Agencies’ reignited AR, VR forays could create new ways to measure consumer engagement

As augmented reality becomes more accessible, agencies are partnering with sports teams and entertainment venues to engage consumers with mixed reality experiences.

And as AR moves from strategies rooted in social media and commerce — such as trying on clothes or using camera filters — to exploring tangental offerings surrounding entertainment and media, it could change the way marketing in this medium is measured, four agency execs told Digiday.

This month, Stagwell continued developing its live AR platform, ARound, by adding new sports teams to its app, which provides content like contests around specific games. Stagwell considers ARound “a new connected marketing medium” that can drive consumer engagement at scale, said ARound CEO Josh Beatty.

“Brands can leverage AR to create interactive experiences that engage fans and offer more touch points throughout a game or event,” said Beatty. Engagement for Minnesota Twins on its app was more than 25 minutes per fan during the game, according to Beatty. This year, ARound will be adding more automation and integration for sports data feeds as it aims to draw in the sports enthusiasts that like stats and real-time information. And Beatty noted AR content works particularly well in engaging the younger audiences and casual sports fans.

Media.Monks partnered with Meta and the NBA on its VR efforts beginning in 2020 with an immersive 180-degree court-side VR experience. In 2021, Media.Monks also worked with artist Post Malone on producing an immersive concert experience. Financial details of the partnerships were not made available.

This year, 52 NBA games were made viewable through Meta’s Oculus headset, and it featured five immersive broadcasts with live commentary from NBA stars and special guests. Eventually, storytelling could go beyond “a single flat surface” with mixed reality content, said Lewis Smithingham, svp of Innovation at Media.Monks, who noted that eventually geospatial technology could serve consumers looking at the same billboard different versions of an AR ad based on their data. “The future is wide open,” Smithingham said.

AR and VR content will also push agencies to move beyond impression metrics, because people will interact with the elements differently than a static page or video. Previously marketers might aim for millions of impressions, Smithingham added, but mixed reality presents a better chance at converting when people can be a part of the content and interact with it. Smithingham did not provide results from the NBA partnership, but the company said its production team observed in conversations with fans over the last couple of seasons that these broadcasts are attracting a wider audience beyond the dedicated basketball fans.

“I think now we’re getting to a place where marketing dollars need to go further,” Smithingham said. “When you have your hands on a controller, you’re interacting when you’re in VR, you’re engaged, you’re present, you’re part of that story. I think that’s going to be what’s really most valuable to brands.”

As more content migrates across different surfaces, Smithingham believes the focus is now on looking at engagement differently — and making people remember the content. People are doing different things even when they are watching TV or playing a video game, Smithingham added, so they are not necessarily paying attention.

“I have a very firm belief that if it’s in this day and age, if it’s not interactive, it’s broken,” he told Digiday. “The opportunity for AR and VR for brands is to get an engagement that’s much more meaningful, that’s memory forming. We have the opportunity when we look at brands, and we work in VR experiences where we can tell a brand based on head tracking.”

Razorfish, the interactive agency in Publicis Groupe, also increased its Web3 offerings to include immersive metaverse experiences and products. Cristina Lawrence, evp of consumer and content experience at Razorfish, pointed out that mixed realities can link physical spaces and live events to “new digital spatial layers” — so it can change people’s experiences whether at a live concert or retail shop.

“AR is one of the technologies that deepens these emotional connections,” Lawrence said. “At a live concert, AR can reveal hidden components to the live show experience that effectively transcend the physical experience. Another AR example is in retail, where a consumer would be able to see a product in action and learn more about its benefits and features than they would be able to through the typical in-store experience.”

Successful AR campaigns ultimately can “unlock creative storylines” beyond the traditional campaigns, Lawrence added. With Coca-Cola, Razorfish created 12 immersive experiences at the World of Coca-Cola. With this interactive experience, The Vault, people could experience the story of the soda company’s secret formula, and it used face detection and virtual gaming throughout the exhibit. Further insights were not shared, but the company noted The Vault being among the popular attractions for the space drawing 1.2 million visitors annually.

As more opportunities develop, Lawrence mentioned language learning models in other new mixed reality experiences may play a bigger role in AR and VR content. For instance, it may even leverage AI in some consumer engagement and support scenarios.

“It’s exciting to think about how AI will power real-time bot personas or characters that can enhance the overall experience through storytelling, live interaction, and real-time assistance,” Lawrence said.

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