see retailers recognize the influence of social media to help sell their products. Shopify reported a 94% increase in conversion rate for products that feature AR or 3D content, indicating the success of AR in the online shopping experience and potential for that to become a standard across retailers.”

Ripert is confident that 2021 will continue to see social and commerce converge even more closely through the use of AR, with the emergence of virtual try-ons, virtual shop fronts and branded social filters all becoming the norm. Technological advancements in delivering AR and 3D experiences through browser-based technology will also see AR become even more accessible for e-commerce brands and influencer marketing.

“Retailers will join up influencer marketing with this, allowing influencers to share virtual try-ons with their followers, encouraging engagement with the AR technology, as well as increasing sales. The bond between social and commerce will strengthen even further, with AR forming the bridge. Virtual try-ons, product visualisation, digital shop fronts and branded social filters will give brands the opportunity to gain an edge on their competition.”

For all of its obvious excitement, Ripert knows that several challenges still prohibit businesses from implementing AR – however we can expect these to change in 2021.

“There are a number of barriers stopping businesses from implementing AR. Firstly, there are a lot of technical decisions to understand – how can AR truly benefit the business, which formats exist and would work best, which platforms to use etc. – and this is something businesses struggle with. Secondly, AR is complex and takes a lot of skills to implement it. Finding stakeholders to develop AR takes time and businesses need to find multiple experts including those who can code, make 3D models, animators, etc. Trying to find, employ and organize these stakeholders to smoothly develop an AR solution is tricky and is one of the reasons we launched Poplar Studio in the first place.”

Another long-standing perception from brands if that AR is expensive to implement – however this is no longer the case with barriers to entry reducing.

“Many businesses believe they need to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to successfully implement the technology, however this is simply not the case and campaigns can be run from as low as a few thousand pounds.”

2021 clearly offers many exciting possibilities for the use of AR. As Ripert notes,  AR uses a multitude of various technologies and is constantly developing, which requires supporting data and energy innovations.

“One such part of this is the use of computer vision, which some coin as the new Internet. Computer vision uses the camera (on mobile phones, AR glasses, etc.) to view the world in a “smart” way thanks to AI and machine learning. This means your devices recognize an environment and serve content on top of it. Computer vision takes up a lot of bandwidth however and, while 4G has been great, the implementation of 5G nationwide will help to improve this as the exchange of information will become so much quicker.”

I really believe that AR is only just beginning to achieve its true potential, and it’s exciting to learn of leaders such as Poplar Studio helping brands and companies in a variety of sectors embrace its endless possibilities. I’d encourage any CMO who has yet to investigate it to embrace its possibilities and experiment with it – before your competitors steal the show.