Augmented reality effects for marketing, branding and events

Augmented reality (AR) effects, filters or lenses add virtual (computer-generated) objects to an individual’s face, body or surrounding environment in real time. AR effects, or as some call them “social AR”, enable mobile users to mess with their appearance in a fun and engaging way, and add virtual objects to real-world experiences: some of them add bunny ears or nose to your face, others give you a photo frame or background to apply to your selfie videos or photos, and others are mini games that are being controlled with your head or facial movement. You’ve probably used, or seen someone use, these effects.

What started as a fun trend has since become one of the top methods for brands, influencers and event organisers to entertain and interact with their audience, carry out marketing campaigns, attract followers or to simply raise brand awareness. As more innovative features and functionalities are becoming rapidly available in social augmented reality platforms, and smartphones are getting more powerful, we will see much more new ideas and new ways to use AR effects for branding and entertainment purposes soon. Many brands (like Coca Cola, Disney, Gucci Beauty, Adidas Originals, Ray-Ban, and more) have already used their own custom AR effects for marketing campaigns.

You may ask why they have become so big and are called by some as a “phenomenon”. Here is our answer: 1) A simple fact is that people love creating and sharing content (usually in a funny and creative way) as a social experience. AR effects call for our natural desire for self-expression through personalised selfies and creative content sharing. They help people do what they already want to do; 2) Influencers and brands love it when they become part of their audiences’ everyday life and to see their target group become active brand ambassadors creating free content for them; 3) Many mobile users are already Facebook, Instagram or/and Snapchat users, and it’s incredibly easy for them to add AR effects to their everyday social and digital experiences without needing to download a new app; 4) AR effects are easier and cheaper to create compared to many other marketing channels and materials like videos and virtual reality experiences, yet still can successfully reach a wide audience. The simplicity of AR effects means that anyone can tell a story that audiences can interact with, and they by their nature are a shareable form of content.


Key questions answered on how to use AR effects for marketing, branding and events

Which type of AR effect and what features do we actually need?

There are many ways branded AR effects can engage your audience in novel and fun ways. Depending on the target audience and the campaign goals, you'll need to think about what type of effect and what features will be needed. Your audience use AR effects: to be funny or silly and make people laugh; to celebrate holidays, cultural moments and other events; to express who they are, what they are doing or how they feel; to connect with others and have a conversation or feel less alone; to be something or someone else; to support cause, movement or organisation; or to share current topics and trends. The types of AR effects have been categorised in different ways. We categorised them into the following eight categories. You may use one of the following effects to help your audience do what they want.

  1. Face filters: Face filters are virtual items that you can add to your face, like a mask, beard or an animal nose.

  2. Hand and body effects: This type of effects responds to user’s hand and body (to a certain extent). For effects with a hand tracker to work, the hand needs to be close to the smartphone’s camera.

  3. Virtual try-ons: These effects enable users to try on lipsticks, eyeshadows or recolour their hair. You could also allow your audience to wear jewellery, glasses, hats and other virtual items. These effects can act as a trigger for online shopping.

  4. Interactive games and quizzes: AR mini games and quizzes are a great way to provide some fun time for your audience and to keep them engaged with your brand longer.

  5. Surroundings: These effects enable mobile users to replace their background, and to add virtual objects, photo frames, animations, lighting and more to their surrounding environment. This kind of effects require user to use the front-facing camera on their smartphones, like when you take a selfie.

  6. World AR: These effects enable mobile users to place virtual objects into people’s surroundings, using the rear phone camera.

  7. Portals: AR portals are doors into spaces of 360 degrees that transport users into an entire virtual environment that can be explored through the mobile screen. Imagine you can step into a Van Gogh’s painting.

  8. Immersive effects: This kind of effects immerse your audience in a story or scene. Imagine yourself riding a luxury and futuristic vehicle.

The are some factors for consideration, to ensure the success of your AR effect. We’ve listed below some key factors which are useful in using AR effects for marketing, branding and event purposes.

  • What is your goal and who is your target audience? Knowing your marketing goals and event needs, and being aware of your target audience, what their needs and tastes are and where to find them is the first step in succeeding in AR-based campaigns or events.

  • Watch trends and gain inspiration from other successful AR effects, top AR creators and rising talents.

