• Retailers are using AR to unlock the organic influencing power of end consumers.
  • AR can help brands minimize traditional and emerging risks associated with influencer marketing campaigns.
  • When brands create AR experiences people want to share socially, they potentially turn end consumers into influencers in their own right.

Harnessing the power of celebrity to sell products and services is as old as marketing itself. While the tactic is still very much in vogue, the status quo is being challenged by brands using AR – augmented reality – to bypass spokespeople and connect directly with consumers.

When brands cut out the middleman and engage directly with consumers via AR, they can minimize traditional and emerging risks associated with influencer marketing campaigns and exert greater control over the lifecycle of the customer experience. And if the AR experience is compelling and shareable, it can turn end consumers into influencers in their own right.

April Mullen is Director of Consumer-First Adoption at Selligent Marketing Cloud, a B2C marketing platform that enables brands to map and track data from multiple marketing channels to individual customer profiles. From her perspective, “Influencers and celebrities can help sell product, but the market is saturated with this type of marketing. Some consumers want to buy from brands that are more aligned with their realities and values. There is a place in marketing for messaging that doesn’t tell people who they should aspire to be, but how to be comfortable with who they actually are.”

Influencer Evolution
In the early 1960s Pepsi was struggling with an identity crisis when legendary advertising executive Alan Pottasch had a radical idea: Stop focusing on the quality of Pepsi and market it as part of an active and youthful lifestyle instead. His idea became the storied advertising campaign the “Pepsi Generation.”

The genius of Pepsi’s lifestyle approach was to connect consumers to its soda pop by infusing it with personality. Over the years that personality morphed into celebrity spokespeople. Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and more recently (and infamously) Kendall Jenner all appeared in Pepsi advertising campaigns. The latest incarnation of the celebrity endorser is the organically spawned social media star. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have turned ordinary people into social media “influencers” who can raise the profile of brands and drive sales.

* The global ad spend on influencer marketing is projected by MediaKix to grow between $5 – $10 billion by 2020. * Instagram influencer marketing could reach $2 billion by next year. * Roughly 39% of 181 firms surveyed by Linqia said they planned to increase their influencer marketing budget in 2018.

The Problem
While influencer marketing campaigns are still going strong, quantifying their success can be problematic. And the tactic is facing multi-directional headwinds, from saturation to regulatory scrutiny. For instance, 76% of marketers surveyed by Linqia cited “measuring the ROI of influencer marketing as their top challenge for 2018.” Adding on to that, there is increasing saturation; 52% of 500 millennialssurveyed by social shopping platform Dealspotr said they trust influencers less these days.

Finally, last year the FTC cracked down on two social media influencers for failing to disclose their ownership of an online gambling service they were promoting. And this August, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced it is investigating influencers to see if they are properly disclosing whether they’re being paid to promote products across their social media accounts.

Seeing is Believing
These hurdles do not leave forward thinking brands without an option if they are still looking to make an impact with their consumers. Augmented reality, or blending digital objects with the real world through mobile phone apps and other devices, has emerged as a major growth space in recent times.

The augmented reality market was valued at $4.21 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $60.55 billion by 2023, according to B2B research firm MarketsandMarkets, with more than a quarter of the top 200 advertisers in the U.S. surveyed by the consulting firm BCG responding that marketers recognize the opportunities in AR. As one senior retail marketer tells them, “The current traditional forms of digital marketing someday will be looked at as old school.”

Amy Romero is the Global Chief Marketing Officer at CreativeDrive, a global content creation company which operates over 150 production studios, and she had this to add. “We’re investing in AR and we are doing that because we want to create personalized experiences for consumers. We believe that the best way brands can connect and increase their revenue, and spread the word about who they are, and what their product is or what their services are, is through their everyday consumers.”

AR & Consumers As Influencers
A quick glance at some of the top global brands across the consumer spectrum shows them utilizing AR technology. This can set in motion an organic marketing cycle by enabling consumers to effortlessly create their own augmented reality experiences and then – crucially – share their creations on their chosen social media channels.

For instance, this year’s Shorty Award winner for Best Use of Augmented Reality was MTV, which added AR to its app for the live 2017 EMA awards show in the form of 2D and 3D rendered interactive objects that floated in the air in a 360° arc. Fans who used the app were also able take photos and video clips of themselves and their friends interacting with the objects, and share those on social media. According to MTV, the average time spent on the app was 8 minutes. The pages within the app were viewed over 5.5 million times.

Elsewhere, Facebook announced earlier this year a functionality that allows brands to integrate AR into their Messenger experiences. French cosmetics giant L’Oréal, which recently acquired the AR and AI firm Modiface, announced it would start offering Facebook users AR experiences to try out different shades of makeup. Last year Swedish furniture giant IKEA launched an AR app – IKEA Place – featuring 3D and true-to-scale models of IKEA furniture to allow users to see how pieces would look in their homes.

The Karma Factor
AR that turns end consumers into influencers is being embraced by global brands, while marketing campaigns that rely on social media influencers could be hitting some headwinds.

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