Inspired by blockchain & AR. Entrepreneur. Founder of marketing agencies Crypterius.com & Arzilla.io
The AR revolution may be in full swing in the US, but in Russia and the former Soviet states, it’s taking much longer – and WebAR, in particular, is virtually unknown. Who is to blame, and what can be done to propel Russia into the AR age?
An Almost Untouched Market of 240m Users
A survey by Isobar showed that 64% of marketers plan to use AR in their campaigns in the near future. Another, by TechProResearch, revealed that 20% of companies plan to implement AR in the next 12 months.
What these impressive figures don’t show, however, is the great interregional divide in the spread of AR as a marketing tool. Outside of the US and Western Europe, businesses still don’t realize the potential of augmented reality and don’t look to implement it as part of their strategy.
A case in point is Russia and the former Soviet states – a vast market with a population of 240 million people. Here, tech media outlets that write about the rise of AR have to use campaigns launched in the US to illustrate their point because there simply aren’t enough home-grown examples.
Sure, AR Instagram masks are just as popular in Russia as elsewhere, and there are many talented local designers:
However, there is a major difference between individual designers creating masks to increase their following and brands using AR to boost sales. In terms of the latter, there is still a very long way to go.
Businesses Struggle to Understand the Potential of AR
In terms of using AR in marketing, we are seeing a paradox: on the one hand, there are dozens of digital studios offering AR solutions, and they do churn out a lot of campaigns, but on the other hand, there is very little awareness of AR among businesses and consumers.
Here is a real-life example to illustrate this point. In early 2020, young Russian beauty brand Nicole Labs asked WebAR agency ARzilla to create an Instagram mask to help promote its new line of lip balm. Users would be able to try all six colors on offer:
However, just as the mask was to be delivered to the client, the COVID-19 crisis hit, and Nicole Labs had to cut its marketing budget. They dropped the mask in favor of more traditional marketing tools, even though the mask could have brought them thousands of views and leads.
Investigating the Causes
Why is it that Russian brands have such a vague understanding of the potential of AR advertising? We can identify three key reasons – and in all three cases, it’s the digital studios themselves that are mostly responsible.
1) Augmented reality isn’t a household term. You need to know what something is called to be able to recognize it when you see it. This is known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Unfortunately, many Russian and former Soviet state AR agencies call it “interactive media technology” or something similar. There’s also very little effort on the part of agencies to educate clients about what AR is, how it’s created, and how it works.
2) Too much focus on headset-based experiences and VR. AR marketing is at its most powerful when it doesn’t require special glasses. Headsets are great at fairs, presentations, and museums, but brands can get many more views through campaigns that users can experience through their smartphone screens.
However, if you look at the websites of Russian AR studios, you’ll usually see someone wearing AR glasses:
This creates a misconception of AR among clients. A sausage manufacturer, for example, might think, “Where am I going to find an audience equipped with AR headsets to watch an experience about sausages? I guess AR just isn’t right for my business.” Then, they will miss out on the opportunities provided by AR packaging, for example.
3) A lack of visibility for WebAR. Web-based augmented reality is arguably the most powerful marketing tool in all of VR-AR-MR. Being able to experience AR almost instantly, without downloading an app, allows brands to engage customers in supermarkets, at bus stops, and on the street.
It takes seconds to scan a marker printed on a plastic cup or an outdoor mural and go to a web page with AR content. However, AR studios’ websites hardly ever mention WebAR as a service. The top spots on the service lists are taken by VR installations and AR apps.
All is Not Lost: 3 Great Campaigns
All this is not to say that there have been no successful AR marketing campaigns in Russia and the former Soviet states. There have been quite a lot of quality campaigns in the past couple of years. Here are a few:
1) Get to know Moscow: selfies with famous historical figures (ARproduction)
10 AR markers were placed at strategic points connected to famous people from the past: for instance, you could find educator Lomonosov next to the university he founded, while Ivan the Terrible “resided” next to the museum containing the most famous painting of him.
2) Premium real estate booklets (NextSpace)
A luxury real estate company found a new way to impress its rich clients by integrating 3D videos into calendars and booklets:
3) Seeing ghosts in an offline quest (Fun Reality)
As the quest participants explore haunted locations, they can see the ghosts they are hunting through the AR app.
What Is to Be Done?
What Is To Be Done? is the title of a classic novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky and a perennial question that haunts the Russian psyche. In the context of augmented reality, there are several things that digital studios can – and should – do to promote AR as a marketing tool:
- Educate, educate, educate. Both brands and customers should be shown how to experience AR on a smartphone, both with apps and without. Most importantly, they need to learn to recognize AR content when they see it – from filters and masks to Google AR animals – and to call it by its true name. The best way to educate users is through blogs on studio websites, Instagram posts, etc.
- Promote WebAR. Even entrepreneurs who are familiar with AR usually don’t realize that it can be implemented without an app – and that often it’s even cheaper than an application. It’s the answer to clients’ most common concern: what to do if users are unwilling to download a heavy app.
- Drop the headset-centred imagery. Studio websites should feature more smartphone-based content. This applies both to hero images and portfolio sections. Many more businesses will be tempted to try AR marketing when they see how easy it can be for their customers to interact with AR.
- Demonstrate the value. It’s crucial that potential clients realize how much their sales or leads can grow thanks to AR content. The marketing language used by studios themselves should change. Statements like “Our client’s sales increased by 7% after this Instagram AR mask went viral” work much better than “Users will be amazed to see their face transform into an ice cream cone.”
AR marketing in Russia and the former Soviet states can still catch up with the US and EU – but it won’t happen on its own. Digital studios must understand that it’s not the client’s job to learn about AR and research the opportunities it holds for their business. Rather, it’s up to every digital studio to spread awareness of AR as a powerful sales tool.