  • The simplicity of the AR effect is the key to its success. Most people move on from an effect in a few seconds. Make sure the main features of your effect happen shortly after the user starts the experience. Having lots of features and instructions increases the time it takes for your audience to look at and understand an effect, which makes it less likely for them to enjoy and share it. Make it as simple as possible and use instructions to help people understand what they need to do to experience the whole effect if required.

  • Static or interactive effect? There is no rule to say interactive effects always produce better results than static filters. Sometimes an artistic static mask that enable people to take a unique selfie is perfect for your brand or event. However, you can increase user engagement with interactivity. The filters can respond to user’s expressions, movements and interactions. Interactive effects and games are perfect tools to entertain kids and younger adults and keep your audience interacting with your brand for a longer period of time.

  • Avoid making faces entirely unrecognizable. It’s important to remember that self-expression and social connectivity are key motivations for using social apps and sharing contents. Allowing people to keep recognizable elements of their body helps make the effect feel personal and engaging.

Which augmented reality social app/AR platform best suits our needs?

There are some social networks that have AR capabilities, but Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular ones. They each have their own AR development platforms. Facebook and Instagram use Spark AR and Snapchat uses Lens Studio. Here are some general factors to consider when choosing a social AR network and platform. Global penetration is where Facebook and Instagram clearly win over Snapchat. Facebook and Instagram offer the ability to reach more people. Facebook is currently the largest social media network in the world, and its users are a good representative of the population as a whole. However, Instagram and Snapchat are most popular among younger individuals and teens. It’s important to consider which network your target audience prefers. Instagram and Snapchat are the two leading photo-sharing apps. Since these apps are for photo-sharing, their features and design flow is geared around it. From a development point of view, you can create any type of filters or lenses (e.g., face filters, games, portals and more) on all the AR development platforms. However, the platforms have different lengths of time and file size constraints that users can record and share. All the AR platforms, provide almost similar tracking and analytics (e.g., views, captures and shares) for marketers and event organisers. However, Facebook and Instagram give you more detailed information.


How to let our audience know about our AR effect and make it go viral?

When the filter is created by the developer and is approved by Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, a link to the filter will be shared with you. You can share the link on your social media pages or promote it across platforms as swipe-up filters, web banners, text message blasts, sponsored posts, and more. You cannot post it in one place at one time and expect it to go viral. A multi-channel strategy is the optimal strategy. You can post stories with the filter and encourage your followers to try it out, and share their photos or videos on social media using your hashtag to qualify for awards, freebies or discounts. Post about your effect frequently, but also space posts apart over a few weeks to ensure your followers see that you launched the effect. Tag people in your stories and posts, and remember the more followers who use your filter, the more it can spread to people who do not follow you. Make sure there is a clear action for your audience to try your filter. If you have a large audience, you could also run a photo contest to create a valuable social experience for your target group. Find creative uses for your filter and encourage your audience to use your filter in creative ways. The creative potential for AR filters is limited only by the person who uses it. Another option is to arrange partnerships with social media influencers. Ask influential people associated with your brand to use your effect. Paid promotion on social media is also an incredibly effective way of getting your filters into the hands of your current and new clients.

How to assess the success of our AR effect?

The success of AR effects depends on multiple factors and cannot be measured in the same way. For example, the methods and the metrics we use to evaluate the success of a try-on filter which has been developed as a trigger for online shopping are different from those of a face filter which has been created to increase people’s awareness about a brand.

All the AR social platforms have their own built-in analytics that provide creators and brands with the metrics they can use to assess the success of their effects. For Instagram and Facebook effects, you can see insights a few hours after effect goes live. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to see some insights for your effects, until they reach a certain count. The following insights are available for Facebook and Instagram effects.

  • Impressions: The number of times your effect has been displayed on screen. Impressions are broken down by platform (Instagram or Facebook) and channel (stories or posts). If someone scrolls past your AR effect twice, it would count as two impressions, so don’t confuse your impressions with your reach.

  • Opens: The number of times mobile users have opened your effect in the Instagram or Facebook cameras.

  • Captures: The number of times someone took a photo or video that featured your effect in the Instagram or Facebook cameras. Live videos are not included in captures.

  • Saves: The number of times mobile users took a photo or vide while using your AR effect and saved it to their device.

  • Shares: The number of times someone took a video or photo featuring your AR effect and shared it through Instagram stories, posts and messages, or using Facebook posts and stories.

For Snapchat lenses, you’ll be able to check out your views, plays and shares metrics. They are updated daily for each AR lens as long as you have reached a tally of five for each views, plays and shares for the lens.